The Monhegan Museum of Art and History atop Lighthouse Hill on Monhegan Island. Photo by Alan LaVallee, courtesy of Monhegan Museum

The Monhegan Museum of Art & History has matched a $1 million challenge grant from the Wyeth Foundation, 10 months ahead of schedule. The island museum received the initial $1 million grant from the Wyeth Foundation two years ago and hoped to complete the matching challenge by the end of 2020.

Robert Stahl, the museum’s co-director, attributed the campaign’s success to the credibility of Jamie Wyeth and his late wife, Phyllis. Once they endorsed the campaign with their initial gift, others quickly lined up, he said. “His name means a lot on Monhegan,” Stahl said, noting that the Wyeths purchased a home on the island in 1969 built by the artist Rockwell Kent in 1908.

“I think the reason we’ve been able to get the match completed so quickly is because Jamie is a member of the Monhegan community, and he and Phyllis have always been exceptionally generous,” he said. “And on the larger level, he’s a force in American art. His endorsement of a small museum 12 miles off the coast is hugely important.”

The grant from the Wyeth Foundation was the largest in the museum’s history. The museum matched it with local, regional and national donations. Income from the $2 million investment will support museum operations as it moves from a volunteer to paid director and undertakes capital improvements. Edward L. Deci directed the museum without pay for more than 30 years, and moved into a new role as board president last fall.

The museum is open seasonally and draws about 7,000 visitors annually. It has an operating budget of about $385,000, Stahl said.

Lately, the museum has been mounting larger shows and working with regional museums on scholarship about island artists and their regional impact. Last summer’s exhibition about Maud Briggs Knowlton, “A Life Made in Art,” traveled to the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, New Hampshire, where Knowlton was inaugural director. The exhibition opened in Manchester in February, and Stahl delivered a lecture in Manchester about Knowlton.

This summer, Monhegan will mount “Cape Ann and Monhegan Island Vistas: Contrasted New England Art Colonies” in coordination with the Cape Ann Museum in Massachusetts.

“Having the budget to collaborate is huge,” Stahl said. “We will be publishing a catalog with the Cape Ann show, which also takes money. It’s nice to be able to do that kind of work.”

The museum opens for the season in late June. It shows the history and artistic heritage of the island with an art collection that spans 150 years of island painting, and interprets the Rockwell Kent/James Fitzgerald home and studio.


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