Palmer Museum of Art announces landmark bequest of benefactor Barbara R. Palmer

September 10, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Palmer Museum of Art at Penn State has received nearly 200 works of art as part of the estate of Barbara R. Palmer, longtime benefactor, beloved friend, and champion of the museum, who passed away in January 2019. The bequest of her world-class collection will elevate the already significant national reputation of Penn State’s art museum.

“Both Penn State and central Pennsylvania have been immeasurably enriched through Barbara and Jim Palmer’s commitment to the arts and the community, and their legacy will live on through all who experience the Palmers’ collection on our campus,” said Penn State President Eric J. Barron. “The University is deeply honored that Barbara chose to entrust these works to our institution, and we look forward to preserving and sharing this generous gift.”

Georgia O’Keeffe, "Lake George," 1924. © 2019 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum / Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York

Georgia O’Keeffe, "Lake George," 1924, oil on canvas, 18 1/8 x 35 1/8 inches. Bequest of James R. and Barbara R. Palmer.

IMAGE: © 2019 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum / Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York

Widely considered one of the finest private collections of American art in the country, the collection includes works by well-known 19th-century artists and boasts strengths in Ashcan realism and Stieglitz-circle modernism, as well as works by prominent artists of the mid- to late 20th century. Highlights include major paintings by Frederic Edwin Church, Winslow Homer, Martin Johnson Heade, John Sloan, Georgia O’Keeffe, Marsden Hartley, Thomas Hart Benton, and many other notable American artists. Also represented are significant works on paper by Mary Cassatt, Jacob Lawrence, John Marin, Charles Demuth, and Chuck Close, as well as several major sculptures by Seymour Lipton and an impressive collection of late 20th-century ceramics.

Palmer Museum Director Erin M. Coe described the landmark bequest as “truly transformative. It will shape, even define, the museum’s presentation of American art for generations to come.”

Barbara and her husband, James, began building a private collection in 1978 with the purchase of a self-portrait by contemporary painter Jerome Witkin, whom they had heard lecture at the Museum of Art at Penn State the prior spring. Working primarily with galleries in New York, the couple acquired works by noted American artists over the next two decades until Jim’s death in 2001. The Palmers began donating works of art to the Museum of Art at Penn State long before the official unveiling of the museum that bears their name in 1993. Barbara continued the practice after Jim’s death in 2001, donating significant paintings by early 20th-century American artists George Luks, Arthur Dove, and Joseph Stella and an extensive group of drawings, maquettes, and major works by sculptor Seymour Lipton, among other gifts, in 2002 and 2005.

“Barbara and Jim Palmer’s extraordinary generosity lives on at Penn State,” said Barbara Korner, dean of the Penn State College of Arts and Architecture. “This bequest both elevates the national reputation of the museum and greatly advances the mission of the college and the University as a cultural destination.” 

In 2013, the museum published "A Gift from the Heart: American Art from the Collection of James and Barbara Palmer" in honor of the promised bequest. The expansive and fully illustrated book documents the Palmers’ collection of American art and its scholarly and historical significance. 

A major exhibition celebrating the James and Barbara Palmer Collection will open at the museum in June 2021. 

“We plan to have this exhibition travel to additional venues, helping us spread the word about this outstanding collection and our remarkable benefactors,” said Coe.

A selection of 11 works of art from the Palmer bequest are currently on view at the museum.

Highlights of the Barbara Palmer bequest include:

