10 of the best stops on the Maine Art Museum Trail
With its breathtaking scenery, it’s no wonder generations of artists have been flocking to Maine since the mid-nineteenth century.
Over the years, the state has become a haven for renowned artists like Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper and three generations of the Wyeth family.
You can see their work on The Maine Art Museum Trail, which is made up of Maine’s nine leading art museums, all located within a day’s drive of each other. Together they give you a real understanding of the impact Maine has had on the art world.
Although you won’t be able to see all of the more than 80,000 pieces that make up the museums’ collections, you will get an intimate look at masterpieces in art forms from painting and sculpture to ceramics, textiles, silver and furniture.
As you’re driving – or spending the night in one of the vibrant museum communities – you’ll also be able to take in many of the same sights that inspired these Maine artists.
Here are 10 pieces that rival the state’s natural beauty.
Birchbark mail pouch by Tomah Joseph at Abbe Museum
Birchbark mail pouch by Tomah Joseph, Passamaquoddy, ca. 1890 — Photo courtesy of Abbe Museum
The only Smithsonian Affiliate in Maine, the Abbe Museum showcases the history and cultures of the Wabanaki Nations through exhibitions, special events, teacher workshops, archaeology field schools and workshops for both children and adults.
Artist Tomah Joseph, of the Passamaquoddy tribe, passed down the traditions of his ancestors through his artwork, like this Birchbark mail pouch depicting Wabanaki stories and characters. Tomah Joseph was a good friend to the Roosevelt family and was an outdoor guide for the young Franklin Delano Roosevelt during his summers in Maine.
“Revelation of the Lamb” by Dahlov Ipcar | Bates College Museum of Art
Dahlov Ipcar’s “Revelation of the Lamb” — Photo courtesy of Bates College Museum of Art
Located on the campus of Bates College, the Museum of Art was founded in 1955 and holds over 5,000 objects, supporting the school’s curriculum across a variety of disciplines.
Dahlov Ipcar was one of Maine’s most noted artists, known for her fanciful paintings of animals. Before she died in 2017 at the age of 99, she produced hundreds of paintings, drawings, wood-cuts, lithographs, and textile sculptures and images, some of which are presented publicly here for the first time.
Ipcar was the first woman (and the youngest artist) to be featured in a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
“After the Storm, Vinalhaven” by Marsden Hartley | Bowdoin College Museum of Art
See “After the Storm, Vinalhaven” at Bowdoin College Museum of Art — Photo courtesy of Bowdoin College Museum of Art
One of the earliest collegiate art collections in the nation, Bowdoin College Museum of Art was started in 1811 through the bequest of 70 European paintings and 140 master drawings from James Bowdoin III. The collection now includes more than 20,000 objects from around the world and from the state itself.
Maine was a major inspiration to native artist Marsden Hartley, as is evident in his “After the Storm, Vinalhaven.” This modernist landscape was created on the Maine coast and exemplifies the long-standing excellence of the visual arts in the state.
“Red Tree in High Winter” by Alma Thomas | Colby College Museum of Art
Alma Thomas’s “Red Tree in High Winter” — Photo courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY
A collecting and teaching museum dedicated to the preservation, display and interpretation of the visual arts, Colby College Museum of Art holds nearly 8,000 works in five wings.
“Red Tree in High Winter” is one of many paintings by Alma Thomas which were inspired by nature and the plants in her own garden.
The first African-American woman honored with a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art, Thomas reflected on the barriers posed by segregation, saying, “One of the things we couldn’t do was go into museums, let alone think of hanging our pictures there.”
“Turkey Pond” by Andrew Wyeth | Farnsworth Art Museum
Andrew Wyeth’s “Turkey Pond”was gifted to the Farnsworth Art Museum — Photo courtesy of Farnsworth Art Museum
The Farnsworth Art Museum’s mission is to celebrate Maine’s rich role in American art.
