WATERVILLE — The Colby College Museum of Art started with a modest collection of American art when it opened in 1959.

The museum now has five wings and a collection of nearly 8,000 pieces, including sculpture, paintings and Chinese antiquities.

In 2013, the museum opened the Alfond-Lunder Family Pavilion, a $15 million expansion that made it the largest art museum in the state.

The most recent expansion has brought the museum international acclaim, said Christian Savage, program director at the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s really put Waterville on the map in the arts world,” Savage said.

The Colby College Museum of Art is the recipient of the chamber’s 2014 Community Service Project of the Year award. The award will be presented at the chamber’s annual awards dinner on April 30.

The award highlights the museum’s core mission to present and educate the public about art, said Assistant Director Patricia King.

“We consider ourselves to be a cultural resource for the campus and the residents of Waterville and beyond,” she said.

The museum opened its first official galleries in the Bixler Arts and Music Center with collections of American heritage pieces, folk art, paintings and watercolors in 1959. Less than 15 years later it opened a major expansion, the Jette Galleries.

The museum continued growing in the 1990s, opening the Davis Gallery in 1991 and the Paul J. Schupf Wing in 1996 to house the hundreds of works donated to the museum by painter Alex Katz. The museum now holds more than 800 works by Katz.

In 1999, with a lead gift from Peter and Paula Lunder, the museum opened a new 9,000-square-foot wing with 13 galleries to hold its growing collection of American art. Less than a decade later, the Lunders promised their entire collection, more than 500 pieces, to the museum and work began on the pavilion expansion.

The pavilion encompasses the museum’s five wings with 38,000 feet of exhibition space. Its collection focuses on American and contemporary art with pieces from major artists like Winslow Homer, Georgia O’Keeffe, John Martin, Terry Winters and Richard Serra.

As its physical footprint has grown, so has the museum’s stature. It now attracts at least 50,000 guests a year from Maine and across the country. Attendance has nearly doubled since the expansion opened, King said.

One of the most common requests from visitors is for information about the museum, and those visitors tend to stay in Waterville to eat and shop, Savage said.

Beyond attracting visitors, the museum has tapped into the local creative scene as a founding member of Waterville Creates!, a non-profit arts consortium that aims to incubate a vibrant cultural community in the city. The group includes Common Street Arts, Maine Film Center, Waterville Public Library, the Opera House and Waterville Main Street.

“It’s a very exciting time for Waterville, and we really look forward to helping make this a vibrant center for arts and culture,” King said.

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @PeteL_McGuire


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