Date of Award


Document Type

Honors Thesis (Open Access)


Colby College. American Studies Program


Amber Hickey

Second Advisor

Laura Saltz


Art museums have recently been looking at their existing collections with heightened scrutiny, revisiting their decision to display colonial works uncritically in their gallery spaces, and reconsidering the idea that there is such a thing as a unified art historical canon. These conversations regarding reinterpretation are necessary for all museums that choose to display art with problematic histories, as this information is owed to visitors -- especially within the settler colonial context. The Colby College Museum of Art in Waterville, Maine is one site where such collection and gallery “reinterpretation” has begun to be implemented and discussed. For example, in the museum’s Osher Gallery of the American West, there have been attempts to address American colonialism and its modern legacy. However, other galleries that perpetuate harmful ideologies, such as the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations Gallery and its focus on landscapes of the American East (which were widely used as imperial tools) have undergone virtually no reintepretive work. Although the Colby College Museum of Art presents itself as an educational institution which seeks to expand the canon of American art, its reinterpretive efforts have fallen flat as they promote the harmful dissonance/resolution model of gallery construction and the unrealistic neutrality of settler-colonialism. In my paper, I argue that the Colby College Museum of Art must abandon these gallery models in favor of promoting community collaboration and shared authority with Indigenous communities, and embracing a more intentionally disruptive organization of the gallery space. I interrogate specific works of art and their placement in the Colby Museum to call attention to areas that must be readdressed. I then assert that reinterpretation is the first step in a necessary decolonial process that will lead to the dissolution of the settler state.


art museums, indigenous studies, colonialism, american landscape, gallery construction, gallery space