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Maine's Colby College to Unveil Major Art Collection and Expanded Museum
07/09/2013   Reported By: Susan Sharon

The Colby College Museum of Art is preparing to open a significant art collection and a newly-expanded facility to the public on Sunday. Recently gifted to the museum, the Lunder Collection's breadth and depth of American art is expected to put Waterville, and Maine, on the map as a destination for art enthusiasts. That's because the privately assembled collection includes works by American masters such as John Singer Sargent, Mary Cassatt, Winslow Homer and the largest collection of works, nearly 300, by James McNeill Whistler. Susan Sharon has more.

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Alfond-Lunder Family Pavilion, east façade at night, with a view of Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawing #559. Colby College Museum of Art. © 2013 The LeWitt Estate / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. ©trentbellphotography

On view for the next year, the Lunder Collection includes more than 500 works of art donated to the museum by longtime Colby College benefactors Peter and Paula Lunder. Peter is a 1956 graduate of Colby and the nephew of Harold Alfond, who helped create Dexter Shoe. Paula, like her husband, is a lover of fine art who has volunteered in the museum.

In the late 1970's, the Lunders started amassing their collection by buying European works of art. But Paula Lunder says it was a competitive marketplace and they often found themselves outbid at auctions. So they switched to American art.

Winslow Homer, Girl in a Hammock

Winslow Homer, Girl in a Hammock (1873). Oil on canvas (13 1/4 x 19 3/4 in.) The Lunder Collection.

"The timing was right," she says. "Peter has always loved sculpture and it was a great time to buy sculpture, both western and traditional American subjects. And so we have a lovely collection of sculpture. We also bought a lot of western art, and then we also started buying a lot of other things that we love."

Those include 260 highlights of 19th- and 20th-century American and contemporary art, which is organized around themes such as labor, childhood, camaraderie and travel. Sharon Corwin is the chief curator of the Colby College Museum of Art who took reporters on a backstage tour of the collection and the newly refurbished museum, now the largest museum space in Maine.

James McNeill Whistler, Chelsea in Ice-1

James McNeill Whistler, Chelsea in Ice (1864). Oil on canvas (17 3/4 x 24 in.) The Lunder Collection.

"So this is the new Alfond-Lunder Family Pavilion which includes 10,000 square feet of additional exhibition space, and this is where we're showing works of the contemporary collection from the Lunder Collection," she tells reporters on a tour of the facility. "And we start here in the late 20th century, and I think what might surprise people is how strong this collection is in contemporary art."

The contemporary works include abstract painting, minimalism and American sculpture, including a 1973 crowd-pleasing work by Duane Hanson, who is known for his lifecast realism - in this case, a sculpture of his father playing solitaire.

Duane Hanson, Old Man Playing Solitaire-1

Duane Hanson, Old Man Playing Solitaire (1973). Polyester resin and fiberglass, polychromed in oil, mixed media, and accessories (50 x 35 x 55 in.) The Lunder Collection. Art © Estate of Duane Hanson/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

"There's kind of great pathos to this piece, I think," Corwin says, "and just a beautiful piece, but also uncanny in its realism."

Each gallery includes a wall text to explain to visitors the theme of each room. Corwin says one of the strengths of the collection is southwestern art. Many of the artists whose work is on display come from the Taos School in New Mexico at the turn of the century. There are landscapes and Native Americans depicted in a rapidly disappearing way of life.

"We love regional areas of America. We love all America," Paula Lunders says. She says that, like children, she can't pick a favorite piece of art, but knows why particular works speak to her.

"Only as you view art is your view absolutely correct," she says. "No one can say to you when you look at a painting, 'No, no, no! You're wrong. I see this.' Because what you see is correct for you, and I love that about art. I love having children look at art."

"This is a great, beautiful drawing of a young model in Sargent's studio," Corwin says. "And then these two boys here - this is one of my favorite paintings in the collection."

Corwin shows off a John Singer Sargent portrait of two boys in his studio. "There's something about the way in which that little boy's back is just kind of - the curve of his back just kills me just everytime I see it. I mean it's just so, so beautiful."

"This collection puts Colby onto the short list of important American art collections throughout the entire country," says Daniel Kany, an art critic for the Maine Sunday Telegram who is working on a review of the exhibition. "The range of the work is what's particularly interesting, but the sculpture and the 19th century holdings are particularly impressive to me."

The pavilion opens to the public on Sunday. Admission is always free. Paula Lunder says it's her hope is that people from all across Maine will enjoy it.

Photos:  Courtesy Colby College


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