Curator's Choice tells the stories behind prized objects and artifacts from the collections of historical organizations and cultural institutions in Pennsylvania.

Its whereabouts unknown to art historians and enthusiasts for nearly seventy years, a spectacular mural by acclaimed American artist Daniel Garber (1880-1958), one of the most famous members of the New Hope School, was recently rediscovered and returned to Bucks County, where it had been painted in 1926.

Garber’s masterpiece, A Wooded Watershed, was originally commissioned by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for the Sesquicentennial Exposition in Philadelphia, which marked the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the nation’s founding. Garber idealized rural Pennsylvania as a paradise by portraying the scenic Delaware Water Gap. He emphasized two key elements of this site-specific landscape: woods of American sycamore trees and the waters of the Delaware River – hence the title. A Wooded Watershed, measuring twenty-two feet long and nearly eleven feet high, was installed in the Pennsylvania Building to celebrate the Keystone State’s natural beauty, and its cultural, political, industrial, and agricultural achievements. Garber was one of seven artists commissioned by the Commonwealth to create nineteen large murals for ten exhibits in the Pennsylvania Building.

After the Sesquicentennial closed in December 1926, the Commonwealth dismantled the installation and shipped A Wooded Watershed to the State Forest School (conducted by the Pennsylvania Department of Forests and Waters) at Mont Alto, Franklin County. The crescent-shaped mural was installed, under the artist’s direction, in Science Hall. To hang the mural on a wall that measured only nineteen feet, the ends of the canvas were folded back, changing its original shape. Two years later the campus became part of The Pennsylvania State University and Science Hall was transformed into its General Studies Building, in which A Wooded Watershed served as the backdrop for the auditorium stage.

For nearly seven decades, A Wooded Watershed hung neglected until a university librarian read a newspaper article describing writer James A. Michener’s “Art Endowment Challenge” for the James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown. Michener agreed to contribute a half million dollars to the museum if it could secure, by gift of bequest, at least forty museum-quality works for its permanent collection. The librarian alerted museum officials that a mural by Garber, one of the artists whose work was being sought, existed at Mont Alto. They hurried to the campus and found the lunette-shaped mural dirty and somewhat damaged but, miraculously, intact.

In return for a scholarship endowment in Garber’s name, Penn State’s Mont Alto campus administrators agreed to transfer the mural, the only known example by the artist, to the James A. Michener Art Museum. Acquisition and conservation of the monumental piece, weighing more than five hundred pounds, was made possible by a Legislative Initiative Grant.

Saturday, June 1 [1996], will be a special day for admirers of the work of Daniel Garber and his circle: A Wooded Watershed will be unveiled and placed on permanent exhibit – in its entirety – at the museum.

For information about the museum’s changing exhibitions and visiting hours, write: James A. Michener Art Museum, 138 South Pine St., Doylestown, PA 18901-4931; or telephone (215) 340-9800.