Starting in 1955 with the Marsden Hartley Memorial Collection -- which includes more than 100 Hartley drawings and sketches, several small paintings, art-making equipment, letters, photographs and other ephemera -- the permanent collection now holds over 5,000 works of art.

A primary focus of the permanent collection is works on paper, including modern and contemporary art including drawings, prints and photographs. 

Early on, the collection focused on acquiring works by Maine artists and artists of national and international significance working in Maine. The collection has grown and evolved to collect more expansively and in ways that support curriculum across disciplines, and it now includes select and growing holdings of contemporary Chinese art, pre-Columbian art, Japanese woodblock prints, and African art.

The museum is on the Maine Art Museum Trail.