Maine has a distinctive, venerable, and broad art culture. You’d best plan on a nice long trip.
Teach Me Web by Reuban Tam, courtesy of Monhegan Museum.
I don’t know how many commercial art galleries there are in Maine, but you can’t walk down a Main Street here without tripping over one or several—they’re everywhere, and of very high quality. This state’s an absolute must-visit destination for serious fans and collectors. But if you’re interested in 19th and 20th century masters, there are also nine good reasons to come to Maine: our art museums.
City Point, Vinalhaven, Marsden Hartley, courtesy Colby College Museum of Art.
The Maine Art Museum Trail Guide will take you to the major museum galleries in the state. I can’t predict how long it would take to tour all nine museums, because they’re also located in some outstanding places. There are wonderful attractions near each museum that might make you tarry. For example, could you visit Bar Harbor’s Abbe Museum without also spending time at Acadia, America’s first national park? And to get to the Monhegan Museum of Art and History, you need to take a ferry. There’s simply no better fun than that ferry ride on a fine summer day. While you’re there, you should tromp around the island and get a feel for its unique character. Then, there are the state's food and the breweries and boats and… you get the picture.
Fancy basket by Sarah Sockbeson, Penobscot, courtesy of the Abbe Museum.
Maine has had a distinctive painting culture for almost two hundred years. Its story starts with the Hudson River School painters. The nineteenth century was a period of rapid industrialization and urbanization. That brought many great things, but it also brought smog, noise, disease and overcrowding. People began to long for an untouched Eden. Thomas Cole, Frederic Church, Thomas Doughty and other Hudson River School artists quickly tapped Maine for subject matter. It was as iconic as the American West and a heckuva lot closer to New York.
That unleashed a flood, and generations of American artists have been inspired here. Luminist Fitz Henry Lane painted the harbors and ships of the Maine coast. George Bellows, Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper, three generations of Wyeths, and many, many others have painted here. Many of those paintings remain in (or have been returned to) Maine.
Her Room, by Andrew Wyeth, courtesy of the Farnsworth Art Museum.
Because it’s close to my house, I am most familiar with the Farnsworth Art Museum. When I taught workshops out of Rockland, I took my students there. A person could reverse-engineer the process of painting by carefully studying Andrew Wyeth’s drawings.
Colby College Museum of Art is one of the best academic museums in the country. Bowdoin College Museum of Art is one of the oldest, having been founded in 1811. The Abbe Museum showcases Wabanaki art (and is a Smithsonian affiliate). The Ogunquit Museum not only exclusively deals with American art, it has a great seaside location. So, good luck choosing.