The Maine Biennial was established at the Portland Museum of Art through a very generous gift from William and Helen Thon. The couple wanted future generations of artists to experience the creative life they had greatly enjoyed in our state.

William Thon was so devoted to his belief in a Maine Biennial that he gave his entire estate: an investment portfolio of over $1 million, his home and studio at Port Clyde, and everything owned.

William Thon was explicit: He wanted a juried exhibition every two years. It was disheartening when the museum arbitrarily abandoned working with jurors in favor of the easier approach of allowing a curator to select a few artists for a less comprehensive exhibition. The Thon gift was more than sufficient to fund a true biennial.

Now, William Thon’s wish has been further violated: A triennial will replace his vision with some sort of collaboration with Iceland and Norway. Perhaps this concept has value, but there is no legitimacy or justice in sacrificing a donor’s hopes simply to pay for it. New donors should be sought for the project rather than violate the Thon gift.

The message this unfortunate act sends seriously undermines the credibility and reputation of the museum. A employee may lose track of the fundamental principles of the museum. But the museum trustees must guard against such transgressions. The trustees should protect the integrity of their museum so that current and future donors can trust that their hopes will be respected.

Daniel E. O’Leary

director, Portland Museum of Art, 1993-2007


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