Bakersfield Museum of Art Executive Director Bernie Herman has announced his intention to retire from the city's premier arts organization after an eight-year tenure that saw the museum flourish and grow, even as the economy has faltered.

No timetable has been set for his departure, said Jason Gutierrez, the museum's director of marketing.

Herman declined to be interviewed by The Californian on Wednesday, but the museum released a copy of his letter of resignation, which states that he and his wife, Joan, intend to move to Southern California to be closer to their adult children.

"Having grandchildren is such a special treat, and we want to experience more time together with them as they grow," Herman said in the letter.

Susan Hersberger, chairwoman of the museum's board of directors, said Herman informed the executive board of his decision Monday and sent a letter to the full board on Tuesday. Hersberger called Herman's contributions to the museum and community at large "enormous."

"During his tenure as president and CEO, he put the museum on firm financial footing," she said. "In today's economy, when museums and symphonies across the country are struggling, we're in an enviable position at the museum with the financial stability we enjoy.

"He also expanded the artistic offerings of the museum, which at the same time has increased the number and diversity of our audience."

Though Hersberger was aware that Herman was considering leaving, the news came as a shock to several museum supporters and board members reached by The Californian Wednesday.

"He was just terrific for the museum," said Laurie Maclin, a former board member who has supported the museum for more than 20 years.

Under Herman's watch the museum has thrived, securing thousands in grant money and endowments, Maclin said.

"When people in nonprofits are having terrible times, he's kept us on the straight and narrow."

Board member Barry Zoeller also expressed surprise in a statement released to The Californian Wednesday.

"I just got the letter today -- that's how I learned about Bernie's retirement. ... Bernie has done a remarkable job over the years and he and Joan are just a fine, high-quality couple."

Longtime board member Rogers Brandon called Herman's performance "exemplary."

"He has provided leadership, vision, professional management and scholarship to one of the cultural centerpieces of Bakersfield. He will be missed, but he leaves a legacy of smart and dynamic exhibits, enriching art education, and a fiscally sound museum."

Herman intends to be involved in the search for his replacement, which should be an exhaustive process, said Don Martin, president of Metro Galleries in downtown Bakersfield.

"That is a job that is so intricate," he said. "It will be interesting to see whether they go with someone with a museum background or fiscally minded."

Herman, former CEO of Mercy Hospital, joined the museum in 2004, replacing Charles Meyer as executive director of the nonprofit arts organization.

Herman said in a statement released by the museum Wednesday that he'll miss "the day-to-day experience but know I am leaving the museum in many capable hands."

-- Contributing columnist Camille Gavin and Assistant Lifestyles Editor Stefani Dias contributed to this report.