It was a big moment for a small school, the day last spring when University of Maine at Presque Isle President Don Zillman and Sandra Huck, director of the University’s Reed Art Gallery, opened a box of photographs sent from the Andy Warhol Photographic Legacy Program.

Wayne Gretzky was there. So were several photographs of socialites from Warhol’s era. But where were Carly Simon? Or Vitas Gerulaitis? In their excitement and eagerness to flip through the entire collection — and with news cameras rolling as they examined the photos — Hunt and Zillman had flipped past the photographs of Simon, the singer, and Gerulaitis, the tennis player.

Hunt and Zillman went through the photos once more and found their missing celebrities. They also found a trove of photographs they couldn’t wait to examine, research and eventually hang in the Reed gallery.

“It was exciting,” Huck said. “It just … all the questions were popping when we were going through [the boxes]. It was like, who was this person, who was that person.”

After a summer’s worth of research and organization, the UMPI gallery finally unveiled “Andy at UMPI,” a show of 22 photos, at a crowded opening reception on Sept. 5. The school was the first of three Maine institutions that were awarded photos to exhibit, giving UMPI the distinction of the Maine premiere.

The University of Maine Museum of Art in Bangor and Colby College in Waterville also received photos, but were beaten to the walls by UMPI. UMMA will put up some of its photos Oct. 11, while Colby will wait until Feb. 12.

Each of the chosen institutions in Maine, and others throughout the country, received around 150 photographs from the Andy Warhol Photographic Legacy Program. The gift consists of 28,543 original Warhol photographs valued at more than $28 million. UMPI’s Warhol photographs are valued at about $116,000.

The program, which is part of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, seeks to offer institutions that might not have the means to purchase Warhol’s art a chance to bring a significant number of his photographs into their permanent collections.

The only requirement was that the institution have suitable display and storage facilities.

“We tried to reach out to as many institutions as possible and work across a wide range of communities,” said Jenny Moore, the project curator for the Warhol legacy program. “We looked at areas that it would take quite some time to get to a major museum or institution that had [Warhol’s work] in their collections.”

UMPI has had an art gallery on campus since the 1970s, art professor Clifton Boudman said. Warhol may be the most famous name of owned works UMPI has exhibited — which has excited not only the campus but the community and region. More than 100 people from all over the state and New Brunswick have signed the exhibition’s guest book since the opening.

“One of the things I was struck by was, really, how much interest there was in the community, as well as on campus, in getting works by somebody whom everybody knows their name,” said Linda Zillman, the wife of the university president and the holder of a master’s degree in the history of photography from Arizona State University. “Andy Warhol was a major figure in American art. … I think a lot of people think, oh, we’d had to go to Boston or New York to see an exhibition like this.”

Huck and Linda Zillman curated the show by deciding which photos they wanted to debut. The rest will go into storage and be exhibited in the future.

The two picked an undated print called “The Owl” and paired it next to another undated print, “The Pussycat,” and not only because the pairing echoes the title of the Edward Lear poem; Huck and Zillman liked the similar ways that shadows are cast in each photo. The fact that UMPI uses an owl as a mascot for its athletic teams was also a factor in putting up the photo.

The show also contains are a number of the so-called society photographs — photos of women, mostly, and many with heavy makeup, stylized hair and glamorously posed. The 1983 “Wayne Gretzky” is in the show, as is a 1984 photo titled “Gerard Basquiat,” a picture of the father of artist Jean Michel Basquiat.

There’s also a photo of a woman’s shoe from either 1980 or 1981. Warhol apparently photographed thousands of shoes and even owned a mummified foot. His interest in things seemed to mark a shift in art at the time.

“The sixties were basically the end of, quote, art,” Boudman said. “It got into more of a postmodern situation where it was more artifact, and anything could be art. He was right in that period. … There are other ways to communicate through imagery, as far as he was concerned, especially irony. The images become artifacts.”

Linda Zillman also assembled a catalog. She read everything she could find about and by the artist, researched each photograph, wrote essays about Warhol’s life and his society photographs, and put together a list of the famous people Warhol knew, from actor Eddie Albert to real estate mogul Donald Trump. The black-and-white booklet lists information about each photograph.

There was a lot of information about the subjects of some of the photos, and little information about others. Zillman wasn’t able to find out anything, for example, about the man in “Constantiner Karpides,” a Warhol photograph from January 1979.

“I love that portrait. He’s probably Greek and just somebody I would love to know more about, but unfortunately I can’t find out anything about him,” she said. “Andy courted a lot of people for portraiture and Stavros [Niarchos] and Philip [Niarchos] were two of them [in UMPI’s collection] and I think this guy was probably part of that social scene.”

A gift from Presque Isle Saving Bank of Maine made it possible to frame the photographs, which was done by Jane Caulfield, an UMPI alumna and owner of Morning Star Art & Framing of Presque Isle. The remaining funds were put toward the program book, allowing it to be given free to the public.

Carly Simon and Vitas Gerulaitis will have to wait for their UMPI debuts, which will surely come in the next few months or years. Meanwhile, northern Maine and western New Brunswick can enjoy their first look at the Warhol photographs for another reason — not only are the photos new to UMPI, but they’re also new in terms of a previously unstudied area of Warhol’s art.

“As Linda has said many times, this is a new genre for people, because the photographs … haven’t been public until recently,” Huck said. “So we’re also introducing this work to people.”

“Andy at UMPI” will be on display until Oct. 11. The Reed Art Gallery is open 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. For more, call 768-9611.