By Meisha Johnson

DOYLESTOWN, Pa. (CBS) — Doylestown has a place that’s pure Pennsylvania: The Michener Art Museum.

This museum got its start as something very different.

“The James A. Michener Art Museum had its first life as a prison,” explained director and CEO Lisa Tremper Hanover.

It had been the Bucks County Jail when it was donated to the Arts Council. Michener, the Pulitzer-Prize winning writer, helped fund its transformation into a regional art center in 1988.

The museum has a special focus on Pennsylvania Impressionist paintings. One of the crown jewels of the museum is a 22-foot mural by Daniel Garber, “A Wooded Watershed.” The 1920s mural was almost lost before it was rescued from decades of neglect.

“A woman in Atco, Pennsylvania, knew this mural existed on the back of an auditorium,” Tremper Hanover said. “It had cigarette butts in it. It had been deteriorated. We are so fortunate that we are now the caretakers.”

The museum includes a collection of Arts and Craft art, woodwork, and furniture, including a working fireplace carved of walnut, and the Phillip Powell Door, inspired by Moroccan carvings.

The museum holds art appreciation classes not only for adults, but children as young as three.

“We develop all kinds of programming that allows people to release their inner creative spirit,” Tremper Hanover said.

The children get age-appropriate lessons on a piece of the collection, discovering and commenting on the shapes and colors they see.

During a recent lesson, children gazed upon the Powell Door and walked up one by one to comment on it.

“Matthew’s noticing it’s got a round curve at the top, and it’s a lot wider than the door at your house,” the instructor said.

After the art lesson, children get the chance to make their own works of art with paint or other materials.

“They experience original works of art in the gallery, and then they go back and create,” Tremper Hanover said.

The James A. Michener Art Museum is at 138 S. Pine Street, Doylestown, PA. The collection includes an exhibit dedicated to Michener himself.

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