As I stood on the lawn of the Colby College Museum of Art watching streams of people pour into the museum for an early viewing of the Lunder Collection, benefactor Paula Lunder approached me to say hi and marvel at the scene. A perfect day, we agreed. This was precisely what we had been working for years to achieve.
This was Community Day, July 14 — a celebration of the grand opening of the Alfond-Lunder Family Pavilion at the Colby College Museum of Art. And seeing hundreds of people meandering through the galleries, stopping to spend time with artworks that have been in private hands for years, even decades, was more profound than I could have imagined.
The new pavilion was built in direct response to the incredible gift of art to Colby by longtime Waterville residents Peter (Colby Class of 1956) and Paula Lunder, a life trustee. Comprising more than 500 pieces, the Lunder Collection is widely acknowledged as one of the most important holdings of American art assembled by private collectors. It includes works by John Singer Sargent, Mary Cassatt, Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keeffe, Alex Katz and Jenny Holzer, among others, and a remarkable concentration of works by James McNeill Whistler.
In the art world, the collection is known. But a mission of the Colby Museum is that it be known by the people in our world — in our backyard, in Waterville and in our home state of Maine. It’s a key value of the museum, and it was a key reason the Lunders chose to give the collection to Colby. They knew that if their art resided here, it would be seen, not just by art aficionados but also by the people of Maine and visitors to the state.
That’s where the idea for Community Day came from. We wanted to make a bold statement to Maine people: This is their museum. How better to do that than by creating a special moment for them with live music, art-making activities, free ice cream and, of course, great art?
But as I watched so many Maine people walking through the galleries, as I gave tours explaining that education is a key part of our mission, I couldn’t help but think that this — as wonderful as it is — is only a small part of what’s to come. The staff of the Colby Museum must continue to work every day to bring new people, young and old, through those doors.
We will do this through our educational programs, which bring (and pay for) school bus trips for thousands of Maine children annually. We will do it through art camps, one of which is starting this week. We will do it through events in the new, very grand, lobby of the museum. We will do it through partnerships, such as the one with Common Street Arts that includes gallery tours and related art-making programs. And of course we will do it through a robust and thoughtfully conceived exhibitions program.
Right now, those exhibitions include not only “The Lunder Collection: A Gift of Art to Colby College,” featuring more than 260 works. We have an exhibition of American weathervanes — pieces of art that once topped barns in Maine and beyond. We have exhibitions of works by John Marin and Alex Katz, two phenomenal painters with deep ties to Maine. And we have an exhibition of Chinese objects, some from the Lunder-Colville Collection and some borrowed from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. This will certainly not be the last time we borrow works from a major metropolitan museum to complement our collection. And those are only five of the seven exhibitions currently on view.
At the museum’s main entrance we’ve installed an artwork by Luis Camnitzer. In large letters on the glass wall, it reads: “The museum is a school: The artist learns to communicate; The public learns to make connections.” The Colby College Museum of Art has so much to offer, and admission is always free. Whether you plan your vacations around museums, or this will be your first museum experience, we truly hope you will take advantage of all we have to offer.
Sharon Corwin is Carolyn Muzzy director and chief curator of the Colby College Museum of Art.