As the winter approaches, the James A. Michener Art Museum gets set to break ground on its $5 million Edgar N. Putnam Event Pavilion. The 2,700 square foot space will be used for concerts, lectures and exhibition openings, as well as weddings and other private parties. The moving of a sculptural jail cell signals the first step toward this exciting new addition.
Until recently, a reminder of the site’s past, a model of a prison cell, stood in the Patricia D. Pfundt Sculpture Garden. For 100 years, the Old Bucks County Jail was at this site. Designed by Addison Hutton and opened in 1885, the prison was based on Quaker ideas of reflection and penitence. Prisoners were kept in solitary confinement and expected to quietly contemplate their crimes and mend their ways through restoration of the inner connection with God, or what Quakers call the “Inward Light.”
It was considered a prison with a soul, because the goal was to rehabilitate its inhabitants.
In 1985 the Old Bucks County Jail – aka the Pine Street Hotel – was closed due to inhumane conditions brought on by serious overcrowding and a deteriorating facility. That same year the Warden’s House on Pine Street was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and Sites, and talks began about building an arts center here. Three years later, the James A. Michener Art Museum opened its doors.
Flash forward to 2000: The Patricia D. Pfundt Sculpture Garden opened, thanks to efforts spearheaded by Nelson Pfundt, a trustee, and his daughter, Lauren Pfundt Myer. With nine works of sculpture, the garden incorporates terrains of Bucks County and uses materials to capture the essence of the local landscape. Surrounded by the 23-foot-high former prison stone wall, water cascades over a vertical sculpture to symbolize the tumbling of a Piedmont stream, and flows down the rill, ending in a tranquil, reflective pool. A “Humbling Path” harkens back to a time when the low opening of the cell doors forced prisoners to bow down. At its center is an abstract representation of a prison cell designed by exhibition designer Joshua Dudley.
In anticipation of the groundbreaking for the Edgar N. Putman Event Pavilion, the cell has been moved to a new location at the front of the museum.