Resources & Facilities – Museums

Bowdoin College Museum of Art

The Bowdoin College Museum of Art, the cornerstone of the arts and culture at Bowdoin, is one of the earliest collegiate art collections in the nation. It came into being through the 1811 bequest of James Bowdoin III of seventy European paintings and a portfolio of 141 old master drawings. Over the years, the collection has been expanded through the generosity of the Bowdoin family, alumni, and friends, and now numbers more than 22,000 objects, including paintings, sculpture, works on paper, decorative arts, and artifacts from prehistory to the present and from civilizations around the world.

The Museum’s landmark Walker Art Building was commissioned for the College by Harriet and Sophia Walker in honor of their uncle, a Boston businessman who had supported the creation of the first art gallery at Bowdoin in the mid-nineteenth century. The Walker sisters, encyclopedic collectors and supporters of art education, stipulated that the building be used exclusively for art purposes. Designed by Charles Follen McKim, the building was completed in 1894 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The brick, limestone, and granite façade, based on Renaissance prototypes, overlooks a broad staircase where generations of Bowdoin graduates receive their diplomas.

The antiquities collections contain over 1,800 Egyptian, Assyrian, Greek, and Roman artifacts and constitute one of the most comprehensive compilations of ancient art in any college museum. European art includes paintings, illustrated manuscripts, sculptures, and decorative arts. Among twelve European Renaissance and Baroque paintings given in 1961 by the Kress Foundation is a panel depicting nymphs pursued by a youth that recently has been attributed to the young Fra Angelico. The collection of prints, drawings, and photographs is large and varied, numbering more than 8,000 works and representing artists from Rembrandt and Rubens through Callot, Goya, and Manet to Picasso and Warhol.

The Museum’s American collection includes an important grouping of colonial and Federal portraits, with, for example, seven major paintings by Gilbert Stuart, including the famous presidential portraits of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, together with other works by Robert Feke, John Copley, Thomas Sully, and Joseph Blackburn. Among other notable works are the murals commissioned by McKim to decorate the Museum’s rotunda by the four leading painters of the American Renaissance: Elihu Vedder, Kenyon Cox, Abbott Thayer, and John LaFarge. The collection also includes works by significant nineteenth- and twentieth-century artists such as Mary Cassatt, Thomas Eakins, John Sloan, Rockwell Kent, Marsden Hartley, and Andrew Wyeth, and an archive of memorabilia from Winslow Homer’s Maine studio.

Non-western materials range from Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and Southeast Asian prints, ink paintings, sculpture, and decorative arts to modest but distinguished holdings of African, Pacific, Pre-Columbian, and Native American artifacts.

Renovations, designed by Machado and Silvetti Associates and completed in 2007, include expanded galleries, a seminar room, and improved art storage facilities. The restored Museum retains the building’s iconic architectural features and provides state-of-the-art climate control and mechanical systems. A dramatic glass and bronze entry pavilion houses a glass elevator and “floating” steel staircase, while a rear addition to the building features an expansive glass curtain wall behind which the Museum has installed its five celebrated ancient Assyrian relief sculptures.

The Museum, open to the public at no charge, is a teaching facility, with the core of its mission to keep its rich collections within immediate reach of Bowdoin students, faculty, scholars, and visitors from near and far. Its active emphasis on the study of original objects as an integral part of the Bowdoin curriculum makes the Museum the ultimate cross-disciplinary and multicultural enterprise. Although online resources are no substitute for an actual visit, the collections can be searched and information on Museum programs and publications found on the website at bowdoin.edu/art-museum.

Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum and Arctic Studies Center

The Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum was founded in 1967 in honor of two famous Arctic explorers and Bowdoin alumni, Admirals Robert E. Peary (Class of 1877) and Donald B. MacMillan (Class of 1898). On April 6, 1909, after a lifetime of Arctic exploration, Peary headed the first team of people to reach the North Pole. MacMillan, a crew member on Peary’s last expedition, spent the next forty-seven years exploring Labrador, Baffin Island, Ellesmere Island, and Greenland. He used the Bowdoin, a schooner he had built for work in ice-laden northern waters, on most of his expeditions. MacMillan took college students to the Arctic and introduced them to the natural history and anthropology of the North. He was not the first to involve Bowdoin students in Arctic exploration, however. In 1860, Paul A. Chadbourne, a professor of chemistry and natural history, had sailed along the Labrador and West Greenland coasts with students from Williams and Bowdoin. Professor Leslie Lee took Bowdoin alumni and students to the same regions in 1891, paving the way for the program’s North Atlantic focus.

The Museum’s collections include equipment, paintings, and photographs relating to the history of Arctic exploration; natural history specimens; artifacts and drawings made by indigenous people of Arctic North America; contemporary Canadian Inuit carvings and prints; and Alaskan Iñupiat and Yup’ik carvings, masks, and baleen and grass baskets. The Museum has large collections of ethnographic photographs and films taken on the expeditions of MacMillan and Robert Bartlett, an explorer and captain who sailed northern waters for nearly fifty years. Diaries, logs, and correspondence relating to the Museum’s collections are housed in the Special Collections & Archives section of the College’s Hawthorne-Longfellow Library.

The Museum is located on the first floor of Hubbard Hall. The building was named for General Thomas Hubbard of the Class of 1857, a generous benefactor of the College and financial supporter of Peary’s Arctic ventures. Generous donations from members of the Class of 1925, together with gifts from George B. Knox of the Class of 1929, a former trustee, and other interested alumni and friends, made the Museum a reality. Ian M. White, former director of the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, who sailed with MacMillan in 1950, designed the Museum’s first exhibitions.

The Arctic Studies Center was established in 1985 as a result of a generous matching grant from the Russell and Janet Doubleday Foundation to endow the directorship of the Center, in recognition of the Doubledays’ close relationship to MacMillan. The Center links the resources of the Museum and Library with teaching and research efforts, and hosts lectures, workshops, symposia, and educational outreach programs. Continued support from the Doubleday Endowment, friends of the College, the Kane Lodge Foundation, Inc., and federal grants have allowed the College’s Arctic-focused programs to grow. Through course offerings, field research programs, student employment opportunities, and special events, the Center promotes anthropological, archaeological, and environmental investigations of the North.