Although its collection features more than 15,000 works by over 1,350 artists, the Farnsworth is best known for its paintings by the three generations of Wyeths: N.C., Andrew and Jamie. In 1944, four years before it even opened to the public, the museum purchased six works by a then-unknown Andrew Wyeth.
You can see many works by “America’s first family of art” in the museum’s Wyeth Center.
“Unloading Fishing Boats” by William Edward Norton | Monhegan Museum of Art & History
See “Unloading Fishing Boats” by William Edward Norton at the Monhegan Museum — Photo courtesy of Monhegan Museum
Celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2018, the Monhegan Museum of Art & History was founded by artists and islanders. It features works by leading American artists who have worked on Monhegan Island, including George Bellow, Robert Henri and Edward Hopper. The Museum is housed in the historic Monhegan Island Light.
“Unloading Fishing Boats” from 1875 is William Edward Norton’s early depiction of Fish Beach on Monhegan Island, illustrating its history as a fishing community.
Men are engaged in cleaning fish, while an overflowing dory of their catch has been pulled up on the beach, awaiting their attention. Behind the men are two fish houses, and the remains of a large sailing vessel lie discarded on the shore.
“Rhino” by Bernard Langlais | Ogunquit Museum of American Art
Bernard Langlais’s “Rhino” — Photo courtesy of Ogunquit Museum of American Art
The only museum in Maine devoted exclusively to the exhibition, preservation and interpretation of American art, the Ogunquit Museum of American Art houses a permanent collection of important paintings, sculpture, drawings, prints and photographs from the late 1800s to the present.
The museum’s three-acre seaside sculpture gardens are a favorite spot for many visitors. Situated on Narrow Cove in Ogunquit, they overlook the Atlantic Ocean. The Bernard Langlais wood animal sculptures, including “Rhino,” are especially popular.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Tim Rollins and K.O.S. | Portland Museum of Art
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is ink on latex saturated cellulose — Photo courtesy of Portland Museum of Art
Considered the cultural heart of the city, the Portland Museum of Art boasts significant holdings of American, European and contemporary art, as well as iconic works from Maine artists like Tim Rollins.
Born in rural Maine, Rollins formed K.O.S. (Kids of Survival), an artist collective with underprivileged teens in the Bronx, in the 1970s. The group has been recognized around the world for their visual interpretations and critiques of the literary canon, among other subjects.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” a vibrant, oversized piece that greets visitors to the museum, represents the first time they worked with a textile manufacturer to produce their artwork at such scale.
“Steve Bartlett: Works from 2013-2018” | University of Maine Museum of Art
Installation view from the University of Maine Museum of Art exhibition “Steve Bartlett: Works from 2013-2018” — Photo courtesy of University of Maine Museum of Art
The University of Maine Museum of Art is the only institution owned by the citizens of the State of Maine to house a permanent fine arts collection. That collection features more than 3,500 original works of art.
These abstract wooden sculptures by Maine-based artist, Steve Bartlett, are a highlight. The array of meticulously crafted floor and wall-based sculptures were created using a steam-bent technique and incorporate an overlay of bold painted elements.
According to Bartlett, there is no direct message in his sculptures. He “simply hopes to engage and provoke the imagination.”
“American Steel” by John Bisbee | Center for Maine Contemporary Art
“American Steel” by John Bisbee at Center for Maine Contemporary Art — Photo courtesy of Andrew Estey
Although it’s not officially part of the Trail, the Center for Maine Contemporary Art is definitely worth a visit. Since 1952, CMCA has been supporting, exhibiting and sustaining art and artists with ties to Maine, like John Bisbee, who is celebrated for his work created exclusively from forged and welded nails.
“American Steel” is a statement about America, set against the backdrop of declining manufacturing, factory outsourcing and the mechanization of labor. According to the museum, the title is a metaphor for larger conversations about economics, culture and America’s uncertain place in the world.