WATERVILLE — When visitors are welcomed into the Colby Museum of Art in July, they will find pieces from some of the most well-known artists in American history on display in an upgraded facility that has grown to be the biggest art gallery in the state.

On Monday, college officials gave media a tour of the museum’s $15 million addition, which is under construction and will be opened to the public July 13.

The existing Colby art collection, which already spans continents and centuries, will be joined by 500 pieces of art valued at more than $100 million, which were given to the college by philanthropists Peter and Paula Lunder.

The Lunder collection includes work from American masters including Georgia O’Keeffe, Winslow Homer and James McNeill Whistler.

College President William Adams said the new Alfond-Lunder Family Pavilion will make it easier to serve members of the public.

“The collection is of and for Maine in so many ways,” he said.

The 26,000-square-foot pavillion includes 10,000 square feet of gallery space and brings the total amount of gallery space to 38,000 square feet, the most of any art museum in the state, according to the college.

The existing museum’s rooms are relatively small and dim, giving them a feel that museum director Sharon Corwin said is purposefully domestic.

The new pavilion includes four white-walled, brightly lit galleries that have a decidedly different atmosphere.

“The nice thing about this museum is that it offers us different spaces to show different types of art, which is a very nice way to really show the influence of a setting,” Corwin said. “The way art is exhibited really has an influence on your understanding of it and how you relate to it and how you really see it and perceive it.”

The overarching theme of the new addition, which also includes a new lobby and classroom spaces, is illumination, Corwin said.

“At night, it illuminates from within,” she said. “This notion of illumination is a metaphor that we carried throughout the planning and conception of this building. Artistic illumination, creative illumination, is something that this building’s about.”

Many of the art pieces are grouped into themes, which allow pieces from different periods, geographic locations and media to share a space.

Individual viewing spaces are dedicated to such themes as children, seasons, poetic mode and masculine camaraderie.

The Lunder collection is not meant to be restricted to viewings by academics, Corwin said.

“This was a gift of art to the people of the state of Maine. We take that very seriously,” she said, noting that the museum is free and open to the public. “We’re a museum that we want every resident in this state to feel real engagement with and real ownership of.”

As part of that mission, the museum currently hosts visits from more than 3,500 schoolchildren each year, Corwin said.

The museum also carries a strong Maine theme, even down to the gallery benches, which are being built by Mark Roman, a woodworker from Solon who has done work for the museum in the past.

Maine’s landscapes and way of life are also featured in the art. There are paintings of a birchbark canoe, of a Civil War-era maple sugaring party, and of Mount Katahdin, the latter by Richard Estes, one of the founders of the American photorealism movement of the 1960s.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287
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