Appreciating Bucks County Art at the Michener Museum in Doylestown
I’m always impressed by how many great art museums there are in eastern Pennsylvania. Some of these are world-class museums such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Barnes Museum. Others are smaller and offer more regional look at art, like the Allentown Art Museum.
The James A. Michener Museum of Art in Doylestown falls squarely into this later group. However, that doesn’t mean that the museum doesn’t feature great art. In fact, if you weren’t aware the the museum primarily showcased art from Bucks County artists, you’d have no idea that it was comprised most of local art.
The Michener Museum museum sits in the shadow of the Mercer Museum on the outskirts of downtown Doylestown.
The museum opened in 1988 in the stone walls and grounds of the historic Bucks County jail. Today, the museum is primarily located in a modern building that was constructed adjacent to the old jail.
The Michener Museum isn’t overly large, featuring only a handful of big rooms. However, they do a great job packing in a lot of great art into the space. Even better, the museum features a wide variety of artistic mediums including paintings, sculpture, photography, and more.
The museum features five permanent galleries, as well as space for a few temporary exhibitions. The museums features pieces that are on loan from both the National Gallery of Art and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
The first gallery I explored during my visit to the Michener Museum was their Pennsylvania Impressionism gallery. While the painters on display might not be as famous as artists like Monet and Renoir, the works in this gallery are quite striking. Artists on display include Pennsylvanians William Langson Lathrop and Edward W. Redfield.
One thing that I really appreciated about the Michener Museum was how they incorporated technology. Scattered throughout the galleries were tablets that allowed you learn more about each piece of art on display in the museum. These devices were a great way for me to immerse myself in the museum and to gain greater appreciation for the featured art and artists.
Another gallery that I personally enjoyed was their photography gallery. As a photographer myself, I always enjoy this form of art, and it was great to see how several exceptional Bucks County photographers saw both the local area and the world.
Of course, there are also many other styles of art on display inside the museum include furniture and sculpture. Even the museum’s benches are creative works of art, and I could see them on display in a museum at some day in the future.
The museum also features an entire room set aside to the Nakashima Reading Room. The furniture is from the workshop of Bucks County woodworker George Nakashima. These Japanese-style pieces offer a beautiful respite if you need a break from the museum. They reminded me of a mixture of a Frank Lloyd Wright and Shofuso Japanese House in Philly.
In addition to the incredible art on display, one of my favorite things about the James A. Michener Museum is how well it’s laid out and designed. The gallery feels light and airy despite being filled with great art. Nothing in the museum feels cramped and there is plenty of room for everyone, which makes exploring the museum a real joy.
Before leaving the museum, don’t miss the small room adjacent to the gift shop that is dedicated to the life of the museum’s founder, James A. Michener.
Michener was a Doylestown native and a Pulitzer Prize winner. During his life, he authored more than 40 books, including the book that would be adapted into the musical “South Pacific” by Rogers and Hammerstein (Interestingly, Oscar Hammerstein also had a home in Doylestown).
Even if you aren’t familiar with Michener, it’s an interesting exhibit that gives you a chance to learn more about this influential American.
While the museum might get overshadowed by nearby sites such as Fonthill Castle, the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works, and (quite literally by) the Mercer Museum, the James A. Michener Museum should be on the list of any art lover visiting Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
Note: My visit to the Michener Museum was hosted by the museum. However, the opinions expressed are my own.
James A. Michener Museum
Hours: Tuesday-Friday: 10a-4:30p
Cost: Adults: $15, Children: $5
Address: 138 S. Pine Street
Jim Cheney is the creator of UncoveringPA.com. Based in the state capital of Harrisburg, Jim frequently travels around Pennsylvania and has visited, written about, and photographed all 67 counties in the state. He has also traveled to more than 30 different countries around the world.