Lichtigs hope to inspire others to take advantage of Palmer Museum of Art

Volunteering has always been a big part of Christine Lichtig’s life. When her sons were growing up, she could frequently be found chaperoning a school field trip or working the concession stand at a sporting event. Like many parents, her volunteer efforts revolved around her children.

But in the early 1990s, a chance meeting with Kahren Arbitman, then-director of Penn State’s Palmer Museum of Art, opened Chris’ eyes to a new and challenging volunteer position -- that of docent at the museum. So began an approximately 20-year tenure as a volunteer museum educator, during which time she taught hundreds of visitors of all ages about the Palmer Museum of Art’s exhibitions and permanent collection.

In recognition of Chris’ longtime role as a docent, and her support of the museum with her husband, Benson, the couple has been named honorary chairs of the 2014 Friends of the Palmer Museum of Art Gala, a black-tie dinner with silent and live auctions that benefits the museum’s educational programming, to take place May 16.


Benson and Christine Lichtig

Benson and Christine Lichtig, Honorary Chairs of the 2014 Friends of the Palmer Museum of Art Gala. Photo by Michael Palmer.

Image: Penn State

“The friendship and support we have received at the museum makes us feel as if we are part of a family of like-minded friends who understand how the creative effort takes many forms,” said Chris Lichtig. “We are privileged to take advantage of the arts, but understand the need for support.”

That support helps fund a bevy of free educational programs, from workshops for both children and adults, to gallery talks, to tours for groups of all sizes. “The museum is free and open to the public,” Chris stressed, noting that tour groups do not have to be affiliated with a school.

The volunteer docents who give those tours go through extensive training before hitting the galleries. Chris began her training right before the museum addition and expansion opened in 1993. “I remember Patrick McGrady, Charles V. Hallman Curator, gave a captivating introductory lecture in which a whole new vocabulary was being used,” she said. “My educational experiences had been in the sciences. So I began to take basic art history classes and researching on my own. However, the opening of the museum was an exercise in ‘quick study.’”

In addition to studying teaching methods and brushing up on general information on the museum, the docents must educate themselves on the three new exhibitions mounted each semester. “Along my journey at the museum, an interesting story kept recurring with the teachers who were bringing school groups,” remembers Chris. “They often said, ‘Please understand that this may be the first and will likely be the last visit some of these students will make to an art museum.’ Each time I would sit down to prepare, I was always thinking about how to communicate the essence of the offerings in the collection in order to capture imaginations as mine had been years before.”

According to Benson, Chris was successful in that quest. “She would come home and comment on her experiences with the kids, and how she engaged them and let them know their opinions mattered.”

Chris says she also encouraged the couple’s two sons, one of whom took art history classes in college. “They have both used their education in the arts in their careers,” she noted.

For the Lichtigs, the Palmer has become an important part of their lives, not only because of their volunteer and monetary contributions, but because of their commitment to supporting the arts in the community.

“The visual and performing arts force me to see the world in a different way than I am used to,” explained Benson. “I have been in business for myself for 38 years, and learned early on that to have any chance of succeeding, you must have a very focused and concentrated approach. … As much as I enjoy it, I realize it is not the only or the best way. I find it freeing and challenging to temporarily step into the world view of a totally different perspective.”

As a longtime resident of State College, Chris says she appreciates what the arts -- and especially the Palmer Museum -- bring to the community. “The efflorescence of the arts at Penn State has benefited the entire Centre Region.”

The Lichtigs have strong connections to the area. They are both Penn State alumni and have lived in State College since graduating in the early 1970s -- Benson with a bachelor’s degree in community development, and Chris with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in speech pathology. Chris’ father, Robert Williams, was a Penn State football player and member of the storied 1947-48 Cotton Bowl team.

As an undergraduate, Benson was student government president and the first student appointed to the Board of Trustees. He was also a member of the Lion’s Paw Senior Society and was serving on the board of directors of the Lion’s Paw Alumni Society when the organization donated the well-known paws for the entrance to the museum.

The Lichtigs have both volunteered for many organizations in the community. Although Chris is no longer a docent, she still serves on the Palmer’s Advisory Board, as well as Penn State’s Public Art Committee and the Center for the Performing Arts’ Community Advisory Council. She has also served on the boards of the Friends of the Palmer and Friends of Schlow Centre Region Library. Benson is currently on the boards of Housing Transitions, Inc., Centre County Housing and Land Trust, and Congregation Brit Shalom. He formerly served on the boards of Leadership Centre County and the Mount Nittany Conservancy.

They hope their involvement with the Palmer will inspire others to support the museum, or to simply take advantage of it. “Being part of the life of the museum provides a lively discourse on the ways we view the images from the past and present, as well as the future,” says Chris. “Museums are facing major art funding cuts, and we are fortunate to have the Palmer Museum continue its free and open to all access policy.”

The 2014 Friends of the Palmer Museum of Art Gala, “Black and White Masquerade Ball,” will take place 6:30 p.m. to midnight Friday, May 16, at the Nittany Lion Inn on the University Park campus. For more information, call the museum at 814-863-9182.

Last Updated April 08, 2014