Art gifts

The Jane Costello Wellehan Collection: Transcendent Art for the “Highway” of Life

LEWISTON – Museum visitors describe “An Adventurous Spirit: The Jane Costello Wellehan Collection” as “earthy”, “electric”, “unexpected”, even “transcendent”. In many ways, this describes the life of the collector herself.

The 70-piece exhibition at the Bates College Museum of Art, which opened on November 5 and will run until March 19, 2022, features Wellehan’s artwork by 45 artists from Maine, mostly contemporary. . Distinct from the region’s standard and idealized fare when it comes to beaches, boats, barns and bridges, the six-decade-old collection also represents some of Maine’s unexplored, unexplored, weathered and complex places, both literally and artists’ point of view.

The open-air painter Neil Welliver (1929-2005) woodcut “Islands Allagash” is one example. Referring to both the process and the result, Welliver once said, “Painting outside in winter is painful. It hurts the hands. It hurts the feet, it hurts the ears. . . . The paint is rigid, it is rigid, it does not move easily. But sometimes there are things you want and that’s the only way to get them.

Like Welliver, Wellehan pursued the things she wanted with the same discipline and determination. A longtime lawyer and enduring arts student, her interest was more than purely aesthetic. She took ceramic and glass-making tours, took photography workshops, and reached out to famous and lesser-known legions of artists and artisans in Maine to learn how things were made. In some cases, his support has helped build an artist’s career. His passion for the arts went to his heart.

In a story written by collections catalog essayist Jessica Skwire Routhier, Wellehan was on oxygen and in a wheelchair for the last month of his life. During this time, she visited the Portland Museum of Art with her eldest daughter Sheila Wellehan, where a color photograph of Eliot Porter caught her eye. Learning that it was a dye transfer printing, Wellehan vowed to investigate how he had done it when she got home.


The robust exhibition includes a banquet of oils, watercolors, ceramics, a sculpture of a young Dahlov Ipcar by his father, William Zorach, glassware, woodcuts, photographs and mixed media. Artists represented include Daniel Minter, Dozier Bell, Lois Dodd, Dahlov Ipcar, Sam McMillan, Alec Richardson, Sarah Knock, Will Barnet, Ann Lofquist, William Thon, Dennis Pinette and David Driskell, among others. Dale Chihuly’s rippling “Tango Red Persian, 2004” was bought because it reminded her mother of the ocean, her daughter Mary Wellehan said.

Mary Wellehan – a potter, former art teacher and the fourth of Wellehan’s six daughters – said each piece of art is on display anytime for family, friends and guests at her mother’s home in Portland . It was considered livable art. Nothing was turned or stored, as is common practice with art collections. A group of Lissa Hunter baskets, for example, were placed informally above the bench where the family regularly threw coats and threw wet, muddy boots. “The dog would be on the bench,” recalls Mary. “Nothing was forbidden. I walked in and lifted the lids of those beautiful ceramic pieces, trying to see if there was anything inside. It was tactile. Everything was close at hand. It was never, ‘Don’t touch that.’ Lined with artwork, the hallway was a freeway, with children going up and down.

Bates College Museum of Art director Dan Mills, who first met the collector at an event at the museum in 2010, concurred with the view. “It was important to Jane that the art was interactive – that the family could have fun with it.”


Said to favor ceramics, Wellehan believed that craftsmanship was underestimated. “The donation of her ceramic collection increases the museum’s collection of works by contemporary ceramicists,” said Mills, including Susan Dewsnap, Lissa Hunter, Paul Heroux, Sequoia Miller, George Pearlman, Warren MacKenzie and Jane Peiser. “As ceramics are one of the fundamental disciplines of Bates’ workshop, aspiring ceramists will be able to study these objects as an educational and cultural resource. “

Mills recalls that Wellehan had promised her works to college more than a decade earlier, which she would reaffirm to him at subsequent events at the museum. “In 2017, she decided it was time to move on, inviting me into the Portland house,” he said. “There was art everywhere: in the stairwell, above the kitchen cabinets, in the small space between the kitchen and the great room, above the bench. And she told me to choose, ”he recalls,“ actually giving us all of this. ”Given his generosity and the importance of what he saw, Mills said the museum had almost Chosen all There were over 90 acquisitions in all.


Born in Lewiston in 1938, Jane Costello was the granddaughter of former Sun Journal editor Louis Costello. In 1959, upon Costello’s death, her son, Jane’s father, Russell Costello, ran the newspaper the same year Jane married Daniel J. Wellehan Jr. of the shoe-making and retail family. The union of the two great families makes the young couple a kind of regional royalty.

Graduating the following year from Bates College, Jane Costello Wellehan’s Bates lineage dates back to paternal grandparents in 1898. A four semester course “in ‘Cultural Heritage’ awakened my love for ancient cultures and religions, art and architecture, ”Wellehan wrote. in a story for The Bates Student (journal) in 2017, explaining how it inspired a lawsuit for the same.

Embracing her community, she has served as a volunteer chaplain at Maine Medical Center and Mercy Hospital and served on numerous nonprofit and corporate boards. These include Community Health Services, Sweetser and Portland Ovations, where she spent 29 years promoting the vital role of the arts in well-balanced communities.

Wellehan passed away in 2019, leaving her collection – along with an endowment to support acquisitions, internships, and educational programs – at the museum. Its goal was to make art accessible to future generations of students, faculty, staff and the public.

“Often a collection is greater than the sum of its parts,” said museum director Mills. “You end up making connections and seeing dialogues between the works and discovering the collector’s point of view. It is a wonderful gift for the college and the State of Maine.

Her daughter Mary said, “The spirit of what my mother chose was evident when I walked into the museum on opening night. There was so much joy represented in art – in nature and in moments of his life. The way the museum has presented the collection is powerful. It really pays homage to these artists. We have lived with it, but now it has risen to such a beautiful tribute.

The Bates College Museum of Art is open Monday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., with overtime until 7:30 p.m. Monday and Wednesday throughout the academic year. Check the website at or call 207-786-6158 for holiday closings. Each visitor must wear a mask and present a hard or digital copy of a COVID vaccination record or proof of a negative COVID test within the past 48 hours.

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