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Doylestown's James Michener museum marks 25 years

| Saturday, May 11, 2013, 5:51 p.m.
Names of inmates are seen on portions of the outside walls of the James A. Michener Art Museum which was the Bucks County Prison. The James A. Michener Art Museum is celebrating '25 years of Art at the HeART of Bucks County.' To mark the silver anniversary the museum has planned events to highlight the museum's rich history, and past and future growth. (AP Photo/The Intelligencer, Rick Kintzel)

DOYLESTOWN — In 1988, Doylestown native and Pulitzer Prize winner James A. Michener lent his name and support to a new art museum.

To be sure, the new museum was housed in a rather unusual space. Just a few years earlier, the building on Pine Street in Doylestown had been a prison.

Remnants of its former life are still visible, including the prison wall and the etched graffiti names of past inmates. But 25 years later, the James A. Michener Art Museum is thriving and growing.

To mark its silver anniversary, the museum is embarking on a series of events to honor its past and herald its future.

“This is a significant milestone. We wanted to renew and reinvigorate the museum,” said its director and CEO Lisa Tremper Hanover on Wednesday as she led a tour of the facility on Michener Art Museum Tribute Day.

The museum has designed a new logo and is using the catchphrase, “25 Years of Art at the HeART of Bucks County.”

Just in time for the big anniversary, the 35,400-square-foot museum has undergone renovations to the lobby and Nakashima Reading Room. Overgrown landscaping has been trimmed back to increase the museum's visibility.

Last year, the museum opened an education center and the Edgar N. Putman Event Pavilion, which is the largest self-supporting glass structure in the Northeast, according to museum officials. The bright, airy space is used for lectures, performances and special events.

The museum has a full calendar of events to mark its 25th anniversary. On June 15, the museum will hold a Founders Celebration. A public celebration is set for Sept. 21-22.

And in October, the museum will host royalty when Prince Albert of Monaco drops by for the opening reception for an exhibit honoring his late mother, Princess Grace Kelly.

In 2014, the Michener Art Museum will open a special exhibit featuring 25 pieces of art chosen by the public. Through November, visitors can choose three pieces of art from a selection of more than 100, some of which are rarely seen publicly. The top 25 vote-getters will be displayed beginning in February.

James Michener died in 1997.

“He would be proud of the evolution of the program,” Hanover said. “He would be proud the collections have grown.”

Looking toward the next 25 years, it is Hanover's hope that the museum is “seen as a great destination, not just a one-time visit” and that the community continues to embrace and support it.

Hanover also wants the museum to have a more global reach with other artistic genres from around the world displayed.

But more than anything, it is Hanover's wish “that the community maintains their pride in this institution.”

The Michener Art Museum houses more than 2,700 works, with a significant representation from local artists and Pennsylvania Impressionists.

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