WATERVILLE — The Colby College Museum of Art is reopening Saturday with one-third more gallery space as part of a multimillion-dollar expansion, but the price of admission will be staying the same: zero.

The museum’s open door policy — it’s free and open to the public — is part of its mission to spread art to a broad audience of Maine residents, Sharon Corwin, the museum’s director and curator, said during a preview tour of the museum Tuesday.

“We take the free admission as an important part of our mission,” Corwin said. “We want the people of Maine to be able to access this new collection.”

Just days before the opening, workers are still putting the finishing touches on the months-long, $15 million expansion effort, which includes an entire new wing.

The Alfond-Lunder Family Pavilion will add another 10,000 square feet of exhibition space, bringing the total amount of gallery space to 38,000 square feet. That’s more than any other museum in Maine, according to Colby officials.

On display for the first time will be 280 pieces of art donated by Peter and Paula Lunder, part of a larger donation of more than 500 pieces valued at more than $100 million from the Lunder collection.

Paula Lunder, who lived in Waterville for 45 years, said the museum’s open-door policy is one of the reasons they chose Colby.

“Colby is in our heart,” she said. “Everybody can enjoy it. They can come for 10 minutes or 10 hours, it doesn’t matter.”

The Lunder donation is mostly American art, and includes many of the Lunders’ favorites. For example, there are more than 200 pieces by James McNeill Whistler, the influential post-Impressionist artist most recognized by the general public for “Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1,” known commonly as “Whistler’s Mother.” That painting is not part of the Colby collection.

The addition has 14-foot-high white-walled rooms, still smelling of fresh paint, that serve as canvas for the art. In addition to traditional paintings and sculptures, there are also modern abstact sculptures from a variety of medium.

The museum also has many Maine-specific pieces, including a painting of a traditional maple sugaring party and a collection of 19th century weathervanes that occupies a brightly lit hall.

The new wing is a stark contrast to the intimate, purposely domestic rooms that make up the original gallery. Each room contains artwork devoted to a particular theme, such as seasons, or camaraderie. Corwin said the curators try to choose pieces that will provide an interesting context.

For example, one room is devoted to images of beauty, as perceived by both American and European artists from the same period, creating what Corwin calls a “trans-Atlantic dialogue” that can be appreciated today.

An audio tour also invites listeners to watch pieces with complementary sounds, such as readings from the works of Walt Whitman and John Steinbeck, or a symphony by Dvorak.

Corwin said Colby said they must choose the pieces in the collections carefully to ensure that they can be provided for in the museum’s budget, which is supported by endowments, members and donations.

“It’s a delicate balance,” she said. “Museums have to be sure they can care for the collections that they accept.”

While the gallery space is 38,000 square feet, the total space in the museum is 64,000 square feet, a total that includes education and storage space.

Corwin said the building goes beyond a museum’s traditional role as a display case for art.

“It’s a place where art is made, art is taught and art is exhibited,” she said.

The museum opens this weekend, and members of the public are invited to a Community Day Celebration, scheduled for noon to 5 p.m. Sunday at the Colby College Museum of Art, at 5600 Mayflower Hill.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287
[email protected]