Unique Art Museums in Maine: Adding Art and Culture to Your Visit
Maine is home to a variety of art museums, each with its own unique collection and exhibits. We enjoy taking a break from the outdoors, especially during winter, to enjoy art exhibitions and some of the great permanent collections around the state.
Here are five of the most popular art museums in Maine, along with information on their current special exhibits. We’ll keep this up to date with major exhibitions and anything new and cool happening around Maine. Also, as summer season kick into gear, watch for arts events as Mainers love to celebrate the outdoors, including with art.
If there is anything you’d like to add or if you have any additional questions, please leave a comment or send us a note. We’re happy to share more and are always glad to help with planning travel to Maine.
Why Visit an Art Museum When I’m in Maine?
That’s a totally valid question. There are so many things to do all around Maine that it might seem weird to set aside time to go to an art museum, especially since there are so many everywhere and most major cities have several. Well, art museums in Maine offer something very different: a uniquely Mainer perspective on art and art collections.
Art museums in Maine really tend to focus on artists who were or are local to the state or the Northeast in general. The subject matter tends to focus heavily on the American experience, and specifically elements of life that are unique to Maine. Maritime art and nature are common themes for permanent collections in Maine, and special exhibits tend to showcase current Maine or more broad American themes.
I think visiting art museums is always interesting, and when in Maine they are some of the most insightful experiences you can plan for.
Portland Museum of Art
Located in Portland, the Portland Museum of Art is the largest art museum in Maine, with a collection of more than 18,000 works of art. The museum’s current special exhibits (2023) include Outside the Frame: Todd Webb in Africa, Elizabeth Colomba: Mythologies and American Perspectives. The rotating exhibits ensure there’s always something new to see.
Exhibits at the Portland Museum of Art
When you visit the Portland Museum of Art, be sure to check out as many of their highlights as possible. They have a great permanent collection, including quite a few famous artists (including my kids’ favorite, Van Gogh). The museum’s collection includes:
- American art: The museum’s collection of American art includes works from the 18th century to the present day, with a focus on artists from Maine and New England. The collection includes works by artists such as Winslow Homer, Andrew Wyeth, and Georgia O’Keeffe.
- European art: The museum’s collection of European art includes works from the 15th century to the present day, with a focus on French and Dutch art from the 19th and 20th centuries. The collection includes works by artists such as Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Vincent van Gogh, and Henri Matisse.
- Contemporary art: The museum’s contemporary art collection includes works by emerging and established artists, often with a focus on Maine and New England. You’ll also find a lot of sculptures, including ones outside the main building.
- Maine art: The museum has a significant collection of Maine art, including works by Maine artists such as Marsden Hartley, Andrew Wyeth (cuz once you’re in Maine you’ll hear his name constantly), and Dahlov Ipcar (so colorful!).
- Winslow Homer Studio: The museum owns and operates the Winslow Homer Studio, the restored studio of the famous American artist. The studio is located in Prouts Neck, south of Cape Elizabeth, and is open to the public during the summer months. YOU MUST RESERVE if you’d like to tour the studio.
The Portland Museum of Art is such a fun and interesting place to visit when you come to Maine. It has such a diverse collection of American and European art, with a great focus on Maine and New England artists, and a commitment to education and outreach through its special exhibitions and programming.
Visiting the Portland Museum of Art
The Portland Museum of Art is open Wednesday through Sunday, from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm nearly every week. They do close for New Years Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving (US holiday) and Christmas. Parking is easy, so don’t stress it.
I would recommend visiting the Portland Museum of Art later in the day, as school field trips tend to happen soon after opening. While it’s unlike you’ll pick a day that has a field trip, it’s always more pleasant to experience an art museum when it’s mellow and quiet.
Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland
Located in Rockland, the Farnsworth Art Museum is known for its extensive collection of works by Maine artists, as well as its American art collection. The museum’s current special exhibit is “The Nevelson Effect,” which explores the influence of the artist Louise Nevelson on contemporary artists. I have to say, I thought the Nevelson exhibit was odd and I didn’t love it, but our kids were so into it and really loved her sculptures.
Exhibits at the Farnsworth Art Museum
The Farnsworth Art Museum has a collection of over 15,000 works of art. From watercolors by Winslow Homer to LOTS of Wyeth work, I really enjoy the permanent collection at the Farnsworth. Some of the highlights of the museum’s collection include:
- Works by Andrew Wyeth: The museum has an extensive collection of works by the Maine-born artist Andrew Wyeth, including paintings, drawings, and studies. I think the progressions from sketch to painting are fascinating.
