Bowers Museum

The Bowers Museum is located in Santa Ana, California, in Orange County. The museum offers exhibitions, lectures, art classes, travel programs, children’s art and music education programs, and other community events. The museum's guiding philosophy is to help people learn about other cultures through their arts, and offer a greater understanding of ourselves and appreciation of the world in which we live.


The museum's name comes from Charles Bowers, a late 1800s Orange County land developer, who donated the land on which it stands to the City of Santa Ana. The building was constructed in 1931, after the death of Ada Bowers (Charles's wife) who left the property unoccupied. The new building remained empty for four years after because the Great Depression prevented the city from paying any operating funds.

The Charles W. Bowers Memorial Museum first opened the doors of its Mission Revival-style building in 1936 as a city-run museum devoted primarily to the history of Orange County. In 1987, the City of Santa Ana closed the museum after careful study and input from the community to reopen as a totally transformed building. In October 1992, the Bowers opened its 63,000-square-foot (5,900 m2) facility (some six times larger than the original museum) to a crowd of over 17,000 people.

On February 18, 2007, the Bowers went through a second expansion and opened the new Dorothy and Donald Kennedy Wing. With the new wing, the museum added 30,000 square feet (2,800 m2) and doubled its exhibition space, constructed a 300-seat auditorium, created an indoor space to host events of up to 500 people, and included other amenities to meet the needs of a growing community and audience.

During the past seven decades, the Bowers has evolved monumentally. The facilities have expanded in size from the original 10,080 square feet (936 m2) to more than 100,000 square feet (9,300 m2) today; its annual attendance has risen from 54,000 in 1993 to 150,000 today; the staff has grown from 38 in 1992 to 77 today; and membership has increased from 200 members in 1992 to 10,000 today. The Bowers has been accredited by the American Association of Museums and has been widely acclaimed in broadcast and in print, including many national magazines such as U.S. News & World Report.


The Bowers’ permanent collection provides an opportunity to examine, compare, and contrast the highly diverse cultures of the world. The collection includes more than 100,000 objects focusing on several areas, such as African, South Pacific, Asian, Native American, Pre-Columbian art, and California plein-air painting. The Bowers has also presented over 60 special exhibitions, notably Terra Cotta Warriors: Guardians of China’s First Emperor,Secret World of the Forbidden City, and Mummies: Death and the Afterlife in Ancient Egypt…Treasures from the British Museum. The museum has cultivated partnerships with the Smithsonian, the Nanjing Museum, the Shanghai Museum, and the British Museum, among others, to bring national and international exhibitions from the world's greatest museums to Southern California.


In December 1994, the Bowers made a commitment to its role in children’s education by opening Kidseum, an 11,000-square-foot (1,000 m2) children’s museum located two blocks south of the main building. Kidseum offers multi-faceted art and cultural educational experiences for young children, their families, and the community. It provides children a fun environment where imagination and creativity are not only encouraged, but nurtured.


Orange County authorities allege that the Bowers along with Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Pasadena’s Pacific Asia Museum and the Mingei International Museum in San Diego accepted, some “knowingly” stolen artifacts. According to the allegations made in the warrant, “A senior curator at the Bowers Museum, now deceased, regularly accepted loans of objects he knew were looted from Thailand and Native American graves. The museum’s current director, Peter Keller, also allegedly knew about the practice and had visited storage lockers where the looted items were kept. An appraiser claimed Keller participated in the donations scheme.”

Additional resources
  • Paul Apodaca, "Sharing Information: The Cahuilla Tribe and the Bowers Museum," News from Native California 5(2) (Feb/April 1991)
  • Armand J. Labbé & Paul Apodaca. Images of Power: Masterworks of the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art. Seattle: Univ of Washington Pr (1995) ISBN 0-9633959-0-4 / ISBN 978-0-9633959-0-0
  • Armand J. Labbé, "The Pre-Columbian Art of Panama at the Bowers Museum," The Historian 57(2) (1995)
  • Charles E. Rozaire. Indian Basketry of Western North America, from the Collection of the Bowers Museum. Santa Ana, CA: Brooke House (1977) ISBN 0-912588-39-X ISBN 978-0-912588-39-1
  • Sean H. Mill. Feds Raid Bowers! The Liberal OC (January 24, 2008)

Coordinates: 33°45′47″N 117°52′05″W / 33.76303°N 117.86810°W / 33.76303; -117.86810