Published April 16, 2020 by Bowdoin College Museum of Art

Postponement of "At First Light" Exhibition announced by Bowdoin College Museum of Art


North, 2001, pigment print on paper, by William Wegman, American, born 1943. Gift of William Wegman and Christine Burgin Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, Maine. Courtesy of the artist.

Due to the ongoing pandemic, and the uncertain timeline it imposes, the Bowdoin College Museum of Art (BCMA) has decided to postpone its upcoming exhibition At First Light: Two Centuries of Artists in Maine until Summer 2021. Initially planned as part of a year of exhibitions and events at the Museum recognizing the bicentennial of Maine’s statehood in 2020, the show will explore how Maine has long captivated artists and inspired the creation of iconic works of American art, in response to its rugged mountain and sweeping coastal vistas, its traditions and histories, and the character of the people who make it home. Programming for Summer 2020 will be announced at a later date, once there is a clear timeline for the Museum to reopen to the public.

“While we are disappointed by the need to delay our exhibition, there is no question that the health and safety of our community—on and off campus—comes first,” said Anne Collins Goodyear, BCMA’s co-director and one of the exhibition’s curators. “We are also saddened by the news of the recent death of artist and part-time Maine resident David Driskell, due to the coronavirus—another reminder to us all of the seriousness of this pandemic. Dr. Driskell’s work will be included in the show, an opportunity next summer to commemorate his remarkable life and artistic accomplishments. We are grateful to the numerous lenders to the exhibition have already generously promised that that their works of art will be available for the exhibition next summer.”

Added Frank Goodyear, BCMA’s co-director and a curator of the exhibition, “To look at Maine’s artistic history is also to explore the trajectory of American art more broadly. Through the 100 works featured in At First Light, we will capture the developments and evolutions within creative practice and across communities. These are all things that we will be ready to celebrate next summer, when we are able to fully engage our audiences, and participate in marking Maine’s bicentennial with a vibrant exploration of its artistic traditions and its present-day creative spirit.”

Artists have shaped how we understand, and quite literally see, Maine’s landscape and its people, and the state has nurtured artistic production over the course of two centuries. At First Light will include approximately 100 works, including those by acclaimed artists such as Marsden Hartley, Winslow Homer, and Andrew Wyeth as well as living masters Lois Dodd, Molly Neptune Parker, and William Wegman, among numerous others. Together the featured works, which range widely in media, style, and approach, will offer a vivid portrait of Maine and its relationship to wider artistic developments in American art.

At First Light will explore the extraordinary breadth of art created in and inspired by Maine through masterpieces from the BCMA collection as well as important loans from other institutions, including the Addison Gallery of American Art, the Farnsworth Art Museum, the Harvard Art Museum, the Rhode Island School of Design Museum, and the Toledo Museum of Art, among others. Through this exceptional range of works, the exhibition will pose important questions about the state’s history and its diverse population as well as foster dialogues on the artistic traditions that have flourished in Maine for two centuries. In particular, the exhibition will highlight the ways in which Maine’s natural landscape, local communities, and creative practice are inextricably linked, creating an environment ripe for artistic experimentation and innovation.

Works in the exhibition At First Light will be installed chronologically, allowing audiences to experience how ideas were communicated through evolving artistic styles and approaches. Among the underlying themes is Maine’s dramatic landscapes, which will examined through works such as Thomas Cole’s House, Mount Desert, Maine (1844-45, Harvard Art Museum), Winslow Homer’s Sunlight on the Coast (1890, Toledo Museum of Art), George Bellow’s Green Breaker (1913, BCMA), Marsden Hartley’s After the Storm, Vinalhaven (1938-39, BCMA), and Lois Dodd’s Long Cove Quarry(1993, BCMA). Other works will evoke the professional occupations that have come to characterize Maine and drive its economy, from tourism, as experienced in Wegman’s playful works, to the traditional industries of logging, as depicted by George Hawley Hallowell and Berenice Abbott, and lobstering, as seen through the work of Olive Pierce and Andrew Wyeth. Artists have also captured and expressed the character and diversity of Mainers themselves. This can be seen in Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of the abolitionist Phebe Lord Upham (ca. 1823, BCMA) and in Jeremiah Pearson’s depiction of the African American barber Abraham Hanson (ca. 1828, Addison Gallery of American Art).

The presence and impact of growing communities of ambitious artists over the course of two centuries are also examined throughout the exhibition. Marguerite Zorach’s The Family Evening (ca. 1924, BCMA) testifies to the formation of communities of artists in the region, which began to proliferate in the early twentieth century, as areas such as Ogunquit, Georgetown, Monhegan, Skowhegan, Mt. Desert Island, Vinalhaven, and the Rangely Lakes became more accessible to creative practitioners eager to escape urban settings. The exhibition will also explore the work of native artists, including members of the Wabanaki Confederacy through the work of Barry Dana, Neptune Parker, and the Ambroise St. Aubin Family. Addressing the formation of artistic communities across the state, the exhibition will also draw connections between artists and their creative motivations, offering a range of artistic voices including those that are well known and others that have yet to be fully explored.

Additionally, BCMA, in partnership with Rizzoli Electa, has commissioned celebrated architectural photographer Walter Smalling to create a new photographic record of the homes, studios, and favored locations of 26 artists who lived and worked in Maine, from the early nineteenth century to the present, including Dodd, Hartley, Homer, Robert Indiana, Alex Katz, Rockwell Kent, John Marin, Fairfield Porter, the Wyeths, and Marguerite and William Zorach. These photographs appear in At First Light: Two Centuries of Maine Artists, Their Homes, and Studios, a publication that accompanies the exhibition and is available now. The book includes Smalling’s photographs together with images of notable works by each of the featured artists, as well as texts by the BCMA’s co-directors and Michael Komanecky, Chief Curator at the Farnsworth Art Museum. Stuart Kestenbaum, the poet laureate of Maine, has contributed a forward. A dedicated installation of Smalling’s photographs will also be on view at the BCMA, as a companion exhibition to At First Light.