The Bowers Museum in Orange County

Sep 22, 2010 by Lindsay Pullin

A lot of people haven’t heard of the Bowers Museum located in the city of Santa Ana in Orange County.

Although, it’s small in size, it’s mighty in content.

The museum is named after Charles Bowers, a wealthy land developer who donated the land. The museum first opened in 1936, and has been mostly open ever since.

My first experience with the Bowers Museum was after reading an article about the Terracotta Warriors, which was a traveling exhibit throughout the US at the time.  I really didn’t want to miss the exhibit, and my good grace was that they were housed at the Bowers Museum–a short drive away from where I live.

At that time, I had never been to the Bowers Museum, but its size helps to make it enjoyable without being mega-sized and confusing.

The museum’s entry way is a beautiful Zen garden, with a series of brass pools.  It’s a symmetrical, serene entry that is very pedestrian friendly, and the scale of it feels very urbane, people friendly, and inviting.

The motto of the museum is to educate visitors on other cultures, so the permanent collection is rich with international art.

Their permanent exhibit consists of an impressive amount of Native American art, and art of the Pacific Islands, South America, Asia, and areas of the South East.

One of my favorite parts of the permanent collection is the “History of Orange County,” which provides many keen insights and facts about the area that I grew up in, including how it was settled—with a special emphasis and focus on Santa Ana.

The “Kidseum,” is located south of the Bowers, and to be expected, is just what it sounds like–it’s a museum for kids.  As cool as the Bowers is, it’s isn’t a child friendly museum, so once you’ve had your fill, you’re able to take your children down the block so they can enjoy the “Kidseum”–although I’ve never been there I hear that it’s awesome.

The current exhibits at the museum include “The Weird and Wonderful: Celebrating 75 years of Collecting Art”, “Spirits and Headhunters: Art of the Pacific Islands,” accompanied with some shrunken heads on display; but apparently I just found out that this has been recently outlawed, and “Masters of Adornment: The Miao People of China”, among other artworks on display. 

Coming in December will be an exhibit on Benjamin Franklin, which I’m very excited about attending. This will be available for viewing until March 13th 2011.

The staff at the Bowers and are very friendly to answer any questions for any questions that’s typical for an important museums.

The docents prove their mettle, especially with respect to the American Quilt section. I’m always surprised there aren’t more guests visiting the Bowers, because it’s such a cool and fantastic museum–so get the word out, and come cheek out the Bowers if you haven’t yet done so.

My advice for your day trip: wear good walking shoes, and bring something warm to wear, as it tends to get chilly sometimes due to their air conditioning.

Another reason to visit the Bowers is to learn about Southern California, and to brush up on Orange County’s culture, development, history, and its now importance in international culture.

Also don’t forget your glasses—if you need them–because this museum feels a lot darker to me than most museums.

The restaurant inside the Bowers is outstanding, so if you feel like having a bite of food, and need a break from a heavy dose of culture, there’s that option available. And they have the obligatory Museum bookstore, which is quite diverse in its objects for sale and has a ton of cool stuff (I especially liked the jewelry).

Parking is $2 in the lot, but street parking is free if you get there early enough.

When you have the time and inclination to enjoy great art and wonderful curated shows, definitely come and visit the Bowers Museum!

You won’t leave disappointed; however beware, museum hopping can be contagious, so don’t be surprised to find that this becomes one of your beloved places to go.

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