By Bob Keys in The Portland Press Herald, September 26, 2021
Paula Lunder arrived in Waterville by way of Chicago in 1959 and received advice from her husband’s aunt, Bibby Alfond, that has served her well in the 62 years since.
“On your day off on Sunday, drive around to all the great antique shops in the area. You will meet Mainers there, and in doing so, you will see what you both like together,” Bibby Alfond told Paula and her husband, Peter. “And it turned out, every time we went driving around we met great people and bought art. We bought paintings rather than objects, and that was right from the beginning. We still have those pieces,” Paula Lunder said in a recent phone interview.
Paula and Peter Lunder no longer drive around central Maine on their days off looking for bargains to fill the walls of their home, but they’re still buying plenty of art. The advice they received from Bibby Alfond – who was married to Harold Alfond, the founder of Dexter Shoes, where Peter Lunder later served as president – set in motion the collecting habits of Maine’s most famous art philanthropists, who amassed a collection of American and European art valued at more than $100 million and donated most of it to the Colby College Museum of Art.
They have given art to many other museums and many more millions to Colby along the way – to expand the museum, to create an academic institute, and most recently a $3 million gift toward the newly opened and dedicated Greene Block + Studios at 18 Main St. in downtown Waterville, named in honor of the current Colby president, David R. Greene and his wife, Carolyn, and occupying a former hardware store in the commercial heart of the city near the Ticonic Falls.
The building was dedicated on Tuesday and includes both public spaces for events and exhibitions as well as private studios for a rotating roster of artist-fellows. It is equipped with a pair of oversized garage-style doors that open up to Main Street, creating an atmosphere the Lunders hope will inspire inclusion and collaboration between Colby and the community. The four-story renovated historic building, built in 1836, also serves as the new home of the Lunder Institute for American Art and is part of larger effort by Colby to bring the arts downtown while bolstering the presence and health of the arts overall.
The Lunders have split their time during the pandemic among homes in Maine, Massachusetts and Florida, and often with family around them. When asked about their latest collecting interests, Paula Lunder replied with a laugh, “Grandchildren,” then quickly added, “We still love art and still very much want to engage.”
As to why they have left so much art and given so much money to Colby, Peter Lunder – who graduated from Colby in 1956 and initially resisted his uncle’s invitation to help him run the shoe company, preferring to work in southern Maine or Massachusetts, where he would be closer to Fenway Park and his beloved Boston Red Sox – said he learned a lesson in philanthropy during a visit to the de Young Museum of Art in San Francisco 25 years ago. When Lunder asked why benefactor John D. Rockefeller, who lived in New York, donated so much art to a museum on the West Coast, he was told it was because Rockefeller was assured it would be kept on public view and not in storage.
“That motivated some bells to ring in our heads,” Peter Lunder said. “We said, ‘That’s a great idea. Someday if our collection is worthy of being in a museum, let’s pick a regional museum where students would enjoy studying it and seeing it.’ ”
With that idea as an early seed, the Lunders began a relationship with Colby that includes five college presidents, with Greene the latest, and several museum directors, including current director Jacqueline Terrassa. Since 2013, they have given more than 1,500 works to the museum, including their gift of the Lunder Collection, featuring more than 500 works and considered one of the most important private collections. In 2017, they gave another 1,000 pieces of art to the Colby museum.
Generally averse to publicity, the Lunders recently spoke by phone from their Scarborough home about their interest in art and their loyalty to Colby College and Waterville – and the Red Sox.
Q: Why is the Greene Block project of such importance to both of you, and why did you insist that it be named in honor of the Greenes?
Peter Lunder: It’s very important for Waterville, very important for Colby, and very important for the students, and the Greene name deserves to be on the building because the work that David has done for the area, for the arts and for everything up there, it certainly is amazing. He is a force to be recognized. … He has always included the city of Waterville in his vision.
Paula Lunder: When people come to Waterville, David wants to enhance their experience, and he is doing it through the arts. The arts enhance everybody’s life, and he wants to share that vision with a greater audience. David has expanded the arts on campus and built on (the work of his predecessors). You see that with the new performing arts building on campus, and he has expanded the arts into town, including the Waterville community and beyond. The arts have exploded under his leadership.
Q: Other than grandchildren, what are you collecting these days?
Peter: Anything we like and want to live with or want other people to enjoy.
Paula: We are trying to look at art with the Colby’s teaching mission in mind, and with Jackie Terrassa, our new (museum) director, we are looking at things we might have never looked at, and we do love them. We appreciate being taught yet again.
Q: Can you give an example of something you have purchased with teaching in mind?
Paula: The Picasso suite (donated to Colby in 2016) is an example. I never imagined we would be able to have Picasso works in our collection, but they enhance what Colby can teach in so many ways, in philosophy and art, and he also talks about war and relationships. It’s a very meaningful collection.
Peter: And right now the museum is showing the Cassatt collection, a collection of prints (by Mary Cassatt, donated by the Lunders in 2017) that came out of the Midwest. Everyone can enjoy that and see some nice examples of printmaking.
Q: Was your goal in building your art collection always philanthropy?
Peter: We never thought it was a museum-worthy collection until a lot of people in the museum field started approaching us about the collection.
Paula: When we started to think of it as having another purpose besides our pure enjoyment, we had to think of art in a different way. What would be good for teaching? What is the level we should be collecting? It drove us to think more about art, its place in our life and what it would mean to a college. Imagine having something you love, that you appreciate, hanging in a museum. It is an amazing experience, and Colby had had such fabulous curators and preparators. We think they have done a marvelous job, not only with our collection but bringing art to Colby that is good for students and timely in today’s world. Am I right, Peter?
Peter: Yes. We didn’t have the knowledge of scholarship, so we engaged a lot of people in the art field to weigh in on some of our purchases. One of the key people in the field was Betsy Broun at the Smithsonian in Washington. She helped us immensely, as well as curators around the country and authorities on different painters.
Paula: Hugh Gourley at the (Colby) museum became such a mentor to us. Colby was right in with us from the beginning. We traveled with Hugh (to see and buy art). … We were so fortunate to have that experience, and then to have the leadership of Colby appreciate it, you can imagine how important that was. And we are very excited for the connections that will arise between the museum and the new performing arts center. It’s a thrilling time for Colby and for Waterville. But it always comes back to what is happening within the buildings. And that is where the leadership of David Greene, and his vision, is so phenomenal.
Q: Other than art and family, are you also still passionate about the Red Sox?
Paula: That’s lifetime, isn’t it?
This article can be found at The Portland Press Herald.