Michener: Here 25 Years, When Did You Last Visit

MichenerfrontToday I heard a familiar clop-clop coming down Hillcrest Avenue that has always brought me to my front door just in time to see Sam Snipes (a Bucks County treasure in his own right) riding his horse and buggy home from Summerseat (an often overlooked Bucks County treasure). It reminds me just how interesting it is to live in Bucks County.

We tend to forget what is right outside our front doors. One of those treasures is Doylestown’s James A. Michener Art Museum, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. If you haven’t visited lately, you’re missing out on the riches.

visitors at museum

Visitors at the James A. Michener Art Museum during Tribute Day, May 8, 2013.
Photo by Bailey Fucanan.

After the abandoned prison was torn down, the county leased the land and remaining century-old Bucks County prison walls and warden’s house on North Pine Street to house a museum. Doylestown treasure, native and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist James A. Michener was a founder and namesake of the art museum that opened in 1988.

Michener Director and CEO Lisa Tremper Hanover says the museum rose “from a lonely little prison building to a vibrant art institution.”

Michener’s life and the museum share, if not a common story, then a recognizable outline. The art museum is housed within the once restrictive walls of a jail, constrained, at least physically, by its footprint.

Michener experienced what could have been a limiting beginning. According to his New York Times obituary, he was a foundling, raised by an impoverished Quaker widow who took in orphans and washing. Some children may have been restrained by such an upbringing. Instead, Michener traveled extensively from age 14, graduated from Swarthmore on scholarship, and found employment in a New York publishing house.

While fellow Bucks County Friend Sam Snipes choose to uphold his religious beliefs and serve his country in a non-military role stateside during World War II and in Germany post-war, Michener waived his Quaker principles and enlisted in the Navy. It was during this time that he wrote stories that would become his Tales of the South Pacific.

Michener went on to great success as an author and novelist, writing Hawaii, The Source, Texas and Alaska. He was also renowned for his art collection and philanthropy.

kids and docent

Some of the 101 schoolchildren who visited on Tribute Day discuss art with a Michener docent.
Photo by Bailey Fucanan.

According to his NYT’s obit, he was humbled by his success, still “haunted by his years of poverty.” He told NYT’s Caryn James: “They have a deeper impact on someone like me than people realize. It makes you more dour, more tightly ingrained. It inhibits you. . . . I live as if I had stayed on my job and retired on a small pension and some savings and security.”

His eponymous museum may be forever impeded by its footprint, but not its potential.

“If we were to grow (physically), what would we do?” Hanover asks. “Would we break through the prison wall? That’s an artifact for me. Would we dig down or go up like a skyscraper? I don’t know.

“We’ve been growing 25 years and now it’s time to look inward, take stock and grow our offerings.”

But first, some sprucing up. The overgrown landscaping at the entrance has been redone. The lobby has been painted warm colors. The Nakashima Studio (yet another Bucks County treasure) has restored the wood furniture pieces in the Nakashima Reading Room.

Michener Director and CEO Linda Tremper Hanover shows off the museum's new logo. Photo by Bailey Fucanan.

Michener Director and CEO Linda Tremper Hanover shows off the museum’s new logo.
Photo by Bailey Fucanan.

A new logo helps differentiate the Michener from its neighboring Mercer Museum (treasure!). Hanover tells how the old logo often got the art museum mixed up with the “tool museum” across the street.

“The Mercer is a great colleague to us,” she adds.

top25computer

I choose a few of my picks for Top 25 at the computer kiosk in the museum lobby.
Photo by Bailey Fucanan.

The public is invited to participate in the silver anniversary celebration by voting for 25 out of 125 new works of art to be added to the collection in honor of the Michener’s 25th anniversary.

September 21 and 22 will be the public celebration with an open house, activities, tours and performances.

And causing the biggest buzz is the upcoming From Philadelphia to Monaco: Grace Kelly – Beyond the Icon, which opens October 28. Princess Grace’s son, Prince Albert II, will visit the exhibition at its only U.S. venue.

The Monaco prince will surely be impressed with what he sees at Michener. The permanent collection, with more than 2,700 works, includes pieces by Pennsylvania Impressionist and New Hope school artists such as Edward Redfield, Daniel Garber and Walter E. Schofield. The outdoor sculpture garden boasts bronze works by Barbara Lekberg, Allan Houser and more.

pavilion

The Edgar N. Putman Event Pavilion is, according to Hanover, the largest free-standing glass cube in North America.
Photo by Bailey Fucanan.

The Edgar N. Putnam Event Pavilion, a 2,500-square-foot, all-glass structure is an example of physical growth and a deepening of offering. It is available for private events and also hosts the museum’s popular Jazz Nights series.

Ongoing adult lecture series, workshops and children’s programs highlight the Michener’s connection with its community.

giftshop

I’m always pleased that Michener and Mercer are across the street from each other when I’m looking for a great gift. Both museums have intriguing offerings in their respective gift shops.
“Be sure to mention that we’re open seven days a week,” a volunteer in the Michener gift shop adds.
Photo by Bailey Fucanan.

Go. Take family and friends visiting from out-of-town. Don’t neglect a treasure in your midst.

— Jodi Thompson

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A Celebration of Gospel Music

I’m what Jack Miles would call a pious agnostic. I was raised, and I raised my sons in the Unitarian Universalist tradition. No harm in behaving as though someone were watching even if I’m unsure if someone is. I make an effort to follow the Golden Rule, if for no other reason than to sleep at night.

Sleep wasn’t too great this week. Not only did I have an ailing loved one, but so did the person I was trying to interview.

That’s why when singer Barbara Walker asked if she could pray with me right then and there over the phone, I didn’t quibble. Perhaps there was someone listening. During that prayer she said what we were each experiencing put “more love and compassion in our hearts.”

I’m always open to more love and compassion in my heart. And music in my ears.

Even the most agnostic amongst the pious feels uplifted upon hearing gospel music. It’s in our collective soul, our American DNA. It reminds us of where we’ve been and where we should be. All the more reason we should enjoy Sunday Afternoon Music at the Michener: A Celebration of Gospel Music tomorrow, April 14 from 3 to 4:30 p.m.

Walker (She’s toured with with the greats, including Patty LaBelle, Gladys Knight and Maynard Ferguson, in addition to teaching children about the letters “D”, “B” and “M” on Sesame Street.) will perform with Esther Dinkins and the Back Bench Boys, the male choir from the Second Baptist Church of Doylestown where Dinkins is choir director and Walker is a member.

Walker has performed at Michener twice before, singing jazz and R&B, but both times she was sick with the flu. “This is the first time I’ll be full voice, so I’m excited about that.”

The performance will feature, as Walker says, “good, up-lifting spiritual songs,” full of love and energy. She is on to something.

In Robert Gupta’s TED Talk, the LA Philharmonic violinist speaks about his music lesson with Nathaniel Ayers, the talented and tortured Julliard-trained musician, when Gupta discovered how music provided an escape for Ayers from his tormented state.

“Music is medicine,” Gupta says. “Music changes us.” It makes us feel good, and “we’re able to shape those emotions into reality.”

My loved one is home from the hospital, feeling better. That’s why I’m writing this post while listening to Alison Krauss sing “Down to the River to Pray,” which this skeptic will sing with her choir tomorrow morning at services.