It's an "American art extravaganza," said Curatorial Assistant Kate Herlihy of the six-part lecture series kicking off today at the Bowdoin Museum of Art.

The American Art Lecture Series runs in conjunction with two exhibitions, "Learning to Paint" and the upcoming "Methods for Modernism," both of which focus on American artists from the 19th and 20th centuries.

This showcasing of American art was made possible by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to the Yale University Art Gallery; the grant awarded Yale $600,000 to share with six partner institutions: Bowdoin, Mount Holyoke, Smith, Dartmouth, Williams, and Oberlin.

The grant benefits the Yale University Art Gallery Collection-Sharing Initiative and will allow Bowdoin to reinstall and recontextualize its 19th century collection and showcase selections from Yale's 20th century American art collection come April 2010.

Diana Tuite, the Bowdoin Art Museum's Mellon Curatorial Fellow and driving force behind the creation of the series said that the Initiative will allow Bowdoin "to borrow significantly from the Yale collections," which will be on display in the forthcoming exhibit entitled "Methods for Modernism: Form and Color in American Art, 1900 to 1925."

The exhibition will open on April 8, complementing the second half of the American Art Lecture Series and creating what Tuite called "an exciting curricular dialogue" between the collections of Bowdoin and Yale.

The Boston Museum of Fine Art's Croll Senior Curator of American Paintings, Erica Hirshler, will deliver the first lecture of the Bowdoin Art Museum's six-part American Art Lecture Series this afternoon.

Not only is Hirshler's talk of interest to art historians in the Bowdoin community, but Hirshler's visit holds particular relevance due to her significant ties to the College: her father taught at Bowdoin from 1959 to 1989 and also received his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin.

Her grandfather also donated a canvas painting to the college in 1853.

Hirshler's lecture, "Sargent's Daughters: The Biography of a Painting" will cover the history of Sargent's famous painting "Daughters of Edward Darley Boit," and draw extensively from Hirshler's recently published book of the same title.

Hirshler's book Sargent's Daughters: The Biography of a Painting sold out after its first printing, which generated a significant buzz about the author's work in the art world.

"It was kind of a coup for a museum publication to have sold out so quickly," said Tuite.

Tuite said that Hirshler's lecture on a very "familiar painting will have automatic appeal" to a wide audience in both the Bowdoin and Brunswick communities.

Hirshler's lecture especially complements "Learning to Paint: American Artists and European Art, 1876-1893" the first of the two exhibitions in the American art initiative. The exhibition, which is currently on display, features a large array of Bowdoin's 19th century American art collection, as well as two pieces on loan from Colby.

"Learning to Paint" is meant to be a prelude to the forthcoming "Methods for Modernism" exhibition, as it emphasizes the work of American artists like Ernest Haskell and Gertrude Fiske, who traveled to Europe in the 19th century to learn foreign techniques of creating fine art.

"Learning to Paint" focuses on "how America got its artistic language," said Herlihy.

According to Tuite, the Yale Initiative's grant "encourages that we create opportunities to reassess and represent our holdings."

Indeed, the American art initiative will cast a new light on Bowdoin's extensive 19th century art collection, not only through the "Methods for Modernism" exhibition but also through the lecture series.

Tuite said the lecture series will offer "a multiplicity of interpretive lenses" through which to view American art.

Looking forwards to the upcoming lectures in the series, Tuite said that in putting together the lecture series she "tried to select lecturers with recent work that demonstrates a fresh perspective on American Art."

Following Hirshler's lecture, Yale University Art Gallery Conservator Patricia Sherwin Garland will deliver a gallery talk on the minutia of art preservation and American art, entitled "Different Outlooks, Different Approaches: Joseph Stella and Patrick Henry Bruce."

Garland will accompany the collection from Yale as it is made ready for display in efforts to ensure the preservation of the various pieces of the show.

Following Garland, Bowdoin alumnus Professor Justin Wolff will re-examine the work of Thomas Hart Benton in his lecture "The Art of Experience: Thomas Hart Benton and the American Scene."

Wolff teaches at the University of Maine in Orono; forthcoming lectures will also include Clark University's Kristina Wilson and Temple University's Alan Braddock.

The lecture series "offers something unexpected," said Tuite. "[It] will hopefully create an ongoing conversation."

Herlihy added that "the goal is to connect art with curricula this semester—the loans from Yale can really be used in classes."

The American Art Series will tie into current curricula, and has already been used in relation to Professor Marilyn Reizbaum's Introduction to Poetry class and Professor Pamela Fletcher's Modern Art class, as well as Professor Linda Docherty's American Art from the Civil War to 1945.

Tuite collaborated extensively with Fletcher, Docherty, and Reizbaum in curating the exhibitions.

Tuite said that through the Yale Initiative grant and the American art series, the museum aims to "help students understand an array of methodologies and open up areas of study for them."

The initiative is meant to invite students to explore new ways of looking at familiar pieces of American art and to showcase the holdings of Bowdoin's collection.

"At times it can feel like there is a gap between the museum and the rest of the campus...everything we do on a daily basis is geared toward bridging that gap and making our holdings and exhibits more accessible to the Bowdoin community," said Herlihy.

Erica Hirshler will speak on Friday, February 26 at 4:30 p.m. in Kresge Auditorium. A schedule of the American Art Lecture Series can be found on the Bowdoin Art Museum's Web site,