The 15 Best Museums in Maine! By
With 228 miles of rocky coastline, life on, in and around the water is a big deal in Maine. This fact is reflected in several ways, including the prevalence of fish on restaurant menus and the number of boats clogging the harbors every weekend. Fishing, boatbuilding, and lobster fishing are the state's major industries and have been since its earliest days. So it's no surprise that many of the local museums focus on the sea.
Besides that fact, artists abound in Maine, lured there by the natural beauty of - you guessed it - the sea. This combination of water and artists accounts for an explosion of creativity in a somewhat remote and relatively unpopulated state. As a result, America's best lobsters compete with some of America's best artists, making tromping around a museum in Maine a richly rewarding activity.And while the ocean-themed museums are among the best in the state, there are many others that are absolute must-visits.
Set on the edge of Bowdoin's lovely campus, this museum often mounts very edgy exhibitions in its large first-floor exhibit space, sometimes accompanied by filmsrunning in a tiny theater adjacent to one of the galleries.Upstairs there might be a more formal exhibition of Chinese, Indian or Asian art and artifacts. The entire permanent collection of over 20,000 objects is searchable online. Leave time to peruse the tiny museum shop. It manages to pack in a large selection of quirky gifts, unique handmade jewelry and art books.
Located right next door to the Portland Museum of Art, you can be nice to your kids right after -or right before- being nice to yourself by taking them to this stimulating, interactive three-level playground. Numerous permanent exhibits allow the little ones to work off some energy: The Toddler Park is a soft play area for children three and under, while the 25-foot fire truck lets older children become fire chief for the day. Check the website in advance for special events and performances that may be available when you plan to visit.
A beautiful campus setting and a stunning building containing several eclectic collections make the trip to Colby College Museum of Art richly rewarding.A three-story glass pavilion opened in 2013, adding 10,000 square feet of exhibit space and making Colby the largest museum in the state. Painter Alex Katz donated 400 of his works to the school in 1992, leading to a new building showcasing his works and making this one of very few museums with a wing devoted to a single living artist. The Katz collection now numbers 900 works.
Located in a classic Maine coastal town along with 25 independent art galleries, a visit to the Farnsworth is a must for any art lover. The Wyeth Center is dedicated to exhibitions and interpretive programs related to three generations of Wyeths in Maine: N.C., Andrew, and James. The main building has animpressive collection of works by prominent American artists with Maine roots, among them the painters Alex Katz, Neil Welliver and Fairfield Porter. Works by sculptressLouise Nevelson, former Rockland resident, and printmaker Robert Indiana, who summered in Maine, are also on display.
Learn aboutthe city of Bath's famous shipbuilding heritage through artwork, artifacts, models and actual equipment used in the shipyards. An optional hour-long boat tour on the Kennebec River includes an up-close view of the Bath Iron Works, still producing ships and submarines today. Or take a trolley tour of the Iron Works. An admission ticket is good for two days, and you just might need both to see everything. As one happy tourist said, "We spent both days exploring everything they had to offer and still didn't see it all."
An art museum with a water view is a rare and beautiful thing. Before you set foot inside you'll find inspiration in the surrounding seaside gardens,lily pond reflecting pool and whimsical outdoor sculptures. Inside are small galleries devoted exclusively to the exhibition and collection of American art. Included are works by Will Barnet, Charles Burchfield, Marsden Hartley, Walt Kuhn, Gaston Lachaise, Reginald Marsh and Marguerite and William Zorach. Closed in winter so check your dates before you go.
One of two museums in the U.S. dedicated to Arctic studies, the Peary-MacMillan is located on the campus of Bowdoin College. Named after two of the school's graduates, bothrenowned explorers of the late 1800s, exhibits focus on various aspects of the Arctic, fromindigenous plants and animals to the cultural life of its natives. Currently featured are sculptures and prints by Canadian and Alaskan Inuit artists and historical documents related to the 1913 Karlukdisaster, a passenger vessel that was locked in ice for five months before sinking.
Occupyingeight building on three acres, the Penobscot Marine Museum covers every aspect of life on the water for the Maine fisherman. Besides several changing exhibitionsthere are several original homes from the early 1800s, each filled with artifacts pertaining to Maine's maritime history. One building is devoted to activities for children, while another houses an impressive Scrimshaw collection. Strolling around the grounds, you'll see old fishing boats, sailboats and canoes. As one visitor put it, "You could spend weeks here and not see a quarter of what they have." Closed in winter, check website for opening date.
Both outside and inside, thismuseum's architecturecommandsalmost as much attention as the treasures on display. Visitors enjoy the building's user-friendly stairways, unique lighting, clever windows and hidden galleries. In addition to Maine's largest European art collection, there is always a range of ultra-contemporary work exhibited. A wonderful café, extensive museum shop and in-housemovie theater add to a memorable outing. The luxury van taking visitors to the seaside Winslow Homer Studio,12 miles south in Prout's Neck,departs daily and must be reserved in advance.
More than a museum, the Observatory is an authentic survivor of the earliest days of the city of Portland. Built in 1807, the 86-foot high signal tower on Munjoy Hill was once an integral part of Portland's commercial success, alerting ship owners their boats were approaching, laden with goods to be unloaded at the downtown docks. Now fully restored after years of disrepair, the tower's rich history is revealed through historical photos and documents on each of five floors. To see it all, you'll climb 120 steps up a circular stairway. Go on a clear day for the most spectacular views.
Being America's oldest state museum, the Maine State Museum is especially appealing to history buffs. Its stated goal is "to promote public awareness of Maine's natural resources and historical richness." Besides displays pertaining to the state's geological and artistic history, curators have researched Maine's involvement in both the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, with documents and artifacts from both among their extensive collections.
Not a museum in the traditional sense, the Ski Museum of Maine is located on the second floor of the Sugarloaf Outlet Ski Shop. Documents and memorabilia pertaining to the men and women who have made outstanding contributions to the sport of skiing and snowboarding are on display. Open year round.
A lovely museum located in small town Maine dedicated to the works of the prolific artist, muralist, inventor and journalist Rufus Porter (1792-1884). Porter was the founder of the magazine Scientific American, which continues to publish today. He was an accomplished writer and zealous publisher, producing many printed guides concerning science and the arts. Examples of these can be seen here, as well as the influential painting style of his primitive murals.
Located on three floors of a hall on the campus of the University of Maine at Presque Isle, the exhibits at this natural history museum focus on biology, mathematics, physical science, astronomy, chemistry, geology and agriculture. Of special note are the displays of local seashells and forestry examples.
A small museum that packs a punch with a permanent collection of over 5,000 works by Maine artists as well as international artists who had a significant connection to the state during their lives. Intimate in size, the museum mounts stunning exhibitions. Currently there is a memorable show of the very latest works by printmaker Robert Indiana, whose iconic LOVE symbol is recognized worldwide.