Former Colby Museum Director Hugh Gourley has died

Hugh J. Gourley III, who built the Colby College Art Museum into a Maine art powerhouse during his more than three decades as director, died July 25 at Maine Medical Center in Portland. He was 81.

“He had the best eye for art and hung exhibitions more beautifully than anyone I have ever met,” writes Yankee Magazine critic Edgar Beem. “Modest to the extreme, he gave all credit for the phenomenal growth of the Colby College Museum of Art to its many benefactors, but collectors, donors, artist and philanthropists were generous with the museum because they knew that Hugh would appreciate their art and make good use of their money.”

“He single-handedly built that museum into one of the finest small-college museums in the nation,” writes Bob Keys of the Portland Press Herald. “It is the largest museum in Maine, and an anchor arts destination.”

Gourley was born in Providence in 1931, graduated from Brown University in ’53, and was a curator at the RISD Museum for seven years before becoming director of the Colby museum in in Waterville in 1966. Then it was just two gallery-rooms with a staff of two (Gourley and an assistant), but under his leadership it expanded in 1973, 1991, 1996 and 1999. He cultivated relationships with Alex Katz and the family of John Marin, leading to major donations of their art. And the collection nearly doubled to more than 4,000 objects.

After retiring from Colby in 2002, he lived for a while in New York, before returning to Maine, residing in Falmouth at the time of his death. When Gourley retired, Katz told Beem, “He is not replaceable.”

Photo by Colby College.

2 Responses to “Former Colby Museum Director Hugh Gourley has died”

  1. Ed Beem says:

    Thanks, Greg. Hugh Gourley was a great man.

  2. Jeff Dalton says:

    HJG was my mother’s brother, and I grew up in that museum, helping to hang paintings and listening and learning. My own career led to music, but I ‘ll never forget the lessons I learned, and the kindness and wisdom that he bestowed upon me and everyone he met.