- American art: The museum’s collection of American art includes works from the 18th century to the present day, with a focus on Maine and New England artists. The collection includes works by artists such as Winslow Homer, Georgia O’Keeffe and more. **Note that museums sometime loan art to other exhibitions, so if you’ve found a piece of art in the collection and you want to visit it, it may not be on display AT the Farnsworth.
- Folk art: The museum has a significant collection of folk art, including works by self-taught artists such as Edward Hicks and Grandma Moses (love her!).
- Contemporary art: The museum’s contemporary art collection includes works by emerging and established artists, often with a focus on Maine and New England.
- Special exhibitions: The museum presents a range of special exhibitions throughout the year, often showcasing works by nationally and internationally recognized artists, and frequently curated by the museum’s staff, and sometimes even feature art by local kids.
- The Wyeth Center: The museum’s Wyeth Center is dedicated to the work of the Wyeth family, including Andrew Wyeth, his father N.C. Wyeth, and his son Jamie Wyeth. The center features a collection of works by the Wyeths, as well as a range of educational programs and resources.
I would say that the Farnsworth Art Museum is one of my favorite overall museums to visit in Maine, not just out of art museums. With a diverse collection of American art and its focus on Maine and New England artists, it’s a perfectly northeastern activity when you’re in MidCoast Maine.
Bates College Museum of Art
Located in Lewiston, the Bates College Museum of Art is a small but interesting museum that focuses on contemporary art. The museum’s current special exhibit is “And So Did Pleasure Take the Hand of Sorrow and They Wandered Through the Land of Joy,” which features works by contemporary artists who explore creation stemming from a poem called The Royal Love Child (March 2023). Exhibitions move through several times a year, so check with the art museum to see what’s currently on display.
The Bates College Museum of Art focuses on contemporary art. Some of the highlights of the museum’s collection include:
- Student Art: being at the college, there are continual exhibition of student work including senior thesis works. I love getting to support student art and the Bates College Museum is perfect for that!
- Contemporary art: The museum has a strong collection of contemporary art, including works by emerging and established artists working in a variety of media, such as painting, sculpture, photography, and video.
- New Media: The museum has a dedicated New Media Gallery, which showcases innovative and experimental works that explore the intersection of art, technology, and culture.
- Special exhibitions: The museum presents a range of special exhibitions throughout the year, often showcasing works by emerging or underrepresented artists, and frequently curated by Bates College faculty and students.
- Accessibility: The Bates College Museum of Art is committed to accessibility and inclusivity, and offers a range of programming and resources to ensure that the museum is welcoming and engaging for all visitors, including those with disabilities.
The Bates College Museum of Art is a small but pretty unique museum and if you’re into contemporary art, it’s for you!
Visiting the Bates College Museum of Art
Locate in Lewiston, Maine, Bates College is north or Portland and west of Bath. It’s not so far off the beaten path that it’s difficult to get to, so add it to your trip through Maine. The museum is open to the public Monday through Saturday, 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM. From fall to spring there are special hours on Mondays and Wednesdays where the art museum is open until 7:30 pm.
Bowdoin College Museum of Art
Located in Brunswick, the Bowdoin College Museum of Art has a pretty great collection of European and American art, as well as ancient art and artifacts. The museum’s most recent special exhibit was “Black Lives Matter: Portraits by John Edmonds,” which features photographs by the Brooklyn-based artist John Edmonds that explore the complexities of Black identity.
The Bowdoin College Museum of Art has a collection of over 20,000 objects spanning from ancient times to contemporary art, and it’s housed in a beautiful building. Some of the highlights of the museum’s collection include:
- Ancient art and artifacts: The museum has a significant collection of ancient art and artifacts, including Greek and Roman vases, Egyptian mummies, and pre-Columbian ceramics.
- European and American art: The museum has a strong collection of European and American art from the 18th century to the present day, including works by artists such as Gilbert Stuart, Winslow Homer, and Edward Hopper.
- Decorative arts: The museum’s decorative arts collection includes American furniture, ceramics, and silver, as well as European porcelain and glass. I love decorative arts exhibits when I visit art museums!
- Contemporary art: The museum has a growing collection of contemporary art.
Overall, the Bowdoin College Museum of Art is an impressive museum with a diverse collection of art and artifacts, spanning from ancient times to contemporary art, including significant European and American art, decorative arts, and a growing collection of contemporary art.
