ROCKLAND — MBNA America has pledged $2.5 million to the William A. Farnsworth Art Museum and Library’s planned Maine Wyeth Center.
The Wyeth Center and gallery is to be located in the former Pratt Memorial Church and will house a permanent collection of works by three generations of the Wyeth family: N.C., Andrew and Jamie Wyeth. A study center for the artists’ works also is planned.
Although the current schedule calls for the Maine Wyeth Center to be ready by 1998, museum director Christopher Crossman speculated Monday that “maybe this will enable us to get this moving ahead a little sooner. Although 1998 is still the projected date for the grand opening, we may be able to do something as early as next summer.”
MBNA Senior Vice President David Spartin said the company had worked with the Farnsworth for some time on the grant. He noted that the company has a strong interest in the Wyeth works because of their connection to Maine, where the company operates in five locations, and to the Brandywine Valley in Delaware, where the company’s corporate headquarters are located.
MBNA has contributed to local arts and historic preservation projects since expanding its marketing and customer service into Maine in 1992.
Besides helping with the overall project, Crossman said the MBNA grant, which will be made over the next five years, will enable the museum to devote “special attention to programs for children and families.”
The museum purchased the 100-year-old church last summer, a few months after the Wyeth family announced its choice of the Farnsworth as the future repository of the Maine work of Andrew Wyeth, his father, N.C. Wyeth, and his son, Jamie Wyeth. The church is across the street from the Farnsworth Museum and Homestead in downtown Rockland.
Andrew Wyeth, 78, one of the most famous of contemporary American artists and a summer resident of an island off Port Clyde, has used Maine settings and people as his subjects since his youth. His Maine works are hung in museums throughout the world. The Wyeth gallery and study center is expected to serve as a magnet for art scholars and Wyeth aficionados.
The Wyeth collection contains tempera paintings, watercolors, drybrush paintings, drawings and studies that span his career in Maine. The paintings and support materials will come from the private collection of Andrew and Betsy Wyeth.
Crossman emphasized that the Maine Wyeth Center would provide “an unparalleled opportunity to observe and study a great artist’s working and its evolution over more than half a century. … It’s almost like looking over the artist’s shoulder as he works.”
The Farnsworth already owns more than 40 works by Wyeth family members, many on permanent display. The museum showing of the Wyeth Collection in the summer of 1994 attracted thousands.
The museum also owns the former Olson House in nearby Cushing. The house is the setting for one of Wyeth’s most famous works, “Christina’s World,” and for many other paintings created between 1939 and 1969. The museum featured Wyeth’s Olson House works in the summer of 1995.
“It’s exciting news and it’s wonderful news for the Wyeth Center and the Wyeth family,” Crossman said. “We’re very grateful to the company and very honored to be chosen as a recipient of a grant like this.”
The Pratt Memorial Methodist Church was built in 1870. The church nave has more than 10,000 square feet of space that will be devoted to exhibition and support areas. The museum has begun work on the exterior of the building. The MBNA grant will accelerate plans for interior renovations.
“We think this gallery will be very worthwhile to the region,” Shane Flynn, MBNA vice president, said Monday.
Spartin said the company had business relationships with more than 100 art museums and organizations, including the American Museum of Natural History, American Museum of Folk Art, Salvador Dali Museum, the Guggenheim, the San Francisco Art Museum and the International Sculptor Museum.
“We believe in giving back to the communities where we are located,” Spartin said.