By the time the first guests walked in July 13, everything— from Julianne Swartz’s Affirmation sound piece operating in the restrooms to Sam Van Aken’s installation of his Tree of 40 Fruit in a planter on the granite terrace—was in place at the Colby College Museum of Art. Virtually the only element that couldn’t be controlled was the weather. That cooperated by being sunny and mild.
Some six years in the making, the new pavilion and exhibition of the Lunder Collection of American Art drew more than 2,000 visitors over the weekend as art and architecture lovers, friends and family of the Alfonds and Lunders, and the merely curious flocked to what the Maine art community now says is Maine’s premier art museum.
“To see our community—the people of Maine—in the galleries, looking at and enjoying art, was the most rewarding part of the opening for me,” said Sharon Corwin, the Carolyn Muzzy Director and Chief Curator of the Colby College Museum of Art.
A ceremonial ribbon cutting and dedication of the Alfond-Lunder Family Pavilion took place Saturday, with speakers invoking the intent and generosity of the benefactors and praising both the extensive and extraordinary collection and the crystalline building that houses much of it.
At the luncheon that followed the dedication, President William D. Adams presented the Jette Award for Leadership in the Arts in memory of Edith and Ellerton Jetté, who gave the founding gift to the Colby museum, to Paula and Peter Lunder ’56. Paula Lunder noted that she and her husband knew the Jettes and would cherish the award. “The Colby College Museum of Art has grown to educate, enlighten, and delight so many today,” she said, “and will in the future.”
Under a mammoth white tent, guests eating lunch marveled at the art exhibited in the new pavilion. “I got goose bumps,” said Roselin Atzwanger, originally from Austria, who lives in Washington, D.C., and studied art in Vienna. “What a gift for the students!” Her husband, Edward Lenkin, who described himself as “an art observer and a collector,” said the works in the collection are “not just signatures but beauties.”
Alfond-Lunder Family Pavilion Opening Slideshow
Dressed in a purple bow tie and teal linen shirt, Matinicus Island artist Maury Colton said the soaring new spaces and works in the museum made him feel “like I was at the Metropolitan.”
Inside the museum Heidi Bement of Kennebunk and her mother-in law, Mimi Park of Scarborough, said they had planned a trip in honor of the occasion. “This is a landmark,” said Bement. “I’m relishing all these individual artists—the Calder, the Remington—this is crazy!”
The “play of light and reflection” on the museum’s facade was captivating to Jeanne Paterak, who had come up from Portland for the opening: “I love the interactions between interior and exterior, seeing through and reflecting out.”
Gary Ridgeway, from Maryland, had decided to check out the museum while visiting an aunt who lives on China Lake. “We just found out about this, so we said, ‘Let’s do it,’” he said. Ridgeway, who has spent 20 years working for the Smithsonian in occupational safety and health, said he found the museum “beautiful, roomy, and light.” His wife, Candy Ridgeway, commented on the careful arrangement that had allowed the weathervanes in the Sage Gallery to be glimpsed from the window in the Sam L. Cohen Gallery.
The following day, designated Community Day, brought a whole new crowd to investigate the museum. Veronica Stewart from Oakland had brought her sons Bryce, 10, and Lukas, 6. “I think it’s a wonderful thing to have so close, a nice community resource,” she said. Bryce, an avid illustrator in pencil, has now decided he’ll be going to Colby, she said.
Outside the museum, people lined up for hot dogs, potato and pasta salad, watermelon, root beer, and ice cream, eaten under a tent decorated with sunflowers. Inside, some—like Nancy Stevens of Fairfield Center—were noticing the colors of the gallery walls. In the De Ferrari Gallery, much consideration had gone into choosing the distinctive golden hue (“Bosc pear,” according to Director Sharon Corwin). That gallery leads into the eggplant-colored Gourley Gallery, and, farther on, the cobalt-blue Mirken Gallery.
In another gallery, Ann Quinlan, who is currently from Portland but originally from County Meath in Ireland, was using an audio device to learn about the art. She pulled one earbud away from her ear to talk.
“I just love the whole ambience,” she said. “I recognize some of the art from the Boston MFA. I’m so blown away by the whole collection—I like the old and the new weaving together.”
On the pavilion’s glassed-in stairway, Glen Widmer and his son, Ruben Widmer, 5, of Montville, sat considering both the Sol LeWitt wall painting and the architecture of the stairs. “After we explore the downstairs, can we go upstairs?” asked Ruben, who deemed the Duane Hanson sculpture upstairs (Old Man Playing Solitaire) “the most exciting one ever.”
Glen said that Ruben was also fond of the abstract art, and, like much of the crowd, was fascinated by the steady, trudging climb of the skier in Paul Kos’s XC on Brushstrokes, a video projection on acrylic-painted canvas.
After a lot of looking, Richard Sheive of Waterville was sitting on a bench in the Turner Gallery. “I’ve been fascinated by the place—especially the Indian area,” he said. He cited especially the sculpture of the “Indian coming home from the long, last ride” (James E. Fraser’s End of the Trail). “It had a lot of life and existence. I came back again. It had something in it—possession of me; I wanted to search around it, under it. That was the one that was most appealing to me. It stood there, calling, even though it wasn’t in the center of the room.”
Overall, he said, he thought the opening of the museum for the community had been a big hit. “The people here are really taking to it,” he said. “They’re not just here for the lunch.”
What the Press is Saying
“The Lunder gift has propelled Colby into the first rank of college museums — not quite up there with Harvard and Yale, but certainly in the same league as Smith, Williams, the Rhode Island School of Design, and Wellesley’s Davis Museum of Art. For art lovers it has made a trip to Maine all but obligatory this summer.”—The Boston Globe
“Maine has a new title-holder for largest (and most important) museum and the public now has free access to one of the most significant collections of American art in the country. … Colby’s academic standing in the arts has moved up, to the benefit of all of Maine’s institutions of higher education.”—Maine Sunday Telegram
“You may not have felt it, but Maine’s art world just experienced a seismic shift.”—The Free Press
“Fisher’s refreshing and self-effacing approach has resulted in a beautifully crafted exhibit space that displays the Lunder collection without distracting from it.”—Design New England
“Already known for its vast and important American art collection, Colby now boasts the most exhibition space of any art museum in Maine. With recent gifts, it has become one of the nation’s premier institutions of American art.”—Artfix Daily
“The gleaming glass building of the Colby College Museum of Art not only stands out on campus – surrounded by the red brick, Georgian-style classrooms and dormitories – but now also stands out across Maine.”—Huffington Post
“The sleek pavilion merges seamlessly with the existing museum and the scale of the campus. Its glass does not flash. It is not arrogant; it gleams with confidence—and with decorum, rare in our age of assertive museum architecture. It seems a piece of sculpture itself, Serra’s brutal masses magnified and hollowed out and rendered translucent.”—The American Prospect