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Michener Art Museum Celerates Centennial
In New Guinea in 1977 while filming James Michener's World for PBS. Courtesy: University of Northern Colorado.

DOYLESTOWN, PA.- An exhibition recognizing the centennial year of James A. Michener, America ’s beloved writer and philanthropist, closes at the James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown on July 8, 2007. James A. Michener: Traveler/Citizen/Writer celebrates Doylestown , Pennsylvania ’s most famous son through photographs, objects and paintings from the Museum’s collection, as well as original artwork created by Michener, his maps, postcards, stamp collection and material from his service with NASA. There are only three more weeks left to experience this special exhibition, curated by Stephen J. May, author of the recent biography Michener: A Writer’s Journey.

James A. Michener: Traveler/Citizen/Writer, on view in the Byers Gallery, is sponsored by Lewis and Janet Klein.

Michener (February 3, 1907 – October 16, 1997) was a complex and gifted man who, in a sense, led many different lives. He is best summed up by the three words he chose for his epitaph: traveler, citizen, writer. His renown is mostly derived from the written word, as the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of more than forty books of both fiction and non-fiction, many of them bestsellers. He also was a “man of the world”—someone who spent the better part of his life educating himself about our planet through his constant travels. And he was a citizen in the best sense of the word: dedicated to having his life make a difference, through public service, philanthropy, collecting and numerous related activities.

“It is such a delight to cull the Museum’s archives in preparation for this exhibit,” reflects Erika Jaeger-Smith, Associate Curator for Exhibitions at the Michener Art Museum . “Michener was a fascinating character and yet remained incredibly modest his whole life. In the Doylestown High School Class of 1925 yearbook, ‘Jimmy’ Michener states: ‘I’ll speak in a monstrous little voice.’ Few yearbook predictions have been so prophetic! He was a man of such humble beginnings that he never knew his real parents, lived for a time in the county poorhouse and traveled the rails counting hobos as his friends, and yet in his long life he would become an American and international icon, whom Presidents and Popes would eagerly consult for advice.”

Michener’s biographer and exhibition guest curator, Stephen J. May, elaborates: “In the early 1980s, a diverse collection of personalities gathered in Rome to greet Pope John Paul II. Among them were an art collector, a journalist, a naval veteran, a politician, an educator, an amateur bullfighter, a philanthropist and a best-selling writer. What surprised the pontiff—and everyone else for that matter—was that all these personalities were found in the person of one man—James A. Michener.”

Among Michener’s myriad accomplishments and attributes:

His first published book, Tales of the South Pacific, won the Pulitzer Prize and was adapted into the smash musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein.

He published over 40 books which were translated into more than 50 languages. One of the 20th-century’s best-selling writers, Michener was also extremely prolific. It is estimated that he published more pages than Shakespeare, Dickens, Tolstoy and Cervantes combined.

Seven Presidents named him to their advisory councils: Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, and Clinton. He accompanied Nixon on the historic trip to China .

In 1977, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, for his public service and philanthropy.

From 1979 to 1983, he served as a member of the NASA advisory board, and fought for the inclusion of women on space shuttle flights.

He was appointed as advisor to the Postal Stamp Commission, and helped to determine which stamps the government issued.

He was appointed as advisor to UNICEF and in the 1970s he served on a committee to help reform UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization).

His books are populated by women of strong character and diverse races. He hired women in every capacity possible, from his lawyer to his literary agent.

He exposed prejudice in all its forms, but especially racial prejudice. “You’ve got to be carefully taught (to hate)” from South Pacific was Michener’s favorite song throughout his lifetime. As he stated, “Injustice and prejudice kill the human spirit.”

His support of artists and writers was constant. He dreamed of a regional art museum for his hometown of Doylestown , Pennsylvania , and in 1988, the James A. Michener Arts Center (now the James A. Michener Art Museum ) was opened to preserve, interpret and exhibit the art and cultural heritage of the Bucks County, Pennsylvania region.

He felt strongly that he should not personally profit from his writings but should instead use the money in the service of the books’ themes, and planned the donations with his usual meticulous care. For example, he donated all royalties from his books published in Canada and Poland to programs supporting young writers in those nations.

He gave away more than $100 million in his lifetime, with a particular emphasis on supporting universities, libraries and museums. In addition to providing financial support to the James A. Michener Art Museum , he donated more than 300 American paintings to the University of Texas ( Blanton Museum ), gifted 5,400 Japanese prints to the Honolulu Academy of Arts and bestowed a $15 million endowment to the University of Texas to create the Michener Center for Writers.

His deeply-felt compassion and tolerance permeated his writing and his life. He firmly believed in “Man as a brother to all other men.” At the same time, he lived modestly and often enjoyed dressing in robes and telling fortunes at local Bucks County , Pennsylvania fairs, calling himself “ Mich the Witch”!

In conjunction with the exhibit, Museum goers can also experience the writer’s hometown and surrounding area to trace the footsteps of a small town boy who became a man of the world through The James A. Michener Doylestown Days Driving Tour, available at

James A. Michener: Traveler/Citizen/Writer is funded by a grant from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

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