Thursday, January 17th, 2019

Portland Museum of Art Gets a Makeover

Nathan Baril

Posted on February 08, 2016 in Arts & Culture
By USM Free Press

Nathan Baril
Nathan Baril

By Meaghan Gonsior

The Portland Museum of Art is rethinking how museum is done. The first step in the extensive makeover, Your Museum, Reimagined, kicked off with a three week renovation closure from January 4 through the 21 in 2016. The museum reopened on the 22nd with freshly redone galleries, a new study area, and interactive experiences that change the way visitors view the art.

“What audiences are thinking about and what they want their experience to be in a museum is the million dollar question, or maybe it’s the ten million dollar question, in the museum world,” said Portland Museum of Art Director Mark Bessire. “Accessibility for the Portland Museum of Art is about opening up the museum so that the museum itself reflects the community and that the community’s interest is reflected back in the institution.”

A part of making the museum more accessible to patrons is allowing online access. Anyone can now view the museum’s eighteen thousand piece collection online at This number would translate to “nearly ten years of constant gallery rotations to see everything in the museum.”

One example of the museum’s fresh revamp can be experienced in the exhibition Me, Mona & Mao: Art, Fame & Visual Culture, “an interactive installation of three works of art” that  encourages visitors to think about the process of artists copying popular celebrity images.

A second remarkable exhibition currently being shown is The Great NC Wyeth Caper: Paintings by America’s Storyteller. Six Wyeth pieces were the focus of the largest art heist in the state’s history. There was a 18-month criminal investigation. Thankfully the FBI recovered the pieces, and the owner has “entrusted the museum to share them with the public,” announced PMA Director Mark Bessire.

If patrons are desperate to get their hands on valuable artwork, the museum now offers a way to experience it up close, minus the jail time or cumbersome felony charges. The new Peggy L. Osher Art Study and Collection Committee Conference Room are available to the public by appointment, and allow the museum-goers to view museum pieces up close. This feature will certainly appeal to local high schools and colleges, allowing professors the opportunity to teach students with the historical pieces in view. Besides remodeling and program changes, the museum has also published its first catalogue for patrons who wish to take home a token of their experience. The catalogue is available for purchase both online and at the museum.

The Portland Museum of Art is also reaching out to artists, beckoning the next Wyeth or Monet to experience an often elusive taste of inspiration. The Winslow Homer Studio at Prouts Neck offers patrons the opportunity to create art in the same environment that has inspired greatness of many other artists. The museum purchased the property in 2006, and it has since undergone renovations. Visitors who wish to tour the studio board a van at the Portland Museum of Art that takes them to the Winslow Homer Studio.  The patrons then spend the afternoon touring the place where Homer “lived and painted many of his masterpieces from 1884 until his death”. The museum encourages guests to bring along supplies to create their own works in the studio, whether it means bringing a canvas or a camera.

In the lower floor of the museum, black and white postcards are offered of a Winslow Homer image that guests can color in with complimentary colored pencils. Guests can have some serious coloring therapy with a coffee from the museum cafe. Your interpretation of the famous piece could even be hung up by the studio.

The PMA website promises that “over the next year, the Portland Museum of Art will fundamentally change the way audiences experience the museum. We will rethink our public programming, inviting the public to come together in meaningful and lasting ways.”

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