Ann Craven’s “Portrait of a Robin I (Looking, After Picabia),” 2022, and “Portrait of a Robin II (Looking, After Picabia),” 2022, right, gift of the artist on the occasion of the museum’s 75th anniversary. Left is Dale Chihuly’s blown glasses pieces “Cadmium Orange Persian with Green Lip Wrap,” 1988, and “Cobalt Green Persian with Red Lip Wrap,” 1988. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

ROCKLAND — In the lead-up to the Farnsworth Art Museum’s 75th birthday this year, there were a lot of conversations among staff about how to better display its massive permanent collection.

But they kept coming back to the idea that, in order to fulfill its mission of telling Maine’s story in the history of American art, they needed to better represent both voices that have been underrepresented historically, and artists who are still living and working here.

“History doesn’t stop,” said Jaime DeSimone, chief curator. “There are artists in Maine making history every day.”

The result was a top-to-bottom overhaul of the Farnsworth’s permanent display galleries, which now include names that have become synonymous with the museum – Andrew Wyeth, Rockwell Kent, Marguerite Thompson Zorach, to name just a few – alongside more contemporary artists like Daniel Minter, Eric Aho and Ayumi Horie, some of whom are on a museum wall for the first time.

The new display, which opened last month, still offers plenty for visitors accustomed to seeing names and work they recognize, but there is a lot of new and different work, too, that might help entice new audiences.

“Our constant reminder to people is: We’re not changing, we’re growing the collection as any institution would,” DeSimone said. “I think what’s unique about the Farnsworth is that we don’t have that static permanent collection that has to be shown in a chronological way, so we can be nimble.”


Jaime DeSimone joined the Farnsworth last summer as chief curator, coming from the Portland Museum of Art, where she was curator of contemporary art. Photo courtesy of Portland Museum of Art

DeSimone joined the museum last summer from the Portland Museum of Art, where she was curator of contemporary art. The Farnsworth already had begun thinking about reinventing the way it displays its collection, and her background fit in perfectly.

The museum doesn’t have a massive endowment to fund new acquisitions like some institutions do, but it was able to purchase many of the new pieces with money earned from its sale last year of two paintings by abstract expressionist Lynne Drexler that had been in the collection. Interest in Drexler’s work has never been higher, and the paintings sold for a combined $2.7 million at auction. The museum still has four more from the artist, who lived much of her adult life on Monhegan Island.

A museum visitor looks at Ayumi Horie’s “Daburu Plate Installation”, which was purchased through the Lynne Drexler Acquisition Fund. The Portland-based potter’s work is often illustrated with drawings of animals and typography inspired by American and Japanese folk traditions and comics. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Horie, a Portland-based ceramic artist of Japanese descent, was one of the contemporary artists the Farnsworth approached to broaden its collection. Her piece, an installation of 81 hand-thrown and painted plates in a 9-by-9 grid, is unlike anything that has hung on the museum’s walls before.

“It’s long overdue and a welcome change to see the Farnsworth move beyond who was historically seen as an artist and the kind of work that they collected,” Horie said. “The richness of visual culture in Maine was not always reflected in their collection, so it’s wonderful to see how they’ve expanded their internal definitions.

“I love being in a show that is revisioning all the assumptions people have made about Maine.”



Maine has always had an outsized role in American art, from artists born here (Marsden Hartley), those who moved here (Winslow Homer) and those who found temporary inspiration here (Edward Hopper).

The Farnsworth Art Museum was founded in 1948 with a $1.3 million gift from Lucy Copeland Farnsworth, the last surviving member of a prominent merchant family that settled in Rockland before the Civil War. From the outset, the goal was to spotlight Maine’s prominent standing in the world of visual art.

Even before the museum opened, there was a group of artists collecting work dating back to the 18th century. Today, there are more than 15,000 individual pieces and more than 2,000 paintings in the collection.

One of the first artists who commanded the museum’s attention was a young Andrew Wyeth, who had his first solo exhibition at the Farnsworth in 1951. In 1964, the Farnsworth purchased a Wyeth painting, “Her Room,” for $65,000. At the time, it was the highest price ever paid by an institution for a single work by a living American artist. The painting is a scene from the living room of the Wyeth summer home in Cushing, with the St. George River visible out the windows.

“Her Room” is part of the permanent collection on display now.

