ORONO, Maine — When the University of Maine gave artist Jamie Wyeth an honorary degree in 2001, he arrived early to tour the Art Department’s studios and classrooms before the graduation ceremony.
“I said, ‘Show me your art space,’ and they took me to the cellar of one place, then, they took me to the attic of another,” Wyeth said Sunday as he sat in the large painting studio in the former Stewart Dining Commons. “The emphasis has definitely changed at the University of Maine. There was not that much interest in the arts here, but now they really have done it. That really has changed.”
He said the high ceilings with the ductwork exposed reminded him of the New York lofts in which several of his painter friends work. Wyeth also said he is excited about the department’s plans to offer summer workshops and bring in working artists to use the studio space and work one-on-one with students.
As the tour filed past him, Patrick Meunier of Vassalboro sat on a stool at a tilted table in the drawing studio putting pencil to paper. A second-year art major, he took his first art class a year ago in Carnegie Hall, an ivy-covered, granite hall built in 1906.
“The atmosphere there was a little intimidating,” Meunier said. “This is a totally engaging studio space for an artist to work in. The natural and artificial light here is much better than it was in the old building. This space is far more welcoming.”
Wyeth is the son of Andrew Wyeth and grandson of N.C. Wyeth, all of whom painted in Maine. The center honors “the legacy of three generations of internationally recognized artists intrinsically linked to the state’s storied visual arts tradition,” according to information provided by the university.
The Wyeth family has been associated with the Farnsworth Museum in Rockland for many years, but the family name has never graced a building on the UMaine campus before.
Wyeth and other donors toured the studios, which double as classrooms, shortly before a dedication ceremony for the Wyeth Family Studio Art Center. The building includes studios for painting, printmaking, photography and 3-D design and the Hartgen Drawing Studio, named in honor of the founder of the UMaine Department of Art, artist Vincent Hartgen. Also located in the 43,600-square-foot building is the university’s new Innovative Media Research and Commercialization Center, home to the Department of New Media.
“The dedication of the Wyeth Family Studio Art Center is a special event for UMaine generally, and the Department of Art in particular,” UMaine President Paul Ferguson said Sunday. “It is remarkable to have such an excellent studio art space for our faculty and students affiliated with the sterling tradition of the Wyeth family.”
The Wyeth Center is part of a three-phase capital campaign to support UMaine’s leadership in 21st century visual arts education in the state and to recognize the long-standing, vibrant art communities across Maine, according to Michael Grillo, chairman of the Art Department. The first was the renovation in 2006 of Lord Hall, which is where the departments of Art Education and Art History are located. The final phase, now in the initial planning stages, will be a new building to house what Grillo called “the dirty arts,” which includes sculpture and pottery.
The more than $10 million renovation of the former student dining facility was made possible with funding from the Maine Technology Institute and other grants, state bonds and private support, which included contributions from Bangor Savings Bank and members of the Class of 1963.
The private donations also included the $1 million naming gift in honor of the Wyeth family that was made possible through the efforts of Maine business leader Charles Cawley and Bank of America.
UMaine’s Department of Art offers interdisciplinary programs each year to more than 130 art majors, more than 80 students minoring in art, and 300 non-majors, according to Margaret Nagel, spokeswoman for the university.