The Portland Museum of Art has diversified its collection in recent years, with purchases of key works like “Ghetto Wall #2” by David Driskell and “A Distant Holla, Currency Exchange” by Daniel Minter, leading African American artists with strong Maine ties. The museum has purchased baskets by tribal basketmakers Jeremy Frey and Theresa Secord and the sculpture “People Like Us” by Choctaw-Cherokee artist Jeffrey Gibson.

Emily Mason (United States, 1932-2019), “Practice Winter,” 1962, oil on canvas, 43 x 50 inches. © 2020 Emily Mason / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY. Courtesy Miles McEnery Gallery. Photo courtesy of the Portland Museum of Art

This year and next, the museum will focus its collecting efforts on works by Emily Mason, Carrie Moyer and Sheila Pepe, contemporary female artists who have shown recently or are currently showing at the museum. Mason was part of last year’s Haystack exhibition “In the Vanguard,” and the museum has targeted her abstract landscape painting “Practice Winter” for the collection. Moyer and Pepe are showing together through Aug. 16 with the installation “Tabernacles for Trying Times,” an exhibition that pursues justice and equality through religious symbolism. Two of the pieces in the exhibition, the exuberant painting by Moyer “Humming at the Gate” and Pepe’s spiritually themed sculpture “American Bardo,” will transition to the museum’s permanent collection, said Jamie DeSimone, the museum’s curator of contemporary art.

Sheila Pepe (United States, born 1959), “American Bardo,” 2020, wood, brass, glass, pottery shards, hardware, fabric, and paint, 36 x 48 x 24 inches. Collection of the artist. Courtesy of Alan Weiner Photography © the artist Photo courtesy of the Portland Museum of Art

“All museums are putting a spotlight on their collecting practices and making sure they are being equitable across the board,” DeSimone said. “This is a concentrated effort to bring works of art by women into the collection.”

The museum hopes to raise $150,000 by the end of 2021 through its Friends of the Collection campaign for the purchases, said Elizabeth Jones, the museum’s deputy director of external affairs. The goal is both modest and realistic, given the uncertain financial climate because of the pandemic, she said. Typically, the museum tries to raise that sum in a single year. So far, the museum has raised $43,000.

“It can be $5, $50 or $5,000, it’s a community effort,” she said of the fundraising. “Dollar by dollar, we will get there.”

Despite the uncertainty, it’s important for the museum to move forward and support artists and acquire new works to engage audiences in person and online, she added. “We want to expand the stories we can tell through our collection. To do that, we feel strongly that we need to expand the voices in our collection,” she said. “We have been focused on women artists and the relationships with women artists in our recent exhibitions. It makes sense to launch a campaign to acquire these works over the next two years to make that commitment evident.”

The Friends of the Collection began in 1983, the same year the museum opened the Payson Wing, with a goal of raising money to buy art and for the conservation and care of existing art. It has raised money to purchase more than 300 pieces for the collection, including several signature works like Celeste Roberge’s “Rising Cairn” in the sculpture park and Charlie DuBack’s large-scale painting “The Coopers,” and more recently Isamu Noguchi’s “Play Sculpture,” also in the sculpture park.

DeSimone said the pieces by Moyer and Pepe from the “Tabernacles” show will move to the third floor sometime this fall. The Mason painting, which had been traveling as part of the Haystack show, will be installed on the third floor very soon. She is thrilled the museum is purchasing this work and moving forward with its collecting program.

“Normal is no longer, but we still have a responsibility. I think it’s more important now to tell artists’ stories,” she said. Speaking specifically of Moyer and Pepe, she added, “Their work is so inviting. To be able to use art to talk about hard, challenging topics is something remarkable, and they do it so well. I am happy for them.”


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