Michener Museum’s new exhibits connect life and art through a lens

Stephen Perloff, The Benjamin Franklin Bridge.

Art is said to be open to public interpretation, but can the public interpret their own art?

At the Michener Museum they can, and they have.

The Doylestown organization recently reopened to the public last month after closing down for the pandemic, and in that time, the Michener has been hard at work getting together their two latest exhibits: ‘Through the Lens: Modern Photography in the Delaware Valley’ and ‘Essential Work 2020: A Community Portrait.’ The first is the museum’s primary exhibit and is set to be on display until August, while the second is set to open this weekend (March 19) and will be on display until July.

David Graham, Painting Christina’s. Provided

In addition to the two exhibitions, the Michener will also be showcasing new works of art installed in its permanent collection galleries, highlighting new acquisitions, plus visitor favorites.

Philadelphians who head to the Museum now however will be able to immerse themselves in ‘Through the Lens’ and its photographs by nearly 40 artists. The exhibit is curated by the Michener’s Curator of American Art Laura Turner Igoe, PhD, and Curatorial Assistant Tara Kaufman, MA, and is organized through the themes of form, figure, landscape, community, and social and political activism.

“Tara Kaufman and I are excited to share a snapshot from our rich photography collection with visitors,” says Laura Turner Igoe in a statement. “From local landscape views to images of public protest, these works capture the creativity and fresh perspective of the region’s photographers over several decades.”

The Michener Museum and the medium of photography already have a connection through the multiple photography programs at Bucks County Community College, the Tyler School of Art at Temple University, the University of the Art and other local universities. According to the release, ‘Through the Lens’ draws primarily from the Michener’s own deep collection of local photography, including many works that have never before been on view, from late prints by the modernist Charles Sheeler— whose time in Doylestown cemented his dedication to the medium—to aerial views of industrial sites by Newtown-based photographer Emmett Gowin.

Jack Rosen, Lovers, New Hope. Provided

But, a lot went into creating the exhibit past just Sheeler and Gowin’s work. The exhibit also features photos from Tom Baril, Paula Chamlee, Edmund Eckstein, Susan Fenton, David Graham, Diane Levell, Martha Madigan, Ray Metzger, Tim Portlock, Jack Rosen, Thomas Shillea and Michael A. Smith. Exhibition curators have also borrowed work by Donald E. Camp, Maria Dumlao, Ada Trillo and William Earle Williams. These specific pieces are said to “explore issues of race, identity, and social and environmental justice in order to connect the museum’s historic images with contemporary concerns.”

The second exhibition followed a similar path in terms of linking photography to the museum and to the public as well—and this is where the communal interpretation comes in.

Early this year, the museum called for photo submissions to be sent in by the public that captured the many meanings of “essential work” in 2020. Anyone was able to turn in a submission from beginner photographers, to those who felt like they captured something special on a smartphone.

The Michener then recruited Ruben Christie, former Vice President of the African American Museum of Bucks County; Laura Turner Igoe; and Marlene Pray, MEd, the Community Organizer and Director/Founder of Planned Parenthood’s The Rainbow Room, to be on a panel to sift through what was sent in and choose the final 20-25 photos. Each person whose work was selected was also presented with a one-year individual membership to the Michener Art Museum.

Ada Trillo, I Want to Matter. Provided

The chosen photos were selected by looking at the image quality, the creative and thought-provoking response to the call’s theme, and at how the submissions presented a diversity of vision. The call for this specific submission came after an obviously tumultuous year that brought a pandemic, social injustices, political protests and a very heated presidential election. For those reasons, 2020 will be remembered as a year of “upheaval and uncertainty.” The Michener chose to ignite ‘Essential Work’ to instill how the creation and sharing of images has raised awareness, communicated information, spread hope, and strengthened connections. The focus of this exhibition, as the release states, is to identify how different people interpret what work is essential for our health, well-being, and a more equitable future.

To learn more information about the Michener Museum and their two new exhibits, visit the michenerartmuseum.org