Colby Museum Celebrates its Marin Legacy


It has received 184 pieces of art from Norma Marin that had been on long-term loan

Lisa Marin, granddaughter of modernist painter John Marin, provides continuity in the ongoing relationship between the Marin family and the Colby Museum of Art with her service to the Museum Board of Governors. The relationship began when her parents, John Marin Jr. and Norma Marin, donated a Marin painting to the museum in 1968. (Photo by Gregory Rec)
By Bob Keyes
April 13, 2023

Those who knew her best describe Norma Boom Marin as inimitable, savvy, and devoted. She displayed those characteristics and traits over her long relationship with the Colby Museum of Art as a donor, lifetime member of the Museum Board of Governors, and goodwill ambassador in Maine, New York, and across the world of contemporary art.

Marin, who passed away in 2022, had her earliest association with Colby in the mid-1960s when she and her husband, John Marin Jr.—son of the modernist painter John Marin—were introduced to the museum’s influential director Hugh Gourley by the famous art-couple Bill and Marguerite Zorach. In 1968 the Marin family gave the museum their father’s 1921 painting Deer Isle in memory of the Zorachs, beginning a still-thriving friendship between the family and Colby.

Lisa Marin, their daughter and the painter’s granddaughter, serves on the Museum’s Board of Governors and chairs its Collections and Impact Committee, continuing the family’s history of service to the museum.

In 1973, 20 years after the modernist painter’s death and the year that Gourley and the museum opened the Jetté Galleries, the family donated 13 watercolors, five oil paintings, four drawings, and two prints by Marin, elevating the stature of the museum and making it a destination for visitors drawn to Maine because of its art history.

Another gift followed in 1992, when Norma Marin gave the museum the 1924 watercolor Stonington, Maine, in honor of Gourley. Norma Marin joined the Museum Board of Governors two years later and was honored with life-member status in 2004. Her commitment to Colby has resulted in the museum having a core collection of Marin artworks that ranks alongside the National Gallery of Art’s collection in variety of media and size, and Colby’s is the only retrospective collection of the artist’s work in an academic museum.

This week, the Museum Board of Governors formally welcomed to the collection another 184 pieces of art that Norma had offered the museum as promised gifts. Following her death, those artworks converted from long-term loans to permanent gifts.

They include 28 Marin prints; a family portrait, painted in oil in 1953, the year Marin died, titled A Looking Back–The Marin Family; and more than 150 photographs that represented Norma Marin’s personal collecting passion. The gift also includes a James McNeill Whistler watercolor and a Eugène Atget photo, given in honor of Peter H. Lunder ’56, D.F.A.’98 and Life Trustee Paula Crane Lunder, D.F.A. ’98.

The Marin Family, 1953
A Looking Back-The Marin Family, 1953, oil and graphite on canvas, 22 in. x 18 in. (55.88 cm x 45.72 cm), gift of Norma B. Marin: 031.1998.

The Marin prints that are part of the latest gift range from his views of European landmarks from the early 20th century, as well as later works depicting the New York skyline. They evoke a time and place, and are both timeless and specific.

“When you look at Marin’s New York prints, you can hear jazz,” said Elizabeth Finch, head curator of the Colby Museum. “They are wonderful. They capture the brilliance of Marin’s mature style. We are so lucky to have them in our collection.”

The museum will mark the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Jetté Galleries—which inspired John Marin Jr. and Norma Marin’s deepening relationship with the museum—with the exhibition Constellations: Forming the Colby Collection, 1973–2023, opening July 8.

“Sadly, Mother is not around to mark this occasion, but I know she would be very proud and honored,” said Lisa Marin. “She cared deeply about the Colby Museum and was always happy to support it and represent it over a very long period of time.”

Finch said the museum benefitted from Norma Marin’s generosity and sophistication for more than 50 years. While Norma Marin earned her reputation as a staunch defender and promoter of John Marin’s work and place in art history, she developed her own sensibilities as a collector.

She expressed those interests in her collections of photography and German Expressionist prints. Norma Marin gave the museum a trove of German Expressionist prints in 2018.

Conrad Felixmüller, Otto Dix Drawing, 1920
German Expressionism was a collecting interest of Norma B. Marin, who donated her collection to Colby. Shown here is Conrad Felixmüller’s Otto Dix Drawing, 1920: 447.2017.

“I had the pleasure of knowing Norma, and I had such respect for her great love of art and artists,” Finch said. “She had a terrific eye, and she was able to balance her advocacy for John Marin with her own areas of collecting, photography and German Expressionism among them. She was truly a unique person, very special, and very independent-minded. She had strong passions and strong convictions, and she lived by them.”

The photography collection, which the museum has employed in exhibitions and in the collection galleries for several years and whose strength has attracted other gifts of photography, includes 25 prints by Norma Marin’s friend Berenice Abbott, as well as prints by Abbott’s peers Ansel Adams, Harry Callahan, Imogen Cunningham, Walker Evans, Paul Strand, and many others. A subset of the collection includes formal and informal portraits of John Marin and his artistic peers.

Norma B. Marin enjoyed collecting photographs because they allowed her to express her personal interests. Shown here is Advertisements, 1937, East Houston and Second Avenue, Manhattan, 1937, by Bernice Abbott: 339.2008.

Lisa Marin said her mother enjoyed collecting photographs because they allowed her to express herself and her personal interests apart from the Marin legacy.

“Usually every Saturday, my parents would go to galleries and whatnot, and at a certain point, I would say in the late ’60s, early ’70s, Mother became very interested in photography,” Lisa Marin said. “For her, photography was a little more low-key than some other kinds of art, and photography gallery owners were maybe a little more laid back. It was a little less formal, and she liked that.”

She became friendly with many of the photographers living in New York, including Abbott, who also had Maine connections. “Personal relationships were very important to her,” Lisa Marin said.

Those same personal relationships were the foundation of the friendship between the Marin family and the museum.

“The museum was established in 1959, and relatively soon after that, the museum received its first Marin artwork,” Finch said. “That gift began to establish the museum as a destination for the appreciation and study of John Marin and more broadly American modernism, and it has grown and continued ever since.”