Ogunquit Museum of American Art
Located in Ogunquit, the Ogunquit Museum of American Art is a small museum that focuses exclusively on American art. While it isn’t open year-round, April through November it’s a great spot to stop. Ogunquit is cute, very LGBTQ friendly and a great spot to visit between Boston and Portland.
2023 art season at Ogunquit begins April 29th!
The Ogunquit Museum of American Art has a collection of over 3,000 works of art by American artists. And the VIEWS from the museum are gorgeous! Some of the highlights of the museum’s collection include:
- Works by Marsden Hartley: The Ogunquit Museum has an extensive collection of works by the Maine-born artist Marsden Hartley, including paintings, drawings, and photographs.
- Maine landscapes: The museum has a significant collection of paintings and photographs of Maine landscapes, including works by artists such as Edward Hopper, Rockwell Kent, and Eric Hopkins.
- Modernist art: The museum has a collection of modernist art, including works by artists such as Alexander Calder, Louise Nevelson, and N.C. Wyeth (yes, another Wyeth!).
- Contemporary art: The museum’s collection also includes works by contemporary artists, such as Alex Katz, Beverly Hallam, and my favorite, Jacob Lawrence.
- Sculpture garden: In addition to its indoor galleries, the museum has a beautiful sculpture garden with works by artists such as Isamu Noguchi, George Rickey, and Beverly Pepper.
Overall, the Ogunquit Museum of American Art is a small but impressive museum with a diverse collection of American art, including a strong focus on Maine artists and landscapes.
Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor
The Abbe Museum is dedicated to preserving and promoting the history and culture of the Wabanaki peoples, the indigenous people of Maine and the Maritime Provinces of Canada. As a Smithsonian Affiliate, the museum has access to Smithsonian resources, including exhibitions, educational materials, and professional development opportunities. The Abbe Museum also participates in Smithsonian-wide initiatives and programs, such as National Museum Day and the Smithsonian Affiliations Annual Conference.
When you’re planning a visit to Acadia National Park, add in a bit of time to visit the Abbe, one of the unique art museums in Maine. Some of the highlights of the museum’s collection and programming include:
- Wabanaki art and culture: The museum’s collection includes over 70,000 objects, photographs, and documents related to the indigenous cultures of Maine and the Wabanaki Nations, including the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Maliseet, Micmac, and Abenaki. The museum features exhibits on Wabanaki art, history, and contemporary culture.
- Contemporary Wabanaki art: The museum has a strong focus on contemporary Wabanaki art, featuring works by emerging and established Wabanaki artists working in a variety of media, including basketry, beadwork, and painting.
- Education and outreach: The Abbe Museum is committed to education and outreach, offering a range of programs and resources for visitors of all ages, including workshops, tours, and educational materials.
- Special events: The museum hosts a range of special events throughout the year, including lectures, concerts, and cultural festivals celebrating the Wabanaki Nations.
- Decolonization: The Abbe Museum is committed to decolonizing museum practices and promoting indigenous perspectives and voices in the museum field. The museum’s programming and exhibits reflect this commitment, and the museum actively engages in conversations and partnerships with indigenous communities and scholars.
Overall, the Abbe Museum is a unique and important cultural institution in Maine, dedicated to the indigenous cultures of the region and the Wabanaki Nations. The museum’s collection, exhibits, and programming offer visitors a rich and nuanced understanding of the complex histories and vibrant contemporary cultures of these communities.
Visiting Maine Art Museums with Kids: FAQ
Yes, people ask about visiting art museums with kids all the time…
Parents can get kids interested in art by finding ways to make it fun and accessible, such as encouraging them to create their own art, playing art-related games, and incorporating art into other activities.
Before visiting an art museum, parents can prepare kids by discussing the types of art they may see, the history and culture behind the art, and the museum rules and etiquette.
Parents should bring snacks, water, and other necessities, such as a change of clothes or diapers, as well as any museum-specific items, such as strollers or baby carriers.
The length of a museum visit will depend on the age of the children and their attention spans. It is often helpful to plan for shorter visits and to focus on a few key pieces or exhibits.
Parents can engage kids with the art by asking open-ended questions, encouraging them to describe what they see, and pointing out interesting details or connections to other subjects.
Parents should emphasize the importance of not touching the art and remind children of the museum rules and etiquette. If a child does touch the art, they should inform museum staff immediately.
Parents can plan ahead by bringing activities, such as sketchbooks or games, to keep kids entertained, as well as taking breaks to walk around or explore the museum’s other features.