The Colby College Museum of Art is about to get a whole lot better — and bigger.

Less than three years after longtime Colby benefactors Peter and Paula Lunder promised their outstanding collection of American art to the school, the college on Mayflower Hill in Waterville announced last week that it had exceeded its $370 million goal in what has become the largest capital campaign in Maine history.

Of the $376 million pledged, $15 million is targeted for an expansion and renovation of the museum.

Colby will break ground on the museum project next May, said college President William D. Adams. It is hoped the project will be completed and open to the public in 2013, Colby’s bicentennial year.

The expansion will include an addition to the museum of about 25,000 square feet, most of which will be dedicated to galleries for the Lunder collection. The Lunders agreed to give their collection of art to Colby under the condition that the college build a suitable space for its display.

“The arrangement was, and is, to add sufficient exhibition space to ensure that a good part of that collection is on display at all times,” Adams said in a phone interview.

The collection of some 500 pieces includes mostly paintings and sculpture by American artists, including works by James McNeill Whistler, Georgia O’Keeffe, Edward Hopper, Mary Cassatt, Winslow Homer and others.

The capstone gift in the campaign came from the Harold Alfond Foundation, which offered $5 million.

It’s fitting that the Alfond Foundation made the gift. Both the Lunders and the Alfonds have strong ties to the college and the museum — and to each other, noted museum Director Sharon Corwin.

Peter Lunder is Harold Alfond’s nephew, and helped Alfond build Dexter Shoe into an empire that created the wealth that built the art collection. Peter Lunder graduated from Colby in 1956, and Paula Lunder is a life trustee.

Harold Alfond died in 2007. He was a major contributor to Colby and to many other Maine institutions. His wife, Dorothy, was a member of the Colby class of 1938.

Their children have been active at Colby in many capacities, including as students and trustees. Son Ted is a member of the Colby museum’s board of governors, and Ted’s wife, Barbara, chairs the board.

“These families have recognized the importance of great art to the state of Maine and have enabled us to make that art available to the people of Maine and to Colby’s faculty and students,” museum director Sharon Corwin said in a statement.

The addition should make the museum a bigger attraction than it already is, Adams said.

“This collection will serve as a destination for people who are interested in American art. It’s going to have a huge impact on the region, we think. More and more people will be drawn to Colby and to Waterville,” Adams said.

“It gives us a better foundation to do the kind of community outreach that we are doing with schools throughout the region, and it gives a richer array of things for people to look at.”

Frederick Fisher and Partners, a California firm, is designing the expansion. Fisher also designed the Lunder Wing of the existing museum.

The expansion will be striking and a contrast to Colby’s red-brick tradition.

It is a simple, three-story glass prism, to be built on the lawn near the existing main entrance to the museum.

In the context of the uncertain economic times, Colby’s fundraising success is nothing short of remarkable.

Adams noted the campaign began quietly in 2002 and became public in 2005, before the recession gripped the economy.

During the course of the campaign, Colby has completed a half-dozen construction projects already.

Nonetheless, he said, “It’s still a very significant accomplishment. We were certainly concerned a couple of years ago, and worried about our capacity to complete it. But we were able to get it done.

“It’s a great thing for us, and a great testimony to the intensity of the feelings of people who belong to the broader Colby community.”

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

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