If you live in the Norristown, PA Montgomery County area you don’t have to travel all the way in to Philadelphia or up into New York to see an art exhibit. There are a number of small art museums in the area where you can enjoy the creative works of established artists without all the travel and parking.
I went to one of these museums recently. The first thing that jumped out at me was the price, free. I love free. When I say “free” keep in mind I am not talking about the kind of “free” that the Philadelphia Museum of Art offers. The Philly Museum of Art claims to be free but you basically have to humble yourself at the admissions desk and refuse payment in exchange for a ticket. In other words, they take the money first and then let you argue that the museum is in fact free (and it really is, the price of admission is ‘donation’ though I don’t ever remember claiming it on my income tax)
The free art museum I am talking about is the Berman Art Museum. There is no hassle for money at the admissions desk though there is a visible money donation box that I do suggest you drop a buck into if you visit.
Berman is located right on the campus of Ursinus College in Collegeville, PA and is considered, according to their website, to be one of the best College art museums. Now, this really isn’t saying much considering it is their website that makes this claim. I liken it to Wendy’s claiming they have the best Hamburger….. of course they are going to say that. With that in mind, while this museum is pretty small, it takes itself seriously as an art showcase. More on that …….
The Outside of The Museum
When you walk up to Ursinus’ Berman Museum you instantly know for sure that you are heading into a Museum of art. This isn’t just some converted, unused classrooms. This museum has its own stand-alone building, three floors high with staircases on each side of the building leading into the gallery. Numerous sculptures adorn the outside entrance patios. Berman takes itself seriously as a museum.
There are three floors. When you enter the museum you will be greeted at the (free) admissions desk on the second floor. As you walk by the admissions desk you’ll be in a comfortable room suitable for study or watching the video screen play videos related to the present exhibit. Note a could not take many pictures as using a camera in the gallery is frowned upon.
Just beyond the video room is a gallery that features rotating exhibits. It is a very high, echoing, bright room. It is one of those super quiet, large, museum galleries where you feel like you are making all the noise simply by moving around on the hardwood floor. The space was so calm and serene that every time I took a step I felt as though I was introducing a volcanic explosion but it in fact was just the floor boards under my delicate tip-toes.
The exhibit I saw was African American art which consisted of a number of weaved baskets and plenty of information explaining the exhibit. I have to be honest, the only baskets I know anything about are the Longaberger baskets (spelling?) that a friend of mine collects. Beyond that, I know nothing about basket weaving and realize this isn’t my thing. If it isn’t yours either, don’t let that stop you from going. The exhibit is very professional, displayed as well as any major museum, and it was neat to see something I normally would not have jumped in my car to see. Don’t forget there are two other floors also.
Using a short but sweeping spiral stairwell, I went down to the first floor (or perhaps this is the basement floor and I just left the first floor… either way….) and found some paintings and sculptures. There was one sculpture that reminded me of an impossible combination of the Adam’s Family cousin “It” and a slinky. The other art on this floor was more in the traditional sense of paint and sculpture.
The first floor also features a very bright, sun-lit library area with a book shelf of art literature. The seats are cozy and you can read all you want while the sunlight is
Library and Reading Room at Ursinus’ Berman
drawn in through the 8-10 foot high floor to ceiling, wall to wall windows. It’s a pretty cool space to check out. I can also imagine Ursinus students studying in this area.
The third floor was bright but much less narrow and airy than the second floor. It was also the third floor also featured a rotating exhibit. This was a photography exhibit that combined large, color photographs and the very personal stories of several Iraq war veterans. Very moving accounts of how the war has shaped their emotions.
This was a nice, short, punchy, free trip. Something to check out if you live in the area or are passing through with a minute to spare. You can literally spend 10 minutes in this museum or an hour if you take it all in. The overall size is comfortable, spacious feeling but not very big in terms of linear distance. You could walk the whole museum in about 3 minutes if you didn’t want to look at anything.
Berman Museum clearly has thought about making the exhibits accessible to those with mobility handicaps. This is a very accessible museum to visit.
Parking is free. Use the Ursinus Visitor’s lot which is in close proximity to the museum
There are bathrooms and a water fountain but that is about it. Don’t expect a gift shop, baby changing stations or a cafe as this place is too small to warrant one.
From Norristown I took Germantown Pike west all the way into Collegeville and veered onto Main Street. From this route, I turned into the very first driveway I came to leading into Ursinus College. You’ll see the visitor lot on the right. Parking is free.
After you park, get out of your car and walk back toward the drive way and you’ll see the Museum sitting there in all its glory (and it is pretty impressive for a small art museum) just to the right. If I confused you here, I’ll rephrase this way….. when you drive up the driveway you’ll see the visitor parking lot entrance on the right side and ahead another 100 feet to the left you’ll see the museum sitting there like it is the Acropolis or something (sort of).
If you are really fouled up or coming a different way, here are more detailed maps to help out.
Thanks so much for stopping by our Things To Do Near Norristown website. I want to continuously add new posts over the years so eventually this will be a site rich with information on great things to do in the Montgomery County, Delaware County, Philly, Chester County and Bucks County areas. My goal is to keep you from getting bored and hope you check back from time to time while new info is added.