Monthly Archives: March 2013

Women’s Art and the Art of Philanthropic Activism

By Nancy Foss
PMA Docent

*Join Nancy on Saturday, March 30 at 1 p.m. for a Gallery Talk. Free with PMA admission.

March 8 was International Women’s Day and the entire month of March has been designated Women’s History Month—a great time to consider the contributions a few extraordinary women have made to the Portland Museum of Art.

The PMA collection includes many well-known women artist, but it is the philanthropic activities of women behind the scenes that made the PMA what it is today.

Margaret Jane Mussey Sweat
The McLellan House was originally designed and built in 1801 by the local house wright John Kimball Sr. for the merchant sea-man Major Hugh McLellan and his family. If it wasn’t for the third private owners of the house, Margaret Jane Mussey Sweat and her husband Colonel Lorenzo de Medici Sweat, the PMA would not exist as it does today! The McLellan House could have been demolished or converted into condominiums but instead, thanks to the philanthropic activism of Margaret Jane Mussey Sweat, the Portland Museum of Art was born at the corner of Spring and High St.

Margaret and her husband Lorenzo were both Maine natives. They spent winters in Washington D.C., where Lorenzo was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and used the McLellan House as a summer home until they retired. While she was in Washington D.C., Margaret Jane Mussey Sweat became fully engaged in the cultural and intellectual life of the country. She was an author, a literary critic, and a novelist (including the novel, Ethel’s Love Life, a story about the complexities of educated women’s friendships, including friendships characterized as “Boston Marriages.”) Margaret was a world traveler, fluent in five languages, a founding member of the women’s club movement, and involved in the women’s suffragist movement. Margaret Jane Mussey Sweat was also a strong proponent of historic preservation; while in Washington D.C., she championed the historic restoration and preservation of Mount Vernon, George Washington’s estate. And Margaret Jane Mussey Sweat was an art patron.

Retiring in Portland, Margaret Jane Mussey Sweat quickly became an ardent patron of the local art scene. She was an early member of the Portland Society of Art (founded 1882), the predecessor to the Portland Museum of Art.

Margaret Jane Mussey Sweat understood the McLellan House was as architectural monument and did little to alter the structure, with the exception of turning the office into a library. This gesture announced her sentiment that entertaining and socializing are not an enterprise separate from the world of the intellect. She strongly believed that art makes for an enriched community, so when she died in 1908, she left her house and her money to the Portland Society of Art. Hugh McLellan had built his house to announce that Portland was part of the civilized world and Margaret Jane Mussey Sweat continued the legacy by leaving her home to enrich the community with art. The PMA stands where it does today because Margaret Jane Mussey Sweat was a philanthropic activist.

Joan Whitney Payson

Joan Whitney Payson was another philanthropic activist who made a significant contribution to the PMA. Joan Whitney was born in 1903 into a family described as a pantheon of strong and creative women. She was 10 years old when she attended the famous 1913 Armory Show in New York City, the show credited with introducing Americans to modern art. (The Whitney family contributed financial backing for this show). Collecting art and opening museums was practically a competitive sport for the rich and famous during Joan’s formative years; the PMA is very fortunate to have benefited from this sport! Joan Whitney cemented her foundation in Maine when she married M. Charles Shipman Payson of Falmouth.

The Joan Whitney Payson Collection came to the PMA in 1991 and included great works that form the core of the European Impressionist collection such as such as Gustave Courbet, Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Alfred Sisley.

Elizabeth Noyce and Katherine F. Woodman
At the PMA, you can see Anne and Her Nurse by American painter Mary Cassatt. I consider this work of art a trifecta in my discussion of women’s art and the art of philanthropic activist: a woman artist, donated by a woman philanthropist, in honor of another woman art activist. The Cassatt painting is part of the Elizabeth Noyce Collection.

The Elizabeth Noyce Collection came to the PMA in 1996 and includes 64 works of American art works by Marsden Hartley, Andrew Wyeth, George Bellows, and more. Elizabeth Noyce donated Anne and Her Nurse by Mary Cassatt in honor of Katherine F. Woodman. Katherine F. Woodman was a philanthropist in her own right as she was deeply and personally involved with the transformation of the PMA from a small community art gallery to a major regional museum. Woodman became a philanthropic activist; she showed up, rolled up her sleeves, and was, what I like to call, the “gritty” on a committee. The Precinct Committee, the Century III Campaign, The Committee of One Hundred, and The Board of Trustees have all benefited from Katherine F. Woodman’s art activism. Like Margaret Jane Mussey Sweat, Joan Whitney Payson, and Elizabeth Noyce, Katherine F. Woodman believed art makes for an enriched community.

So, as you wander the PMA galleries, you can engage with art created by talented women like Mary Cassatt, Marguerite Zorach, Isobel Bishop, and Louise Nevelson, but remember it was the creative energy and philanthropic activism of other women that gave these great works of art a wall to hang on!

Image credits: Unknown photographer, Mrs. Margaret Mussey Sweat, nd, black and white photograph mounted on canvas. Museum collection.; Jo Davidson, Joan Whitney Payson, 1933, polychrome terra cotta on marble base. Museum purchase with support from John Whitney Payson.

