Right here in Southern California we have a wonderful museum that has much more to offer than you would think. Bowers Museum, which opened back in 1936 as a museum dedicated to the history of Orange County, throughout the years has become an internationally renowned museum
of world culture of art. You might remember that back in the 80s Bowers closed its doors, transformed and reopened in October 1992 having become six times the size that it orginally was! What has happened since 1992 is truly extraordinary.
In mid July, I was fortunate enough to speak face to face with the president
of the Bowers Museum, Dr. Peter Keller. Peter Keller—a gemologist who
has been in the museum profession for more than 30 years—worked at the Smithsonian Institution, Gemological Institute of America, and Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History before becoming president of Bowers Museum in 1992. Since starting at Bowers, Keller has built amazing
partnerships with The British Museum. The Bowers is the first museum in
the world outside Britain to sign an exclusive long-term agreement to showcase its most famous exhibits.
The most current exhibits at Bowsers include the Mummies: Death and the Afterlife in Ancient Egypt Treasures from the British Museum which opened in April 17 (to a record 1200 visitors!) and will remain on display until April 2007, and Evita: Up Close and Personal which will be on display until October 16, 2005. I checked out both of these exhibits and I must say I didn’t want to leave the museum! I was mesmerized by the pieces that were in the Mummies exhibit. Now, I am not one who is new to visiting museums, I have been everywhere from The Getty to The Metropolitan in New York, but I was truly impressed!
In years past, the Bowers has exhibited jade pieces from the Ch’ing Dynasty (1644-1912); objects from China’s Imperial Palace; glasswork from ancient Rome; the House of David Inscription, which left Israel for the first time to
come to the Bowers; fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls; Etruscan artifacts;
and artifacts from Tibet shown for the first time in the Western Hemisphere.
What makes Bowers truly unique is the relationships that have been built. “Peter’s philosophy is that in order to get historical and significant exhibits, you have to meet with people face to face,” said Rick Weinberg, Director of Public Relations. “It’s the personal relationship that gets things done. In the museum world, you have to earn trust.” And that is exactly what Keller has done throughout the years. But he is not alone in this.
Anne Shih, who joined the Bowers Museum’s Board of Governors in 1996,
and was elected to the Executive Committee of the Board, is the Bowers’ leading fundraiser. Her passion for the museum and art is amazing. Together, Shih and Keller have truly elevated the Bowers’ reputation in the museum world.
Currently the Bowers is going through as exciting new transformation. An $18 million project is in the works to open a new 33,000 sq ft wing including 3 new galleries, a 350 seat sloped auditorium and an atrium for galas like weddings, fitting up to 500 people. Don Kennedy, the chairman emeritus, was a key player in this new expansion. “Don has a huge force during the Bowers’ rise as a world-class museum, particularly in the historic agreement we signed with the British Museum and the north wing project,” Keller said.
Partnership, communication, strong relationships – these are all the key points that have led to the success of this rapidly growing museum that happens to be right around the corner for most of us. Plan a family outing on a Sunday and take a trip to Bowers. It truly is “your window to the world’s richest cultures.”