Best Art Museum Orange County 2011 - Bowers Museum of Cultural Art
2002 N. Main St.
Santa Ana, CA 92706
Back in the '70s, the Bowers collection seemed sad. Seemingly full of detritus scavenged from an Indian trading post, the collection was OC-centric (pictures and news clippings from the county's history), plus old pottery, a few dusty landscape paintings by local artists, moldy old Indian baskets, various cowboy accouterments and a handful of arrowheads. The museum closed in 1982, then reopened in 1992 with better bankrolling and new leadership. After a couple of massive expansions, it has renovated that earlier reputation, putting its exhibitions on par with anything by the boys with the big endowments. A dynamite Benjamin Franklin exhibit earlier this year, mummies from the Silk Road touring show, rare Rembrandt etchings, samurai art from the Tokyo National Museum, American quilts and some of China's Terra Cotta Warriors are just a few of what we've been able to feast our eyes on, and the impressive list doesn't appear to be ending any time soon. The Bowers is a shining example of what a board of directors (headed by the forward thinking Dr. Peter C. Keller), generous benefactors and a deep respect for the diversity of multiple cultures can do for a (once-) small community museum.