WAM: YAM Edition

By Molly Braswell
Learning and Interpretation Assistant

I was inspired to write the inaugural post of our newest blog series, Why Art Matters (WAM), by a visit to museum’s Youth Art Month (YAM) exhibition. (Plus, WAM and YAM rhyme, and that’s fun.) Over 100 Maine students, from kindergarten through twelfth grade, have their artwork displayed on the PMA’s fourth floor…and it’s incredible.

So why does art matter in school? What do students gain from being exposed to the arts at an early age?

There are a lot of studies and explanations for how art can benefit students; however, the reasoning and rationale doesn’t always have to be scientific to prove meaningful. Students who take art classes, or who are involved in school plays or band, could be influenced in different, positive ways. Not everyone will take an art class and want to grow up to become an artist, but it’s clear that the skills and thought processes explored through the arts can be beneficial down the road.

There are actually a LOT of great things that art can do for students of all ages. Here are just a few of them:

● Students’ exposure to the arts–including drama, music, and dance–often leads to improvement in math, writing, and reading.

● Art education is related to: higher test scores, higher attendance rates, higher graduation rates, and lower disciplinary rates.

● Art education improves students’ abilities to problem-solve and to make decisions–teaching children that problems can have more than one solution
 and that questions can have more than one answer. It also shows children that neither words in their literal form nor numbers exhaust what we can know. The limits of our language do not define the limits of our cognition.

● The arts help build confidence and expose students to other cultures, ideas, and points of view. One of the large lessons in art is that there are many ways to see and interpret the world.

● Art teaches students to think in ways that aren’t always addressed in other classes like how to observe, innovate, self-reflect, improve, and evaluate.

● Arts integrated curriculum can increase students’ motivation and collaboration, and create a sense of community in the classroom.

Do you have positive memories of art in school?  Do you think that it’s important that the arts be a part of current K-12 curriculum?

If you are looking for more, check out these articles:
Study: Arts education has academic effect,” by Tamara Henry, USA Today
Neuroeducation: Learning, Arts, and the Brain: Findings and Challenges for Educators and Researchers from the 2009 Johns Hopkins University Summit” by Mariale Hardiman, Ed.D., Susan Magsamen, Guy McKhann, M.D., and Janet Eilber
Art for our sake: School arts classes matter more than ever–but not for the reasons you think” by Ellen Winner and Lois Hetland, The Boston Globe
Renaissance in the Classroom,” Edited by Gail Burnaford, Arnold Aprill, and Cynthia Weiss, Harvard Business Review

Meet Liz Cartland, The PMA’s New Director of Development

The PMA is proud to welcome Liz Cartland as our new Director of Development. Liz previously served as the Director of Annual Giving and Philanthropy at the Peabody-Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. We asked Liz a few questions about her exciting new transition.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your history with museum work. Can you talk about your connection to Maine? What do you love about Portland?
Although I grew up in Connecticut, I have always had a deep connection to Maine, where most of my family has its roots. As a child I ran around Scarborough Beach, in high school I spent summers working at a coastal resort, and was finally able to spend the full year in Maine when I attended Bowdoin College. When I left in 1999, I promised myself I would come back.

Liz, as a child, with her mother and sister on Scarborough Beach.

I went to college pre-med and took one art history class and it changed everything. As a child I was often exposed to museums and always enjoyed them, but it didn’t all come together until I sat in that dark classroom looking at slides, realizing I wanted to know more. In college I studied abroad in Florence and interned at PMA. From that point on, I was sure I would always work in museums and I that I wanted to come back to PMA someday!

After temping in the marketing department at the Museum of Fine Art, Boston, I moved into a fundraising position. It was clear that the development department was a place where I interacted the most with all aspects of a museum–curators, educators, designers, members, and visitors. I feel I can share my passion about art with others and work to bring people closer to the museum and its mission. I can strengthen the foundation of an institution by engaging people that want to be involved and make a difference, all while continuing my own learning.

To me, Portland is a perfect combination of big city and small town. It has the culture, restaurants, and opportunities of a big city, but the charm, friendliness, and community feeling of a small town. I love the lifestyle available in Portland and its proximity to both the ocean and the mountains!

What are you most looking forward to in your move to Maine and your new PMA role?
In my time away from Maine I have looked for every excuse to return, whether for a week or a weekend. I am most excited to call Maine home again and to be involved Portland’s community. It is such a vibrant cultural capital for the state of Maine and I am looking forward to doing my part to continue its sustainability and growth. I am looking forward to getting to know PMA better and the wonderful people that have aided in its amazing advancement.

In 1998, you worked at the PMA as the Biennial Intern. What type of art are you most interested in?
I have always been interested in photography and am amazed to watch as it advances with technology. I also really enjoy contemporary art and the opportunity to see what artists are influenced by today and how that impacts their work. I like experiencing anything sincere that teaches me or helps me to see the world in a different way.

What challenges do you see facing the PMA? What do you hope to accomplish here?
I think that PMA will face the same challenges that many cultural institutions and non-profit organizations do in this day and age. The economy continues to be challenging and there is always the constant need to attract new donors and visitors while continuing to engage our current supporters. I look forward to approaching these challenges in new and creative ways that will help PMA continue to grow into the future.

I am most looking forward to continuing the remarkable momentum the museum has seen lately after the successful conclusion of the Winslow Homer Studio campaign. It is an amazing institution with talented and dedicated staff. I am truly looking forward to joining the team.