Gift from Alvin Snowiss enhances Palmer’s holdings in American art

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Alvin Snowiss, a longtime supporter of the Palmer Museum of Art along with his late wife, Jean, have donated three significant works of art to the museum. The paintings greatly enhance the Palmer’s already nationally renowned collection of American art.   

“Penn State is made richer when our alumni and friends choose to share their personal treasures with our community,” said O. Richard Bundy III, vice president of development and alumni relations. “Our students, faculty and community members will have Alvin and the late Jean Snowiss to thank as we enjoy these works of art for years to come.”

The gift includes “Roofs and Tree Forms,” a watercolor by Charles Demuth (1919), “Women Bathing in the Papara River,” a watercolor by John La Farge (1891), and “Synchromy with Figures,” an oil painting by Arthur B. Davies (c. 1916). These paintings add to the 10 works of American art, including works by Edward Hopper, Marsden Hartley and Eastman Johnson, that the Snowisses have given to the Palmer since it opened its doors.

“We at Penn State are deeply fortunate to be the benefactors of the Snowisses’ generosity,” said Erin Coe, director of the Palmer Museum of Art. “Alvin and Jean have greatly enhanced and enriched the collections of American art at the Palmer through the years, and we are profoundly grateful for their ongoing support and friendship.”

Alvin and Jean Snowiss were instrumental, along with James and Barbara Palmer, in setting up the first Advisory Board to the Palmer Museum of Art in 1990, on which they served as members for many years and Alvin continues to serve. In addition to significantly enhancing the museum’s holdings in American art, their philanthropy has named the Benjamin and Lillian K. Snowiss Galleries of American Art in honor of Alvin’s parents and created the Alvin and Jean Snowiss Scholarship for students at the University Park campus who attended high school in Clinton County and were residents thereof at graduation. Alvin and Jean Snowiss were made honorary alumni of Penn State in 1998. In 2002, the Palmer featured a major exhibition of the Snowisses’ collection, titled "An Endless Panorama of Beauty."

Alvin Snowiss graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1952 with a bachelor of arts degree and in 1955 with a juris doctor degree. He continues to practice law in the Lock Haven firm of which he is a senior partner, Snowiss, Steinberg & Faulkner, LLP. Jean was executive secretary at General Armature Plant in Clinton County and subsequently a legal secretary-assistant before retiring and becoming a domestic engineer. She died in 2016 at the age of 83.

Alvin Snowiss explained that his and Jean’s goal in supporting the Palmer has always been to share their love of American art with central Pennsylvanians. "Growing up in Lock Haven, Jean and I never had an art course," Alvin Snowiss said. "And when I was a student, I never went to an art museum. We contribute to the museum because we feel that art is something to be seen. We want people to see it and enjoy it as we have."

The Demuth and the La Farge watercolors add works by two artists who are not currently represented in the Palmer’s collections, and they markedly enhance the museum’s holdings in the medium of watercolor, explained Coe.

Born in Lancaster in 1883, Charles Demuth was a major proponent of early American modernism who kept close ties to his hometown and state. “Roofs and Tree Forms” extends the Palmer’s growing collection of American modernism, which includes works by Marsden Hartley, Joseph Stella and many others.

“The fractured planes and simplified forms signal Demuth’s masterful reckoning with Cubism and anticipate his contributions to the hard-edged, distinctly American idiom known as Precisionism in the 1920s,” explained Adam Thomas, curator of American art at the Palmer. “This watercolor, in particular, exemplifies how Demuth applied the linear and industrial Precisionist style to rural and natural subjects.”

John La Farge is regarded as one of America’s most important muralists, painters and designers. Born in New York City in 1835, he excelled in watercolor from an early age. La Farge used the medium for his illustrations, as well as in the preparation of much of his design work. The portability of watercolor made it the perfect medium for travel, and La Farge produced some of his best-known watercolors during and after his early 1890s sojourn to the islands of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. In “Women Bathing in the Papara River,” La Farge sets his gaze on the women of the South Seas.

“This work is significant in understanding the widespread American fascination in the late 19th century with distant and exotic locales—and how artists constructed a fantasy of the South Seas,” explained Thomas.  

Arthur B. Davies is considered one of the most influential artists and advocates of modern art in the United States. Born in Utica, New York in 1862, he studied art in Chicago and New York City before embarking on a trip to Europe in 1895, where he came under the sway of contemporary French art. A member of The Eight, a group of early American modernists, he was instrumental in the organization of the International Exhibition of Modern Art in 1913, more popularly known as the Armory Show, which brought the most recent work of European modernism before an American public. In the years following the Armory Show, Davies briefly experimented with the style known as Synchromism (meaning “with color”) devised by American artists Stanton MacDonald Wright and Morgan Russell.

“The painting by Davies from around 1916 reveals the artist’s fascination with the new style of color abstraction pioneered by Wright and Russell,” said Erin Coe. “His adoption of the Synchromist vocabulary was short-lived, making this rare painting gifted by Alvin Snowiss all the more significant and valuable.”

Gifts from Penn State's alumni and friends have been essential to the success of the University's historic land-grant mission to serve the public good. To fulfill that mission for a new era of rapid change and global connections, the University has begun "A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence," a fast-paced campaign focused on the three key imperatives of a public university: Private support will keep the doors to higher education open to hardworking students regardless of financial well-being; create transformative experiences that go beyond the classroom; and impact the world by fueling discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship. To learn more, visit

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Erin Coe, Director of the Palmer Museum of Art

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Last Updated January 11, 2018