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Thu August 15, 2013
$100 Million Art Collection Donated To Colby College Museum Of Art
A Beacon of Light
On the bucolic campus of Colby College in Waterville, Maine sits the school’s art museum. Recently and vastly expanded with a 26,000-foot glass pavilion, it’s intended to be a beacon.
“This metaphor of the lantern, the beacon, was one that we kept going back to. And having this be a place that one was drawn to by the light that it emits and metaphorically by the creative, the artistic illumination that can happen in these spaces,” said Colby College Museum of Art director and chief curator Sharon Corwin.
Now resolutely glowing from within is the museum’s staggering permanent collection, a robust representation of American art populated by the country’s most profound painters and sculptors. Heavy on Whistler, punctuated by Sargent, enticing with O’Keefe and made contemporary by Katz.
“It will transform this community, and I’m already seeing it happen,” said Corwin. “I think people in our community are coming to the museum now, I think they have taken real ownership of this collection and of these new spaces.”
The Lunder Collection
Until recently, the art in the new Lunder-Alfond Family Pavilion was the private collection of Maine couple Peter and Paula Lunder. And now they have gifted all of it—more than 500 objects valued at more than $100 million—to Colby.
“The dream was always that it would be shown,” said Peter Lunder, “and students and the tourists, the state could enjoy it as much as we did.”
Added Paula Lunder, “We have full confidence in Colby that they will really take this collection and make an impact within the curriculum and for the community.”
With the Lunder gift and the new wing to showcase it, virtually overnight the Colby College Museum of Art has become the largest art museum in Maine. The Lunders’ strategy was simple: Colby is a neighbor, it is Peter Lunder's alma mater, and the couple wanted to provide an otherwise underserved community exposure to art.
Peter Lunder said that it “feels wonderful that they’re responding to it the same way we did, and that they’re enjoying it, and [they’re] amazed that a collection like this could exist in Waterville, Maine.”
The Collector’s Eye
The collection began with a series of antique store visits when the Lunders first moved to Maine more than 40 years ago. They quickly noticed they were drawn more to the art.
“It just evolved. Paintings, and sculptures, and objects, whatever. If we liked it, then we got some advice and then ended up buying it.”
The collection grew—initially with Peter’s passion for Southwestern pieces. And when it became apparent that the couple was assembling a museum-worthy collection, they began using advisors. But their philosophy for purchasing was straightforward.
“No boundaries,” said Peter Lunder. “If we saw something that we liked, and it checked out properly, and we continued to like it, we kept buying and enjoying it.
Paula Lunder added, “We would speak to other collectors and we learned a great deal from that exposure, and they would say, ‘You have to focus!’ Some of them would say, ‘You must focus.’ Well, that’s not Peter and I. We don’t, as you can see. But we enjoy it, we love it all.”
But not always at once when it came to buying.
“We didn’t have to agree,” said Mr. Lunder.
“No,” said Mrs. Lunder. “Two different, people, you can’t.”
“Paula had strong feelings on something I may not have liked as much,” said Mr. Lunder, “but I yielded to her eye, and vice versa. So we both didn’t have to like it. Who knows who’s right or who’s wrong in this situation?”
“There is no right or wrong,” said Mrs. Lunder.
What there is is a lasting and substantial shift on the Maine arts landscape from a couple who spent much of their personal lives in service to a community they love fondly. But lest you think their own walls are now devoid of art, Peter Lunder said, “There’s plenty of back-up.”