Since first opening, in 1967, Bowdoin College’s Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum resided on the first floor of a stately Gothic Revival, the type of academic hall that projects an aura of serious learning and smells of dusty old books. It felt rather tucked away. Earlier this year, the museum — named for Robert Peary and Donald MacMillan, alumni famous for their early-20th-century arctic explorations — trekked across campus, into the new John and Lile Gibbons Center for Arctic Studies. The building is something to see in its own right.
Some extra space was much needed: since 1967, the arctic museum’s collection has grown from hundreds of objects to tens of thousands.
Outside, the odd angles and sloping ridge of the roofline are meant to evoke an iceberg (actual impressions may vary). Inside, huge wooden beams are exposed — core structural elements in the state’s first-ever commercial building to employ mass-timber construction, replacing steel and concrete with less carbon-intensive laminated wood. Spacious galleries show off everything from contemporary Inuit photography to hand-carved snow goggles to a high-tech buoy used to track sea-ice thickness. (A 600-pound taxidermy walrus had to be lifted through a window in the new building in order to make the move.) The net effect is of a major addition to Maine’s museum lineup, no small feat for an institution already in its seventh decade.