Palmer Museum of Art receives 200 pieces of artwork from Barbara R. PalmerOctober 3, 2019 | In the Press
The Palmer Museum of Art is full of different pieces of artwork, and it just received 200 more from someone the museum considers very special.
The museum has received works of world-class art from its longtime benefactor Barbara R. Palmer, who passed away in January 2019. According to the Palmer Museum of Art press release, the collection is considered to be “one of the finest private collections of American art in the country.”
Barbara R. Palmer, a founding member of the Palmer Museum of Art Advisory Board, has been part of the museum ever since a gift from her and her husband, James Palmer, in 1986 launched the creation of what we know to be the museum today.
The new bequest is expected to heighten the museum’s reputation. The collection includes paintings by artists from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, including Frederic Edwin Church, Winslow Homer, Martin Johnson Heade, and others.
The collection also includes works of art from 19th-century artists. It includes elements of Ashcan realism and Stieglitz-circle modernism—which both contributed to the birth of American modern art.
Palmer Museum Director Erin M. Coe said the landmark bequest is “truly transformative”.
“Rarely do gifts of art to museums have the ability to transform a collection,” Coe said. “This is one of those truly remarkable moments. In quality, size, and scope, the Palmer bequest, especially when combined with the gifts of American art that the Palmers made to the museum in their lifetime, is an outstanding collection that greatly strengthens and enhances our collection of American art.”
According to Coe, Barbara Palmer documented her intention of the bequest to Penn State years ago when she was planning her estate. Coe said it is not just a promised bequest anymore, but it is now part of the life and legacy of the museum.
Barbara and her husband James’s private collection started in 1978 with a self-portrait by contemporary painter Jerome Witkin, who they saw give a lecture that previous spring at Penn State.
Up until James’s death in 2001, the Palmers gathered art from primarily New York Galleries. Before the museum was named after the Palmers in 1993, they donated some of their works of art they collected over the years.
After her husband’s death, Barbara continued to donate works from artists such as George Luks, Arthur Dove and Joseph Stella..
Currently, eleven works of art from the recent Palmer bequest are on display at the museum. They can be found throughout the first and second floors.
According to Joyce Robinson, the assistance director of the Palmer Museum of Art, paintings by Frederic Edwin Church and Childe Hassam are located on the first floor in the Snowiss Galleries of American Art.
Art by Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden and Robert Gwathmey complement one another on the second floor near the Web of Life: John Biggers and the Power of Pedagogy exhibition. Paintings by Georgia O’Keefe and Thomas Hart Benton are also on the second floor in the Hull Gallery of American Art.
“Barbara's taste was eclectic in the best sense of the word, and she was always open to learning about new work and delighted in meeting contemporary artists,” Robinson said. “Her collection truly brings together an array of diverse voices.”
According to Robinson, many of the works have been shown in recent years.
“Barbara Palmer was always very generous in lending works to us – and to shows at other institutions,” she said.
An exhibition celebrating the James and Barbara Palmer Collection is expected to open in June of 2021 at the museum. The exhibition is not just expected to be on display at the museum; it will travel to other venues.
The exhibition will include paintings, watercolors, drawings, sculpture, ceramics and studio glass, and it is expected to fill in important gaps in the museum’s collection of American art, yet still complement their existing collection.
“We're delighted to share this ‘sneak peek’ of a few of the treasures this fall,” Robinson said.
Don Lenze, senior director of development in the College of Arts and Architecture, first met Barbara R. Palmer in 2013 when he became the newly appointed lead fundraiser for Penn State’s College of Arts and Architecture.
“Knowing that she and Jim were not graduates of Penn State, I essentially asked a slightly different question: ‘Why have you been so generous to Penn State and Penn State students?’” Lenze said. “Her answer was ‘This is where we live and where we can experience the joy of giving. What makes this gift so special is the ‘period’ at the end of a lifetime devoted to promoting the welfare of others through generosity.”
Lenze said Penn State has been the beneficiary of many marvelous gifts over the years, but this bequest is a gift from Barbara and James’s heart.
“Each represents a memory and a time in the Palmer’s lives,” Lenze said. “The largeness of this gift is measured not so much by the dollar value, but the emotion that went in to assembling the collection and the joy they received knowing it would ultimately forever reside with young students.”