The Paws at the Palmer

September 23, 2015

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The next time you visit Penn State's Palmer Museum of Art, take a moment to appreciate the unusual pair of bronze lion's paws that flank the building's front steps. Stately figures of lions are often found standing sentinel at the entrances to public buildings like museums and libraries — symbols of strength, courage and integrity — but what's the story behind the Paws at the Palmer?

In the late 1980s, Penn State commissioned noted American architect Charles W. Moore to design a significant expansion to the original Museum of Art, which originally opened to the public in 1972.

At Moore's suggestion, Pittsburgh sculptor Paul Bowden created two giant bronze lion's paws to flank the entrance's central steps, complementing Moore's dramatic plaza and façade design for the museum. Evocative of Penn State's own beloved Nittany Lion mascot, the sculptures are a playful, modern take on the traditional lion figures of Beaux-arts buildings, such as the famous pair of beasts on guard at the New York Public Library.

The newly renovated museum, now named in honor of generous donors James and Barbara Palmer, opened in August 1993. That October, the museum dedicated the "Paws at the Palmer" as a gift from the Lion’s Paw Senior Society and Alumni Association.

  • Paw sculpture at the entrance to Penn State's Palmer Museum

    The entrance to the Palmer Museum of Art on Penn State's University Park campus in 2015, featuring one of its pair of bronze lion's paw figures, by sculptor Paul Bowden.

    IMAGE: Laura Waldhier

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated October 26, 2015