The Michener Art Museum

Bucks County offers a lot to do for the weekend visitor — more than enough to fill several days, with a variety of museums, historic house museums, outdoor activities and even a gem of an art museum.

Barbara Lekberg, Sea Wind II, 1988, bronz

Located in Doylestown, right across the street from the also not-to-be-missed Mercer Museum, the James A. Michener Art Museum is named for the Pulitzer Prize–winning writer James A. Michener, a Doylestown resident.

George R. Anthonisen, Give Us Grace, 1993-1996. Bronze.

As described to me by another Doylestown resident, Michener didn’t found the museum — instead, the museum was named after him to try to get him to donate to it.

Masami Kodama, Six Triangles, 1966. Bronze

Whether that’s a real story, this is a great little art museum, housed in the ruins of the town’s old jail — the massive, high stone walls provide a contrasting backdrop to the art within.

Looking into the Patricia D. Pfundt Sculpture Garden,
the sculpture by Masami Kodama in the foreground: Twin Worlds, 1969-71. Granite

In fact, the stone walls and warden’s house that make up the core of the museum were built in 1884 as the Bucks County prison. After serving as a jail for a 100 years, though, the buildings were no longer adequate and were going to be torn down, until a proposal was made to preserve the remains of the prison as an historic landmark as part of a new museum.

Herbert Simon, Large Burst II, 1978, aluminum

Slightly more than a 100 years after they were first built, the art museum opened, building within and off of the original structures, in September 1988.

The oil on canvas painting by Daniel Garber, A Wooded Watershed,
1926, featured prominently in the back wall of the Commonwealth Gallery.
Before you enter the museum, take some time to walk around the sculpture to get a taste of what you’ll find within. On the grounds you’ll find works by Isaac Witkin, Greg Wyatt, Raymond Granville Barger, George Anthonisen, and others.

Harry Leith-Ross, Of Days Gone Past, 1959, oil on canvas

Once you enter the museum, be sure to check out the Patricia D. Pfundt Sculpture Garden, where the old stone prison wall provide a startling contrast to the contemporary museum building and sculpture throughout the garden.

Phillip Lloyd Powell, Door and Surround,
1967, stacked carved softwoods, polychromed

The museum offers permanent exhibits featuring modern and contemporary art and American Impressionism, among others, but also rotating exhibits, such as the whimsical yet oh so very practical “Art of Seating: Two Hundred Years of American Design,” which featured American chairs from the early 19th century to the present.

Designed by Herbet von Thaden, manufactured by Thaden Jordon
Furniture Company, Adjustable Lounge Chair, 1947, laminated birch, brass 

The exhibit, which we caught on the last day it was available, showed us chairs as functional art. Each of the more than 40 chairs in the exhibition was chosen for its beauty and historical context with important social, economic, political and cultural influences.

Raije Cook, Times Four, 2008, painted metal

Renovating the ruins of an old jail to house an art museum was a wonderful idea, transforming a place of fear and despair into a place of transformative beauty.

Getting there: 138 S Pine St, Doylestown, PA

Hours: Tuesday – Friday 10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Sunday noon –5 p.m.


For more great things to see and do in Bucks County, check out the articles below:

24 in 24 Challenge
1740 House Inn
Discover Bucks County
Benjamin Perry Mansion
Bowmans Hill Wildflower Preserve
Covered Bridges
Delaware Canal Towpath and again
Doylestown Bike Tour
Fonthill Castle and again
Logan Inn
Mercer Museum
Moravian Pottery Works
New Hope
Pearl S Buck House
Ringing Rocks County Park
Washington’s Crossing State Park

Allen Houser, Raindrops, 1993, bronz

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George R. Anthonisen, I Set Before You This Day, 1979-1987. bronze.