July 13, 2011
The opening of a landmark exhibit at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art provides yet another reason to head to Maine this summer.
It’s time to visit Maine! There is no more beautiful time here than during the summer when the days are long and warm and the sky a brilliant blue. The waters of Casco Bay—less than three miles from campus—are dotted with sailors and fisherman enjoying and working the historic Maine coast. Smiles abound this time of year, because these are the days that explain why we live here! Of course, our state is dramatic year round—but a Maine summer is special. It is a time when so many from across America and around the world visit or come “home” to enjoy warm days and cool nights along these rugged shores.
Edward Hopper understood the attraction and splendor of the Maine coast when he visited often in the years from 1916 to 1929. He chronicled these visits and interpreted Maine’s singular beauty in works that have been gathered together this week at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art. “Edward Hopper’s Maine,” which opens Friday and runs through mid-October, brings together for the first time anywhere an impressive collection of Hopper’s rarely viewed Maine works. Conceived by our very talented and enthusiastic museum director, Kevin Salatino, and organized by our dedicated Museum staff, this exhibition is certain to attract wide interest as it underscores the exceptional talent of the artist as well as the extraordinary beauty of Maine. An impressive catalogue for the exhibition is available online, and the Bowdoin website offers details about the exhibition as well as an intriguing “Guide to Hopper’s Maine.”
Those who know our campus will agree that the venue for this landmark exhibition couldn’t be more special. The recently renovated Walker Art Building is a national treasure that houses a state-of-the art museum behind a stately and precious façade, and within what has been called “the finest public building in Maine.” Conceived originally by McKim, Meade and White and interpreted in 2006 by Machado and Silvetti in their brilliant renovation, Bowdoin’s museum alone is worth a trip to Maine and to Brunswick.
More than a century ago, in The Offer of the College, William DeWitt Hyde—Bowdoin’s seventh president—wrote of the promise of a liberal arts education, including the capacity “to count Nature a familiar acquaintance, and Art an intimate friend.” Over the past decade we have intentionally recommitted Bowdoin to the arts because—as we say on our website—”immersion in the arts gives students firsthand experience of the artistic process, deeper aesthetic judgments, and new ways to see the world.” Back in 2004, I spoke about the importance of the arts in our place as a liberal arts college, reminding those gathered for Baccalaureate that: “Art is communication—the communication of ideas and issues—that entertains but also teaches, persuades, and challenges us all. It is this process of thought and challenge that shapes an educated mind.”
I remain convinced today that to be an educated citizen in our society it is vital to understand many vocabularies. The world’s focus today is on technology, science, economics and politics. But the vocabulary of the arts is also a critical component of an informed citizenry. The arts develop—among other important characteristics—an appreciation for the subtlety of this world and the unique expressions and interpretations that different people can bring to the very same object or story or music. It is that same appreciation and respect for a different interpretation that translates well beyond the arts and should be at the heart of a liberal arts education. Hyde said it best in The Offer: “…to gain a standard for the appreciation of others’ work and the criticism of your own.”
There is no better place to “to count Nature a familiar acquaintance, and Art an intimate friend” than the coast of Maine in the summer. So when you come to visit our Hopper show, I invite you also to travel down to Portland and up the road to Colby. There is a fabulous exhibition of the works of John Marin at the Portland Museum of Art, and an important photography exhibition, “American Modern,” at the Colby Museum of Art (along with a tribute to Bowdoin alumnus, former trustee, and benefactor David P. Becker ’70). And down east a bit in Rockland, the Farnsworth Art Museum adds to the impressive mix with an exhibition featuring more than fifty works by Andrew Wyeth.
Hopper understood the draw of Maine in the summer. I hope you’ll come experience it for yourself.