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This article by Brenda Lange was prepared for the June 12, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
New Hope Gets Its Michener
When goals are met, some may take it easy and rest
on their laurels. Not so the James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown,
Pennsylvania. After more than a dozen years of steady growth, the
museum is planning to open a satellite facility in New Hope, in a
multi-use complex known as Union Square, with a projected completion
date of summer 2003.
A groundbreaking ceremony for the James A. Michener Art Museum at
New Hope in Union Square on West Bridge Street, is Thursday, June
20, at 5:30 p.m.
Since the Michener first opened its doors to a community starved for
a local art venue, it has grown steadily in its visitors, membership,
collection, and size of its facility. In many ways, the original goal
set by its board of directors — to create a world-class regional
museum dedicated to preserving the culture of Bucks County by collecting,
preserving, and exhibiting its art — has been met.
The museum has grown its collection to about 2,300 pieces of artwork,
hosted 92,000 visitors last year, boasts a membership of more than
3,000, and is the self-declared "Art and Soul" of Bucks County.
Built on the site of the former Bucks County Prison in 1988, the museum
was the brainchild of area businessman Herman Silverman and many local
supporters. The museum took its name from Pulitzer Prize-winning author
and Doylestown native son, James A. Michener. Sometimes mistaken as
a museum that’s all about Michener, the multi-media museum does house
a small, permanent exhibit dedicated to his life and work, including
the desk from his Pipersville, Bucks County, home at which he wrote
his 1991 "The Novel," the story of a Pennsylvania Dutch community.
Michener’s "Tales of the South Pacific," was his first book
and the Pulitzer Prize winner.
Through two expansions, the museum has grown to nearly 40,000 square-feet
of gallery and public space, shop, and snack bar. In the past three
years, the addition of the Patricia D. Pfundt Sculpture Garden added
outdoor exhibit space, and the gift of 59 paintings from the collection
of Gerry and Marguerite Lenfest, gave the museum the distinction of
having the country’s largest collection of Pennsylvania Impressionist
paintings. Lenfest, president of the Lenfest Group and chairman of
the board of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, built his cable television
company into the 11th largest in the nation before selling it to the
Comcast Corporation in 2000. The Lenfests have been major donors to
the region’s arts.
At the same time that the Michener Museum was living up to its mission
and growing toward capacity, an area builder acquired a substantial
piece of prime property in New Hope on West Bridge Street. George
E. Michael, known in the area for his restoration of the Lambertville
House across the river, owns land in both towns. He watched with disappointment
as the sister towns "grew in opposite directions."
"New Hope had been known mostly as an arts community," says
Michael, "but I saw it deteriorating since I moved my office here
six years ago. So when I bought Union Square, I decided I wanted to
do something to bring the arts back to the community."
Michael called a town meeting to get input. "Everyone
was supportive in wanting to bring an arts venue back to New Hope,"
he says. After investigating and rejecting numerous ideas — ranging
from renting studio space to local painters and other artists, to
building a performing arts venue — Michael met with Silverman
and Bruce Katsiff, Michener Museum director, and the idea of expanding
the Michener’s space began to take shape.
"The Michener is a natural," Michael says, "and so obvious
— after the fact. The plans for this state-of-the-art facility
are exceeding my expectations. It’s a great coup for New Hope —
Win-win for the community and the museum."
"Union Square in general and the Michener Art Museum are tremendous
additions to the borough," agrees Richard Hirschfield, New Hope
Borough Council president. "This is an important statement culturally
for New Hope. Having the Michener here is like coming home — a
great combination of history, culture, and commerce."
Specific details for the museum’s new facility, which is to be named
the James A. Michener Art Museum — New Hope, began to take shape
over the course of several meetings of the museum’s board, Katsiff,
"We wanted our own space, with a separate entrance, and a museum
environment with high ceilings, climate control, and museum lighting,"
explains Katsiff. The museum also wanted a long-term commitment from
the builder, which they got, in the form of a 20-year, rent-free lease.
"From our perspective, this project offered us the ability to
reach a more economically and culturally-diverse audience, it puts
us where the people are, and it gives us more exhibit space. Of course,
there were economic challenges and we didn’t know how the local community
would receive this plan," Katsiff adds.
The $500,000 necessary to fit out the space to museum specifications
was only the tip of the iceberg, as annual operating costs were factored
into the equation. The board wanted to cover five years of operating
expenses, and so it was decided to move forward with a $1 million
According to Carole Hurst, the museum’s director of institutional
development, that goal has nearly been met through an outpouring of
support from the community, contributions from the Delaware River
Port Authority, an appropriations bill by Congressman Jim Greenwood,
and two grants sponsored by Representative Chuck McIllhinney and Senator
"We’re also exploring partnering with other cultural organizations
to help promote each other, like the New Hope Library, Bucks County
Playhouse, New Hope Historical Society, and Perry Mansion," says
When the museum board voted in 2000 to move ahead with the project,
it was with three stipulations: The new facility had to meet the standards
already set by the main museum; it could not threaten the viability
of the parent museum in Doylestown; and its financial support had
to come from the New Hope-Solebury community.
The 5,000 square feet of space in the new building will be used to
best advantage by splitting it into two 2,000-square-foot galleries
and a reception and shop area. The popular, interactive "Creative
Bucks County" exhibit currently housed in Doylestown will be moved
to one of the galleries, while the other will be filled with works
by Bucks County and New Hope-area artists. The interior will be designed
by Celeste Callaghan Interior Design of Doylestown, and the original
designer of the "Creative Bucks County" exhibit, Ralph Applebaum
Associates of New York City, will come in to re-work that design to
fit the new space.
Constance Kimmerle, curator of collections, plans to present a "survey
of the arts" of the area: a changing exhibition covering different
periods of painting. "Initially, it is planned to run for one
year," says Kimmerle, "The opening exhibit will be a selected
survey of Pennsylvania Impressionist artists and the New Hope Modernists
of the 1920s. The Pennsylvania Impressionists have been rediscovered
and there are new avid collectors, making it more competitive to acquire
"This (expansion) has opened doors for the museum," adds Hurst.
"A lot of people feel good about the museum’s position there.
We will always be looking for the best work of each artist and building
endowments for acquisitions and collections care. Our goal is to bring
the work home and keep it here for future generations."
Current director of marketing and retail services, Amy Lent, will
take over as site administrator once it opens in June of 2003. She
has plans to cross-market each venue through museum-related product
development and promotion.
Merely tapping into a new tourist market in New Hope won’t be enough
for Lent, who says she "wants to draw visitors back to Doylestown
too." The short drive between the two towns cuts through the shopping
mecca of Peddler’s Village, and is lined with bucolic vistas as well
as historic landmark areas.
"Many people aren’t aware of all the opportunities of the area,"
she adds. "In some ways, we have a built-in audience, but the
challenge will be, after the first year, to continue to attract visitors."
The total Union Square project encompasses 130,000 square feet of
mixed-use space, including retail shops, offices, two restaurants,
the museum. A 500-car parking lot will lead to an access road connecting
Route 202. Sterlings Boutique has relocated from its former site on
the corner of Bridge and Main streets, several offices are already
in operation, and a second site for Triumph Brewing Co. of Princeton
is planned for the site. Union Square was designed by Dave Minno of
Minno and Wasko Architects of Lambertville.
— Brenda Lange
at New Hope , Union Square, West Bridge Street, New Hope, 215-340-9800.
State Senator Joe Conti and New Hope Mayor Larry Keller join Union
Square developer George E. Michael. Thursday, June 20, 5:30 p.m.
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