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," director and CEO Lisa Tremper Hanover told The Intelligencer as she led a tour Wednesday of the facility on Michener Art Museum Tribute Day. The event was held 28 years to the day when Doylestown held a tribute day for its native son.
The museum has unveiled 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 some renovations to the lobby and Nakashima Reading Room. Overgrown landscaping has also been trimmed back to increase the museum's visibility.
Last year, the museum opened a new 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 also 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 unveil a special exhibit featuring 25 pieces of art chosen by the public. Now 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. But if he walked through the museum today, Hanover believes he would be proud and amazed by its growth.
"He would be proud of the evolution of the program," she 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. On top of the permanent exhibitions, the museum presents a dozen changing exhibitions per year, including major international touring exhibitions. The museum draws more than 130,000 people annually, including local school children, and runs a comprehensive educational program for students.