Bowdoin College Breaks Ground on Long-Awaited Walker Art Building Renovation

Story posted May 14, 2005

Bowdoin College has broken ground on a long-awaited renovation of the historic Walker Art Building, home to the Bowdoin College Museum of Art. The $20 million renovation project will preserve the landmark building's original facade and grand staircase while improving access, gallery and teaching space, climate control, and other systems.

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Bowdoin College officials prepare to break ground on $20 million renovation of the Walker Art Building - L to R: Museum of Art Director Katy Kline; project architect Jorge Silvetti; Bowdoin trustee Linda Roth '76; Trustee Chair Donald Zuckert '56; and Bowdoin President Barry Mills '72.

"This project will transform this building and our campus," said Bowdoin President Barry Mills, who was joined at the groundbreaking ceremony Friday by college trustees and donors, architects for the project, and museum staff. "With the utmost respect for this historic and proud structure, the work we begin today will protect our extraordinary art collection, make it much more accessible, and create for this community and the State of Maine an unparalleled destination for those who truly appreciate the exceptional treasures inside."

The renovation project includes the construction of a new detached entrance pavilion on the south side of the building (between the Walker Art Building and Gibson Hall) with stairs leading down to a new lower-level entrance court. The design also calls for construction of a rear addition that will provide new gallery space and a view into the interior of the building from the street, while respecting the original geometry of the structure. Machado & Silvetti Associates of Boston are the project architects.

The renovation and preservation project will also include the installation of a long-overdue climate-control system vital for the protection and preservation of the Bowdoin collection and touring exhibitions, the construction of additional gallery and exhibition space, and full handicapped accessibility to and throughout the building. It will repair several defects in the facility, including leaks in the building's terraces, poor storage facilities, a substandard loading and receiving area, inefficient office space, and an inadequate, dedicated teaching gallery and classroom.

Once inside the new entrance pavilion, visitors will descend by staircase (or lift) to a renovated lower level of the building. This new entry court will house the museum book and gift shop and other visitor amenities, allowing the building's landmark rotunda to be returned to its original appearance and purpose as a sculpture gallery. On the rear of the building, a modest addition will provide new gallery space and a view into the interior of the building from the street, while respecting the original geometry of the structure.

Construction, which will begin in on July 1, is expected to take 18 months. Bowdoin expects the fully renovated and restored museum to reopen in May 2007.

Originally designed by McKim, Mead, and White of Boston, and dedicated in 1894, the Walker Art Building was a gift to the College by Harriet Sarah and Mary Sophia Walker in honor of their uncle, Theophilus Wheeler Walker, a successful Massachusetts merchant, shipper, and entrepreneur, and first cousin of Bowdoin's fourth president, Leonard Woods. The Walker sisters stipulated that the building be used exclusively for art, and its galleries were put to immediate use housing and exhibiting Bowdoin's substantial art collection, originally the gift of college benefactor James Bowdoin III.

Today, the Bowdoin collection of more than 14,000 objects is one of the oldest collegiate art collections in the United States and, with works from the ancient world to the present, is widely considered the most comprehensive in the State of Maine. The collection is valued at over $100 million and is particularly strong in American painting, Ancient Art of the Mediterranean world, and European Old Master drawings and prints. The museum's holdings are used to enhance teaching in a variety of disciplines, including art and art history, theater, languages, sociology, government, environmental studies, women's studies, classics, archaeology, religion, and history. The museum is a widely used resource for art scholars from around the world, and is also a major attraction in southern Maine for tourists, area schoolchildren, and other local groups.

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