Peary was a Bowdoin College graduate, class of 1877, and his work inspired
generations of scholars that came after him, most notably Donald
Macmillan (Bowdoin class of 1898), who carried out almost thirty
expeditions from 1908-1954 and who, together with his wife Miriam,
brought back artifacts that became the foundation of Bowdoin's Peary
-MacMillan Arctic Museum. To this day, Bowdoin College maintains a
significant program of Arctic studies, the emphasis now having shifted
from pure exploration to the thorny issues of climate crisis, relationships
between native peoples and the changing landscape, and the future of the
region in geo-political and socio-economic terms.
The Perry McMillan Artic Museum was originally housed in Hubbard Hall
until the spring of 2023, when a new state-of-the art Center for Arctic
Studies was built for the College through the generosity of John and Lile
Gibbons. The 16,426 square foot building, which is located on the College's
Polar Loop, is in the heart of the College and downtown Brunswick, and is
a stunning architectural addition to the campus and the town. Its three
stories behind an imposing gray façade house exhibit spaces, archeology,
research, and teaching labs, a classroom, and offices for museum staff.
Designed by the Minneapolis Firm of HGA, the construction is
environmentally sustainable, cross laminated mass timber (the first
commercially scaled project in Maine to do so) which reduces the
structure's carbon footprint by 75%, and the all-electric building systems
add to the environmentally friendly impact. The building's exterior
aesthetic is a black geometric shape that forms a sharp outline slicing
downward toward the north, while the interior is a dazzling contrast of
pure white walls, and pale blonde large pine planking, beams, and timber.
Its inspiration is said to have been taken from an iceberg in the shifting
The galleries are housed on the second and third floors and currently are
displaying three exhibitions from the museum's considerable collection of
Arctic artifacts. Collections and Recollections: Objects and the Stories They
Tell is a concise retrospective of the growth of the Artic Museum's
collections over the years and a tribute to the many donors from Peary and
MacMillan, themselves, to countless others who have helped build the
inventory. Among the many sculptures are numerous Inuit carvings of
animals – the creatures with which the native peoples were interdependent
in their daily lives like a gray stone, sleek Musk Ox by David Rueben
Piktukun. Or there is a small tapestry by Elizabeth Quinanagnaq
Angrnagangrniq, with rows of brightly colored figures and birds. Other
striking objects include the Hubbard Sledge – used by Peary in his
expedition, as well as hand sewn clothing, boots, and furs, and a photo
donated by Peary, himself, of dogs pulling a sledge with a sail.
The second-floor gallery features a display, At Home in the Arctic, and
another of contemporary Inuit photographers. The images of "home" are
both literal and figurative. There are tender stone carvings of mother and
child, brightly colored lithographs like Family of Eight by Tim Pitsiulak.
Elaborately beaded clothing and ritual masks complete the picture of
The contemporary photographers chosen for the third exhibition include
Brian Adams with his stirring black and white images of Alaskan Native
villages, Jenny Irene Miller exploring "where the tundra meets the ocean,"
Jennie Williams's black and white images of daily life and diverse subjects,
Minik Bidstrip, studying the relationship between the Inuit and colonizing
Norse peoples in Greenland, and Niore Iqalukjuak probing contemporary
issues of food insecurity and the interrelationship between humans and
wildlife and the land.
Wrapped all around the upper reaches of the gallery are taxidemied Artic
wildlife - polar bear, caribou - all suspended above the atrium and backlit
dramatically so they appear to be almost alive - powerful guardians of the
space and its spirits.
The Peary-Macmillan Center for Arctic Studies is a remarkable addition to
an academic community that is already distinguished for its scholarship,
educational standards, commitment to the planet and the community, and
its fostering of the arts through a liberal arts/humanities education. The
interest in the Arctic has a long history at Bowdoin College. Preserving that
history is important, but transforming it into a legacy that will nourish
minds and lives and peoples for a sustainable, peaceful, productive future
is a truly impressive accomplishment.
Photos courtesy of the Peary-MacMillan Center
The Peary-MacMillan Center for Arctic Studies is open Tuesday –
Saturday 10am – 5 pm & Sunday 1-5pm, free to the public, at 10 Polar
Loop, on the Bowdoin College campus, Brunswick, ME 207207-725-3416