WATERVILLE — On a hot Sunday in July, Williard LeRoy Metcalf’s 1920 oil on canvas “The Enveloping Mantle” — a snowstorm taking over a farmhouse and trees in winter — was a welcome relief.
The painting from the Lunder Collection is on display at the new Alfond-Lunder Family Pavilion at the Colby College Museum of Art, which opened to the public this weekend.
On Sunday a special community celebration of the museum was held. Long recognized for its American art collection, it now has the most exhibition space of any art museum in Maine.
Colby President William D. Adams said the museum, once an “underappreciated gem,” now brings Waterville to the top of the art world.
“As we celebrate the bicentennial of the college, we can look forward as never before to welcoming visitors from around the country and the world who are going to discover that our museum has risen to the top in its field,” Adams said in a press release.
Others who assembled here Sunday for art, live music, free ice cream, hot dogs and hamburgers agreed.
Carol Merrill, of Cape Elizabeth, executive director of the Portland Society for Architecture, said both the collection and the building are works of art.
“I am especially interested not only in the art, but the architecture — it’s a wonderful gift,” Merrill said. “I think it’s one of the most important museums in the country now. I absolutely believe it’s going to bring people here. You’ll get a lot of visitors, not only to see the art, but to see the architecture.”
Designed by the Los Angeles-based firm Frederick Fisher and Partners Architects, the 26,000-square-foot pavilion creates a light-filled gateway to the existing museum built in 1959 and provides an additional 10,000 square feet of exhibition space.
The pavilion has been granted LEED Silver certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.
Grace Bridges and her father Ron Bridges of Waterville said local people enjoy the museum as much as visitors from other places.
“I think it was really fun,” 9-year-old Grace said, exiting the new pavilion Sunday. “There is a lot of cool art and there’s more to the art museum — there was, like, facts about the things they have.”
Grace also is participating in Lively Faces, a children’s art project at the museum for the next three weeks.
Jim Alberty, a music composer, Maine blogger and photographer from Portland, said he came to Waterville to see what was happening elsewhere in Maine.
He wasn’t disappointed.
“You see a lot of different people here, a lot of different ages, different modes of dress — you see a really, really interesting mix of people who are just caught up in the opening of this place,” Alberty, a board member of the Children’s Museum and Theater, said. “It’s 90 degrees out — yeah, it’s air conditioned inside — but people are interested in this. This museum has touched on a very effective nerve that connects to the community.”
The centerpiece of the inaugural installation is The Lunder Collection: A Gift of Art to Colby College, the first exhibition dedicated entirely to the Lunder Collection, which features more than 260 works. Valued at more than $100 million, the Lunder Collection comprises more than 500 objects by American masters including John Singer Sargent, Mary Cassatt, George Inness, William Merritt Chase, Winslow Homer, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Edward Hopper, Alexander Calder and Georgia O’Keeffe, according to a Colby release.
The opening exhibitions on view in the new Alfond-Lunder Family Pavilion showcase collection highlights and welcome new masterworks to the museum.
Paul and Amy Madigan Dube of St. Albans visited Sunday with their children, ages 9 and 6, who also made art as part of the children’s program.
“It’s gorgeous — it’s a huge asset culturally to the area, and for people to be able to come and see this at any time will be very nice,” Paul Dube said. “Collections of this size and magnitude are things you find in big cities. It’s really wonderful that we have this up in this rural area.”
Holly and Charles McCann of Waterville and their children, Lydia, 11, and Nicholas, 5, also enjoyed the museum Sunday. They said the new pavilion should bring an economic boost to the whole area.
“I think it will bring a lot of people to come visit Waterville. I think it’s going to be outstanding,” Holly McCann said.
Admission to the museum is free. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.
It is open on Thursdays until 9 p.m. during the academic year. The public is invited online via Facebook and Twitter (@colbymuseum and #colbymuseum).
Doug Harlow — 612-2367