Story posted December 15, 2009
An extraordinary gift of 130 Canadian Inuit soapstone and antler carvings and 67 prints recently arrived at the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum and Arctic Studies Center. The collection was donated to the College by Robert and Judith Toll, who intend it to be the first of a series of gifts of Inuit art they give the Arctic Museum.
The Tolls, who live in California, began collecting Canadian Inuit art in the late 1960s. They purchased carvings and prints on a budget and with great care. Rather than trying to build a collection representing every art-producing community of the region, the Tolls aimed for depth. They collected works by specific artists from certain communities, particularly those along the western side of Hudson's Bay. Over the years they have taken pains to acquire works by artists who are related to one another, husbands and wives, siblings, and parents and children. Many items in their collection of more than 500 pieces represent the work of widely recognized Inuit artists.
Ten years ago the Tolls began to consider how best to share their growing collection. They started looking at museums and their search led them to Bowdoin and the Arctic Museum, which has a long tradition of developing its own exhibits and involving students in research, exhibition and outreach work. Over the course of a number of years the Tolls and the museum staff became better acquainted. This year, the Tolls decided Bowdoin would be a good home for their collection. When announcing their intention to donate the collection to the Arctic Museum, Robert Toll commented, "We are excited about the use of the collection for teaching, especially the kinds of in-depth student involvement both the college and Arctic Studies encourage."
"The Tolls' gift establishes a wonderful foundation on which we can continue to build our holdings of contemporary Inuit art," said Susan A. Kaplan, director of the Arctic Museum and Arctic Studies program. "It is a gift that will transform the museum and Arctic Studies while greatly benefitting our students and the broader community."
Through exhibition and research initiatives the staff has long worked with science and social science faculty and students; now they can collaborate with the arts and humanities faculty and students as well.
"The Tolls are extremely thoughtful donors as well as being generous people," observed Genevieve LeMoine, the museum's curator and registrar. "In addition to donating pieces to be displayed in a major exhibition, the Tolls asked us to select a group of works that will be especially useful for teaching."
Asked to pick favorite pieces, the staff has found it impossible, commenting that each piece is compelling and irresistible. The collection has been catalogued and an energized staff is preparing it for a fall exhibition, while faculty members are being invited to consider how to work with the collection in their spring courses.