Looking Back...Michener Museum: "Art and Soul" of Bucks County (from the 32nd
In 1988, with the support of many
dedicated citizens, the James A. Michener Art Museum opened in Doylestown as an
independent, non-profit cultural institution dedicated to preserving,
interpreting and exhibiting the art and cultural heritage of the Bucks County
region. The museum is named for Doylestown's most famous son, the Pulitzer
-Prize winning writer and supporter of the arts who had first dreamed of a
regional art museum in the early 1960s. Today
the museum prides itself on being the "Art and Soul" of Bucks County.
Unveiling of Edward W. Redfield's
The Burning of Center Bridge, at the Museum's
celebration in 1998.
Photo Whitney Photography,
courtesy of the James A.
Michener Art Museum.
In November of 1999, the James A.
Michener Art Museum publicly announced the largest single gift in the
institution's history. Marguerite and Gerry Lenfest gave the museum an extensive
collection of fifty-nine paintings by important regional artists of the
Pennsylvania Impressionist School. It is now home to the finest collection of
Pennsylvania Impressionist paintings in public or private hands.
Ensconced in the museum's walled, lush
"back yard" is an outdoor gallery, the Patricia D. Pfundt Sculpture
Garden. Sculptures are on view in a natural setting that pays homage to the
Bucks County landscape which has inspired countless artists.
The museum hosts nationally touring special exhibitions and also
showcases important regional artists.
In the sculpture garden, Woman
Washing Her Hair, by Joe Jenks, black granite, 1954. Gift from the
grandson of the artist. Photo courtesy of the James A. Michener Art
George Nakashima, Conoid Cushion
Chair, 1961, walnut, hickory, cotton and upholstry. H. 33.5 x W. 34.25 x
D. 35.25 inches. Collection of George Nakashima, Woodworker. From the
exhibition, "George Nakashima and the Modernish Movement."
George Nakashima (1905-1990) was
internationally known for his innovative furniture designs as well as his
meditative architectural interiors based on ancient principals of Japanese
design. He created the Nakashima studio in Bucks County after World War II and
soon established himself as one of the premier American woodworkers of the 20th
Century. The Nakashima reading room is a permanent installation designed by his
daughter Mira Nakashima-Yarnall. During the summer of 2001 a special display of
George Nakashima and the Modernist Movement will examine Nakashima's influence
on contemporary art and design. It features a core group of Nakashima works as
well as related works by several major European and American designers.
Another major exhibition featuring
Abstract Expressionist paintings from the 1950s and '60s as well as recent
acquisitions of works by regional artists not previously exhibited at the
Michener opens on July 14 and continues through October 7, 2001.
The Education Department has a mission
to involve the community in the visual arts through a diverse program which
seeks to develop a lifelong involvement with the arts. In addition to
school-year programs, there are a variety of summer activities for children on
and off site. There is also serious
attention devoted to inspiring people of all ages to become better acquainted
with the wonderful collection. With each new exhibition, curators, historians,
authors, artists, and sometimes the family of regional artists, are part of
planned programs. On-going lectures, demonstrations, gallery
tours, videos, and special events help the participant understand the
meaning behind the works on view. Frequently the acquired knowledge leads to
further interest for individuals, in which case, the Art Research Library can be
accessed by appointment.
Girl scouts "scouting out the art
display their art-to-wear made at art camp.
Photo courtesy of the
James A. Michener Art Museum.
One of the most fascinating areas of
the museum is a separate wing called “Creative Bucks County,”
It houses a multi-media, interactive exhibition which brings to life the
work of the many visual artists, authors, playwrights, lyricists, and composers
who have lived and worked in Bucks County. It includes individual
displays on twelve of the county's best known artists, a video theater,
and a comprehensive computerized database containing information on hundreds of
Bucks County artists, both living and deceased. Just to name a few, the list
includes Pearl Buck, Oscar Hammerstein, Moss
Hart, George S. Kaufman, Edward Redfield, and Edward Hicks.
Many of these artists gravitated to Bucks County to escape the rigors of
New York. Most of the painters were drawn by the bucolic setting, the farms, the
river, and the special light by which they painted in the prized impressionist
style. The composers, lyricists, and writers were drawn by the closeness to New
York and the accumulating cultural community.
The Museum Shop specializes in
acquiring the work of local artists. In addition to a wide range of books
by/about Bucks County residents, the shop also sells local handmade crafts, from
jewelry to pottery. Children especially love to buy items to remind them of
their visit, and there is something in every price range to bring home. Adjacent
to the shop is a small, but convenient café. Lunches are reasonable and so well
thought of that locals frequently stop in just 'to do' lunch. The café is also open on Wednesday evenings for light
Since the Museum opened in 1988, it has
grown and developed into an important cultural center in Bucks County and
beyond. Located in the heart of
Bucks County, it is housed in a splendidly renovated historic site that formerly
served as the county jail from 1884-1986. James A Michener liked to tell the
story about his youth, growing up in Doylestown. "They used to say to me,
"James, if you don't behave yourself, you're likely to end up in
jail!" "Well, here I am", he proudly boasted at the dedication of
the museum which bears his name.