Art Works Blog

Spotlight on Farnsworth Art Museum

For any artist, feeling inspired can be tough at times. However as some artists learn, inspiration can come from anything, even their very own backyard. That’s exactly what visitors can expect to see when visiting Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine. This Blue Star Museum showcases works of art inspired by the geography and history of the state. There are about 15,000 pieces and 13 galleries to enjoy, where visitors are given the opportunity to see a collection that highlights Maine’s role in American art. As museum director Christopher Brownawell shared with us, many of the artists featured in the exhibits had their art careers closely associated with Maine, from the Farnsworth family, to George Bellows, William Zorach, and Andrew Wyeth. As Brownawell put it, “a lot of artists choose Maine because of its sense of inspiration. There's a magic to all of it.”

Read on to learn more about Farnsworth Art Museum, their upcoming exhibit introducing the collaborative process, and what visitors can expect to see during their visit.  

NEA: What do you think makes Farnsworth Art Museum unique?

CHRISTOPHER BROWNAWELL: There are so many things; it's a great institution. It's in Rockland, Maine. The geography lends itself to a lot of visitation here. It's a beautiful coastline. A lot of artists choose Maine because it’s their summer destination or their sense of inspiration. We have this great art museum that is positioned in this small town of 8,000 people. There's a magic to all of it. There's magic to Farnsworth.

We have an American collection that numbers about 15,000 pieces. We have relationships with artists Robert Indiana and Alex Katz. We have a relationship with the Wyeth family. We have some of the great early American masters in our collection. We have George Bellows, Robert Henri, Winslow Homer--the list goes on and on. It's a fabulous collection.

NEA: Can you talk about why you think a program like Blue Star Museums is important for active-duty military families?

BROWNAWELL: It's an opportunity to say thank you. It’s a small way to pay back those individuals that are protecting our country and risking their lives to protect our freedom. Art has the ability to inspire. It has the ability to heal. It has the ability to engage and excite people. Why wouldn't we want to participate in a program like Blue Star Museums? 

Visitors walking around a exhibition of paintings.

Visitors enjoy the Farnsworth’s Stories of the Land exhibition. Photo by Michael O’Neil.

NEA: Farnsworth has an extensive gallery. What types of artwork will visitors see at the Farnsworth Art Museum? 

BROWNAWELL: There's really something for everybody. We have 13 galleries here. We have it divided in three main exhibitions. You have our permanent collection. It highlights a lot of American masters. We dedicate a few galleries to celebrate the lives of the Wyeth family. That's three generations: N.C., Andrew, and James Wyeth. We do a series of temporary exhibitions that we organize. We put those up at different times during the course of the year. One comes down, and another one goes up. We also operate two historic houses. One is the Farnsworth Homestead, for folks that are interested in Victorian history. It's a great example of mid-19th century architecture. We also have the Olson house, which is a national historic landmark sitting in Cushing, Maine, which is about 12 miles away from the museum. That is where Andrew Wyeth painted for over 30 years. He would return every summer and document the Olson family. That's where he painted one of his most iconic paintings in American Art History which is, Christina's World. We opened that house to the public and it gives the public and visitors a real in-depth look at it. It's like walking into one of Andrew Wyeth’s paintings. 

A wide-shot photo of a old wooden house on a hill surrounded by green trees and grass.

The Farnsworth’s Olson House which is depicted in Andrew Wyeth’s iconic Christina’s World. Photo by David Troup.

NEA: Could you tell us a little bit about the upcoming exhibit, Pushing Boundaries: Dine, Graves, Lichtenstein, Rauschenberg and Rosenquist—Collaborations with Donald Saff?

BROWNAWELL: Donald Saff is founder of the University of South Florida Graphicstudio. He would invite artists of international prominence to come to do a residency and produce a piece at the university. It would give the students an opportunity to see a major artist working and figuring out the creative process. He retired from academia and went to Maryland and established a new facility called Saff Tech Arts. He has collaborated on pieces with James Turrell, Nancy Graves, Robert Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein, and Jim Dine. 

It is what we would call print, but not print in the traditional format. They're not necessarily on paper; they can be on stainless steel. There are components that are added to the surface. There are sculptures that they did. They were very gutsy and courageous collaborations. They would push the envelopes. Donald would work with a group of very talented artists and technicians. The artist had an idea, a concept, and said, “Don, I'd really like to do this with my work, but how do you pull that off?” Don would work with his folks and they would work through the technical side of the artist's vision. He would get back to the artist and say, “This is how you can fulfill your idea.” They would produce these pieces--large, bold, and exciting collaborations. We'll have those on the walls this summer. They're both sculptural and wall pieces. We're excited to bring it to Maine. 

We're going to introduce and talk about the collaborative process between the technician and artist to give people a look at the behind-the-scenes to see how a piece comes together. It is so they can see how a piece evolves from a concept to a final piece. We'll introduce the idea of collaboration and the artistic process. A lot of times, it's just the final piece that's on the wall. In this particular wall, we'll have a few examples of everything that led up to the final piece.

NEA: What's your favorite museum—other than the Farnsworth Art Museum? 

BROWNAWELL: The National Gallery, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, and Whitney Museum of American Art are all terrific. There are so many great institutions out there that have such fabulous collections. I wouldn't put my finger on one. There are some smaller institutions that equally excite me. They have fantastic collections, exhibitions, programs, and they all have great energy.

Take a look at some additional images from Farnsworth Art Museum on our Pinterest page.

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