Art museum’s expansion building turns 30, architect provides historical perspective

Payson Façade: Charles Shipman Payson Building, Portland Museum of Art, view from Congress Square. (Photo by Craig Becker, courtesy of PMA)

Thirty years ago, after donor Charles Shipman Payson gave the institution $10 million and 17 Winslow Homer paintings, the Portland Museum of Art opened a building in the benefactor’s name. The Charles Shipman Payson Building at the corner of High Street and Congress Square increased the museum’s gallery space fivefold over what was available in the nearby historic buildings in the museum campus.

In part to celebrate the anniversary of the opening of the transformative — now landmark –addition, the museum is inviting the building’s architect, Henry N. Cobb, to be the institutions 2013 Bernard Osher Lecturer.

On June 18 at 6:30 p.m. at Holiday Inn By the Bay, Cobb will deliver a talk titled “The Streets of Falmouth Neck: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow,” referring to one of the many names once given to Portland and its distinctive peninsula.

According to a museum announcement of the event:

Cobb will discuss Portland’s streets and squares and the ongoing dialogue between the memory of the city’s past, preoccupation with its present, and dream of its future.

Cobb’s lecture has current relevance as Portland grapples with the future of Congress Square, a spot that the historic Eastland Park Hotel would like to claim and turn to a gallery ballroom, but that some in the city want to see preserved as public space.

And then there’s ongoing discussion about whether State and High streets should remain one-way streets or be restored as two-way thoroughfares.

Tickets are $15 for the general public and $10 for museum members, and can be purchased online at or by telephone at 775-6148.

If you were wondering, here’s some extra information from the museum announcement about Cobb’s background:

One of three founding principals of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, Cobb’s architectural practice has embraced a wide variety of building types in cities across North America and around the world, including: the John Hancock Tower, Boston (1976); the John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse, Boston (1998); and the Center for Government and International Studies, Harvard University (2005). Cobb is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, academician of the National Academy of Design, and President of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He has received the Arnold W. Brunner Memorial Prize in Architecture, the Topaz Medallion for Excellence in Architectural Education, and an honorary doctorate from Bowdoin College.

Seth Koenig

About Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.