Matt and Anne Poole of South Berwick explore paintings by Andrew Wyeth in a gallery at the Farnsworth Art Museum on Feb. 22. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The museum continued to collect work from artists with Maine ties – Fitz Henry Lane, a 19th-century Massachusetts painter and printmaker who found inspiration in Maine’s maritime life; Rockwell Kent, a New York artist who like so many others set up a studio on remote Monhegan Island; George Bellows, a realist painter, also from New York, who summered in Maine.


And they continued to collect work from the Wyeth family – N.C., Andrew and Jamie, who is still working – and in 1998 opened the Wyeth Center on the museum’s campus in downtown Rockland.

Over the years, the Farnsworth’s permanent display often followed a chronological pattern, even as pieces were rotated in and out. Like many museums, the artists represented were overwhelmingly white and male.

Alex Katz’s painting “Kym on White,” 2004, at the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland. Katz, a summer resident of Lincolnville, painted this portrait of a neighbor. Below is Elizabeth Atterbury’s work “Second Fan,” 2021, which references the artist’s motherhood and Chinese heritage. The piece was purchased by the museum through the Lynne Drexler Acquisition Fund. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

In order to overhaul its displays and better represent the full picture of Maine’s role, the Farnsworth needed to build its collection differently.

“We want to be as inclusive and equitable in our collection practice,” DeSimone said. That means building out our collection criteria, diversifying the types of works we acquire and being responsible about how they are presented.”

It hasn’t been hard.

“I think there are more artists here than ever before, and they are attracted to coming here because of that history,” she continued. “They are aspiring to capture the same thing others who came before them did.”



DeSimone said she couldn’t take credit for the entire overhaul as the process started prior to her arrival. But her hiring was clearly meant to build on what had begun, given her curatorial eye for contemporary Maine art.

Her time as curator of contemporary art at the Portland Museum of Art made her familiar with a growing roster of artists pushing boundaries.

That includes artists like Jason Brown, who was born and raised on the Penobscot Indian land known as Indian Island, north of Bangor. Brown produced a video installation called “Wabanavia” for the Portland museum’s first North Atlantic Triennial last year. Brown drew on his Indigenous and Scandinavian heritage to create a new world (maybe even a new dimension, he said) that is shown with traditional Wabanaki music playing in the background.

When DeSimone moved to the Farnsworth and started thinking about adding more contemporary work, she remembered that piece.

“I just did it for creativity’s sake, I never imagined a museum would ever be interested in something like this,” said Brown, a multidisciplinary artist who also performs under the name Firefly, most recently in a production called “Wabanaki Stories,” at Merrill Auditorium. “It really hit me when I went to the museum for the official handoff, and they gave me a tour. I saw all these artists I studied in art history, you know. My first thought was that it was really humbling to think something I created is in here with all of them. My second thought was, well, why not?”


Erin Johnson’s “Lake,” 2020, a high-definition video, was filmed at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. The piece, which was purchased through the museum’s Lynne Drexler Acquisition Fund, presents a bird’s-eye view of a group of artists floating on water. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Other new pieces on display help modernize the permanent collection, a striking sculpture of blown glass, obsidian and rubber by Portland artist Lauren Fensterstock, an installation of glass jars filled with intricate layers of colored sands by Carly Glovinski, and a haunting video installation of people floating in water by Erin Johnson that fills an entire wall.

Horie said she’s excited not just to be included in the Farnsworth’s permanent collection, but that her piece is geared toward what she considers an audience often overlooked by museums – children. The installation mimics a multiplication table.

“Although museums sometimes translate work into digestible activities for kids and families, having a direct experience of work that might speak to their interests and experiences is critical in raising a new generation of artists and cultural advocates,” she said. “That the installation is comprised of functional plates is another aspect that is not the norm. Inherent in plates are the acts of eating and sharing food – experiences that move beyond the visual to senses like touch, smell and sound.”

Lauren Fensterstock’s “Scrying 7,” 2017, center, was purchased by the museum through the Lynne Drexler Acquisition Fund. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

David Troup, communications and marketing manager, has been at the Farnsworth for 15 years. When he saw the overhaul, he said it almost felt like a new museum.

“I was brought to tears. It felt so alive,” he said.

The museum closed for weeks this winter in order to complete the enormous task, which included taking everything down and painting walls. DeSimone said she hopes never to have to close again.

As for the future, she said the Farnsworth team is looking at creating a more dynamic exhibition schedule. Smaller shows at more frequent intervals.

“We want to re-engage with audiences so that they come in more regularly,” she said.

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