It’s a bit perplexing that Maine—a state so rich in wildlife and natural beauty and that hosted one of the New World’s first European settlements—should be so short on museums dedicated to human and natural history. In the art world, however, the state’s museum scene more than holds its own. This should come as no surprise, since some of the country’s most notable artists—Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper, Andrew Wyeth—all looked to Maine’s coast, countryside, and townscapes for inspiration. I recently launched a road trip to visit three of the museums on this list, all of them coastal and all of them hosting thematically related Wyeth exhibits. Not only was it a satisfying weekend of arts immersion, it occurred to me there’s probably no more scenic an art crawl anywhere in the country—never mind one that ends in a spot where the artist himself sat and painted.
Colby College Museum of Art
Fresh off a substantial endowment and dramatic expansion in 2013, Colby’s 38,000-square-foot art museum is a minimalist, steel-and-glass cube appended to a classic red brick campus building. Recent American art is the focus, and with sculpture, relief, design, and illustration thrown liberally into the mix, Colby’s collection is Maine’s most diverse.
Farnsworth Art Museum
Along with adventurous exhibits that run the gamut from impressionist landscapes to Hollywood kitsch, the Farnsworth maintains the nearby Olsen House, a historic saltwater farmhouse that was a frequent subject of Andrew Wyeth’s. Thanks to a long-running relationship with the Wyeth family, works by three generations of Wyeth artists anchor its permanent collection.
Portland Museum of Art
PMA isn’t afraid to mix it up. The arch-topped building at the heart of the arts district houses a collection built around weighty American masters like Homer and Frederic Edwin Church, but there’s room for Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse along with friskier exhibits of contemporary photography and a smartly curated film and lecture series.
Ogunquit Museum of American Art
American art is the exclusive focus of this airy, seaside museum in southern Maine, and the permanent collection includes prominent Maine-dwellers like modernist painter Marsden Hartley and Jazz Age illustrator Peggy Bacon. Take time for a stroll through the museum’s impressive gardens (sculpture and flower).
Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum
The one museum on this list not exclusively dedicated to art, this modest exhibit space at Bowdoin College features fascinating rotating exhibitions of artifacts and photos from early polar expeditions next to art from Inuit and other Arctic cultures. Ornate works in bone and tusk would be worth admission, if admission weren’t free.