It is the time of year where we often pause and give thanks for all the things in our lives for which we are truly grateful. Family and friends. Beauty in our surroundings. A sense of community and place.

At the Director’s Circle Holiday Open House at the Portland Museum of Art on Tuesday evening, amidst the festive cheer, passed hors d’oeuvres and cocktails, a spirit of gratitude filled the air.

“This place is a haven,” said Frank Reilly, a member of the museum’s Director’s Circle and a playwright who lives in Portland, gesturing toward the open expanse of the museum’s entrance. “(Museum director) Mark Bessire has done a fabulous job… He’s renewed it in a way that attracts younger people. It’s a Portland treasure.”

Reilly’s wife, Sharon, who joined him at the soiree along with Mary Jo Kolkhorst, a member of the Director’s Circle steering committee, shared his enthusiasm.

“We’ve been involved with the museum since the second day we arrived,” she said. “Portland is an amazing city. The art scene is fabulous, the music is wonderful…The museum is really the arts anchor for Portland.”

“Actually, that’s true of me too,” explained Kolkhurst. “We moved here in 2005 and I became involved immediately. This is like the cultural center of the city. We are so fortunate to have this incredible museum here in Portland.”

This is a shared sentiment with a broad reach. George Berger, of Denver and Prouts Neck, seemed to beam while talking about what makes the Portland Museum of Art such a special place.

“He’s changed everything,” Berger said, referring to Bessire. “He has done everything right. It’s so nice to be here…”

Berger’s family will loan the museum its collection of British art dating back to the 1400s. The collection, which opens in October 2014, is titled “Treasures from the Berger Collection: British Art, 1400-2000.”

“It’s a collection that my dad put together,” Berger explained. “It spans 600 years of British art. Our family is part-British, but we’ve always had ties to Maine. My great-great-grandfather Gen. Henry Clay Merriam was from Houlton.”

Nancy Kaye, a trustee who lives in West Bath, agrees with Berger. “The thing about Mark is his enthusiasm. He seems to draw people to him, and he loves what he is doing. We are a nationally recognized museum with more members per capita than any other museum in the country but one.”

As guest mingled to the sounds of music provided by group from Waynflete, they were encouraged to view the exhibits and browse the museum store. Ann Willauer of Prouts Neck chatted with Frances Zilkha of Portland, while Zmira Zilkha, curatorial fellow for the PMA, caught up with Caroline Pratt, a member of the Director’s Circle steering committee.

Katell Wildenberg of Portland was joined by Bill Davisson, another member of the committee.

“Members of the Director’s Circle are really the stewards of the museum,” explained Kristen Levesque, director of public relations for the PMA. “Through their generosity and support, we are able to bring these amazing collections and art to our community.”

As Bessire welcomed guests and gave a brief update on matters like membership and endowment, he made a point to express his gratitude to the Director’s Circle and steering committee, as well as the Portland community.

“You all really do make so much happen for our institution,” he said, smiling graciously and wishing everyone well for the holidays, “and I am so proud to be director of this museum.”

For more information about the Portland Museum of Art, please visit www.portland museum.org.

Margaret Logan is a freelance writer who lives in Scarborough. She can be contacted at:

[email protected]