The Colby Museum adds new works to its collection
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The Colby Museum adds new works to its collection
Daniel Minter’s The Doorway is one of the Colby Museum's newest acquistions. (Photo by Ashley L. Conti).

by Bob Keyes

WATERVILLE, ME.- The Colby Museum of Art recently acquired The Doorway, a significant new assemblage by internationally recognized Maine artist Daniel Minter, D.F.A. ’23.

Minter, who was featured in a conversation with artists Virgil Ortiz and Paula Wilson that opened the museum’s Summer Luncheon last year, created The Doorway for Colby, and it is among several recent museum acquisitions.

Minter will participate in the 2024 Dak’Art Biennale of Contemporary African Art, and his work is also represented in collections of the Northwest African American Museum and the Portland Museum of Art, among other museums. His art deals with themes of displacement and diaspora, spirituality in the Afro-Atlantic world, the meaning of home, and what he describes as “ordinary/extraordinary blackness.”

Minter is cofounder, with his wife, Márcia Minter, D.F.A. ’23, of Indigo Arts Alliance in Portland. The arts organization is dedicated to creating connections by bringing together artists of color from diverse backgrounds to engage in their creative process. He was a visiting artist with the Lunder Institute for American Art in spring 2020.

Standing eight feet tall and made with wood, acrylic, oil, fabric, metal, wire, cowrie shells, walnuts, Brazil nuts, plaster, hemp, and canvas over cardboard, The Doorway demonstrates the range of Minter’s practice, said Beth Finch, head curator.

“The Doorway is the first work by Minter to enter the Colby Museum’s collection. It therefore fills an important gap in our holdings by a Maine-based artist of national and international significance,” she observed, noting the work’s abundant symbolism will make it relevant to courses in art, history, American studies, religious studies, music, and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies.

It includes an antique door amended with carvings based on the artist’s vocabulary of symbols and a central portrayal of an “everyman,” to which metal cords, conceived to be played like an instrument, are attached. Painted figures to the left and right of the door represent other roles and stages of life––the matriarch and the young man. Minter identified “a young John Lewis,” the political icon, as his inspiration for the latter figure. The matriarch’s hair is defined by black walnuts, which Minter received from the family of the artist David Driskell following his death in recognition of the two artists’ close friendship.

Driskell and Minter made ink from the walnut shells and would often draw together, Finch said.

A small boxlike painting at the top of the sculpture includes a carving of an infant and a painted depiction of a fish, representing fertility and abundance. A fabric-wrapped form at the bottom of the assemblage covers hammers, symbols that Minter describes as “capable of both good and evil.” The wrapping of these tools represents healing of past harms, and the door as a whole symbolizes the cycle of life with its two thresholds—birth and death.

Degas and the Lunder Collection

Thanks to Peter Lunder ’56, D.F.A. ’98 and Life Trustee Paula Lunder, D.F.A. ’98, the Colby Museum also recently acquired a rare etching by French Impressionist Edgar Degas, Les Blanchisseuses (The Laundresses) (1879). This etching is the first work by Degas to enter the Lunder Collection and is among several other works the Lunders helped the museum acquire over the last year.

In the year that Degas made this print, he and the artist Mary Cassatt embarked on an artistic collaboration that involved co-organizing the 1879 Impressionist exhibition in Paris and creating an art journal, Le Jour et la Nuit (Day and Night), illustrated with monochromatic prints that highlighted the tonal range and potential of etching as an art form. As part of this effort, Degas and Cassatt shared a studio.

Les Blanchisseuses is one of the finest works from this creative partnership. Degas composed this etching over a printing plate that had already been composed and etched by Cassatt, Warming His Hands (1879)—a print previously acquired by the Lunders for the Colby Museum.

The Degas print and others from this period were primarily experimental and not produced as part of an edition, thus it is very rare. There are no known museum collections with this impression in the United States. Les Blanchisseuses strengthens the museum’s ability to connect the work of Degas and Cassatt in a meaningful way and speak to this critical moment of experimentation with etching. The print will be part of the museum’s exhibition Surface Tension: Etchings from the Collection, opening July 13.

Another new Lunder Collection acquisition is Thanks, a 1977 work by Benny Andrews, a pioneering 20th-century artist who represented Southern Black perspectives and pushed the limits of painting through his innovative use of collage. Born in rural Georgia during the Jim Crow era, Andrews left the South to study at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1954 and later moved to New York City, where he lived and worked until his death in 2006.

Representing Andrews’s distinctive style, Thanks includes three-dimensional collages and painted components. The artist presents the figures as both individuals and idealized types, said Augusta Weiss, the Anne Lunder Leland Curatorial Fellow at the Colby Museum. Thanks captures a domestic, dinner-time setting with a third plate angled toward the viewer, evoking the communal aspects of prayer. As the painting represents archetypes of the religious South—a well-dressed couple clasp their hands to say grace before a meal of meat, peas, and potatoes—it also conveys a personal scene, picturing Andrews’s friend and fellow artist Norman Lewis and Lewis’s wife, Ouida.

Also new to the collection is 3, an oil-on-masonite painting by Martha Diamond that distills the artist’s experience of her native New York. A gift from the Alex Katz Foundation, this painting, circa 1980, is among Diamond’s first masonite paintings, and it captures the city’s dynamic atmosphere.

Katz has described this painting as a showcase for Diamond’s “gutsiness.” It is the sixth work by Diamond to be acquired by Colby. Diamond, who died in 2023, will be the subject of the museum’s upcoming exhibition Martha Diamond: Deep Time, also opening July 13.

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