Founded in 1959, the Colby College Museum of Art comprises five wings, more than 11,000 works of art, and more than 38,000 square feet of exhibition space. It will soon count with a new gallery on Main Street, Waterville—part of the soon-to-open Paul J. Schupf Art Center. In April 2021 the arts collaborative at 18 Main Street began serving as the home of the Lunder Institute for American Art, an initiative of the Colby Museum that brings together artists, scholars, community members, students, and faculty to continually reshape American art scholarship and practice. The new facility now houses studios and convening spaces for visiting and residential fellowships that come to Waterville to conduct civically and academically engaged work in the field of American art. The Paul J. Schupf Art Center is expected to open to the public soon after its completion in late 2022. Among its features will be the Colby Museum’s Joan Dignam Schmaltz Gallery of Art, a 1,500-square-foot space that will allow the museum to dynamically present three changing exhibitions each year and engage our Waterville community right as they enter the center from Castonguay Square on Main Street.
As part of its mission as a collecting and teaching museum, the Colby Museum is dedicated to building a collection of American art, expanding its diversity, bolstering access, and increasing capacity while practicing the highest standards of maintenance and care. The American Heritage Collection, gift of Edith and Ellerton Jetté, includes 76 works by American folk artists and established an early emphasis on American art. Significant gifts and purchases over the decades have made the Colby Museum one of the nation’s premier institutions of American art.
The gift of the Lunder Collection in 2013 constitutes one of the most important art collections ever to be donated to a liberal arts college, and it provides an important complement to earlier holdings of 19th-, 20th-, and 21st-century American sculpture, late-19th-century American painting, Stieglitz circle, and contemporary art. The collection includes major 19th- and 20th-century artists such as Robert Duncanson, John Singleton Copley, Gilbert Stuart, Charles Willson Peale, Winslow Homer, William Merritt Chase, Mary Cassatt, James McNeill Whistler, Robert Henri, Cecilia Beaux, Elizabeth Catlett, Rebecca Salsbury Strand James, Paul Manship, and Georgia O’Keeffe, Jacob Lawrence, Richmond Barthé, Thomas Hart Benton, Charles White, and Malvina Hoffman, among many others; includes a distinguished collection of Taos Society artworks; and extends into the contemporary with significant works by contemporary artists such as Theaster Gates, Ai Wei Wei, Joan Brown, Maya Lin, Claes Oldenburg, Richard Estes, and Barbara Chase-Riboud, Martin Puryear, and many others.
Beyond the Lunder Collection, the museum’s modern and contemporary collection also showcases the work of significant 20th- and 21st-century American artists, including deep holdings of works by John Marin, Terry Winters, Lois Dodd, among others. Many other artists are represented in the modern and contemporary collections, including Fairfield Porter, Marsden Hartley, Georgia O’Keeffe, Jacob Lawrence, Elizabeth Catlett, Jackson Pollock, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, to name a few. Alex Katz has donated more than 900 of his own works to the museum, making the museum the most important institutional steward of his work. Site-specific sculpture by Richard Serra and Sol LeWitt, as well as more than 500 important gifts from the Alex Katz Foundation of works by Adolph Gottlieb, Bob Thompson, Rafael Ferrer, Rudy Burckhardt, Chuck Close, Jennifer Bartlett, and Elizabeth Murray have strengthened the museum’s impressive contemporary collection. Photography is now significantly represented with a 2020 gift of more than 500 works from the Tsiaras Family Photography Collection, which includes prints by well-known exponents of the medium as well as lesser-known photographers, and a growing number of gifts and purchases in this area, including a group of photographs by Chinese contemporary artists.
Exhibitions and Programs
The Colby Museum is both a primary teaching resource for the faculty of Colby College and a major cultural destination for residents of and visitors to Maine. The museum organizes internationally recognized and locally relevant exhibitions that introduce new, more expansive narratives, reinforce our educational mission, and raise the profile of Colby through global partnerships. Traveling exhibitions such as Roy Lichtenstein: History in the Making, 1948–1960 and Bob Thompson: This House is Mine bring additional artworks from across the globe to the galleries on Mayflower Hill and share artworks from the Colby museum with the world.
Focusing on students, the museum works closely with faculty across various disciplines to fully integrate object-based learning into the curriculum, averaging more than 100 class visits annually in a typical year, by courses ranging from biology to philosophy, the museum is deeply embedded in the liberal arts curriculum at Colby. Students learn firsthand from the art on view in the galleries or selected for study in the Landay Teaching Gallery and in the Mirken Education Center. Working with faculty, students can help prepare exhibition texts, and senior studio art majors organize an exhibition of their works each year in the Davis Gallery.
Colby students are encouraged to engage in a variety of pre-professional museum experiences by participating in the museum’s student guide, internship, and work-study programs, as well as through the Museum Student Advisory Board, which is committed to establishing closer connections between the student body and the museum.
Throughout the academic year, the museum hosts a robust schedule of events, including artist talks, lectures and performances, film screenings, and concerts. Frequent partnerships with campus partners such as Colby’s Center for the Arts and Humanities and the Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs allow for faculty and student involvement across all areas of study. The museum also co-organizes special events with its arts and cultural partners in Waterville to extend programmatic offerings throughout the community and typically brings thousands of Maine K-12 students to the campus each school year.
In 2013 the Alfond-Lunder Family Pavilion was inaugurated, making the Colby Museum the largest museum in Maine, adding a sculpture gallery and terrace, generous exhibition galleries, classrooms, expanded collection storage, and staff offices. A three-story wall drawing by artist Sol LeWitt occupies the glass-enclosed stairwell, while the pavilion’s upper floor is dedicated to the College’s Department of Art, providing state-of-the-art studios for photography and fine arts foundation classes. With its small café and comfortable seating, the spacious William D. Adams Gallery lobby of the pavilion has become a lively gathering place, or quiet study location, for Colby students and their guests.