  • Frederic Edwin Church, "Vermont Scenery," 1852, oil on canvas, 18 x 26 1/8 inches. Bequest of James R. and Barbara R. Palmer.
  • Martin Johnson Heade, "The White Rose," c. 1874–80, oil on artist’s board, 11 7/8 x 9 7/8 inches. Bequest of James R. and Barbara R. Palmer.
  • Thomas Anshutz, "A Challenge (Portrait of Rebecca H. Whelen)," c. 1907, pastel on canvas, 30 x 24 inches. Bequest of James R. and Barbara R. Palmer.
  • Georgia O’Keeffe, "Lake George," 1924, oil on canvas, 18 1/8 x 35 1/8 inches. Bequest of James R. and Barbara R. Palmer. © 2019 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum / Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York
  • Thomas Hart Benton, "Shallow Creek," 1938–39, oil and egg tempera on canvas mounted to board, 36 x 25 inches. Bequest of James R. and Barbara R. Palmer. © 2019 T.H. and R.P. Benton Testamentary Trusts / UMB Bank Trustee / Licensed by VAGA at Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York.
  • Romare Bearden, "Untitled (Mother and Child)," 1969, collage on board, 13 5/16 x 9 13/16 inches. Bequest of James R. and Barbara R. Palmer. © 2019 Romare Bearden Foundation / Licensed by VAGA at Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York.
  • Jacob Lawrence, "Confrontation at the Bridge," 1975, gouache on paper, 22 1/2 x 30 1/8 inches. Bequest of James R. and Barbara R. Palmer. © 2019 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York.

About the collector

Barbara Palmer was a founding member of the Palmer Museum of Art Advisory Board, and a 1986 gift from James and Barbara Palmer launched the campaign that led to the creation of the current museum on the University Park campus. A Baltimore native, Barbara Raeder met James Palmer at Iowa State University. She graduated in 1946, and the Palmers married in 1948. They moved to State College in 1953. James was the president and CEO of C-Cor Electronics and Centre Video — now Comcast — for 25 years, while Barbara served on the company’s board of directors.

Because of their involvement in the telecommunications industry, the Palmers created an endowed chair for Penn State’s program in the field. Over the years, they invested in programs as diverse as the Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center, Penn State Public Broadcasting, and the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, and their gifts to scholarships, particularly those created through the Renaissance Fund, have assisted hundreds of students. Palmer was a leader in every major University-wide fundraising effort, and she served as chair of the Women in Philanthropy committee during the “Grand Destiny” campaign.

Barbara Palmer was also a leader in the community. The first female president of the Centre County United Way, she supported numerous organizations, including the Girl Scouts, Mount Nittany Medical Center, the State Theatre and many others. This commitment to both Penn State and Centre County led to her recognition as the Renaissance Fund honoree of the year in 1984.

About the Palmer Museum of Art

The Palmer Museum of Art on Penn State University Park campus is a free-admission arts resource for the University and surrounding communities in central Pennsylvania. With a collection of 9,600 objects representing a variety of cultures and spanning centuries of art, the Palmer is the largest art museum between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Areas of strength include the museum’s collection of American art from the late 18th century to the present, Old Master paintings, prints and photography, ceramics and studio glass, and a growing collection of modern and contemporary art. The museum presents 10 exhibitions each year and, with 11 galleries, a print-study room, a 150-seat auditorium, and an outdoor sculpture garden, the Palmer Museum of Art is the leading cultural resource for the region.

Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m Tuesday through Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sundays. The museum is closed Mondays and some holidays.

The Palmer receives state arts funding support through a grant from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and from the Central Pennsylvania Convention and Visitors Bureau.

For more information on the Palmer Museum of Art or for the calendar of upcoming events, visit palmermuseum.psu.edu.

About the new University Art Museum at Penn State

Penn State and the Palmer Museum of Art are planning to construct a brand-new University Art Museum located in The Arboretum at Penn State. With nearly twice the exhibition space of the Palmer, new classroom spaces and a teaching gallery, flexible event spaces, and on-site parking, this building would dramatically enhance the museum’s capacity to offer educational and enrichment opportunities for visitors of all ages. It would be integrated with the Arboretum, inspiring collaboration and creating a unique nexus of art, architecture, and natural beauty. And like the Palmer Museum of Art before it, it will depend upon visionary philanthropy from the Penn State community. Learn more at artmuseum.psu.edu.

  • Frederic Edwin Church, "Vermont Scenery," 1852

    Frederic Edwin Church, "Vermont Scenery," 1852, oil on canvas, 18 x 26 1/8 inches. Bequest of James R. and Barbara R. Palmer. 

    IMAGE: Frederic Edwin Church
  • Martin Johnson Heade, "The White Rose," c. 1874–80

    Martin Johnson Heade, "The White Rose," c. 1874–80, oil on artist’s board, 11 7/8 x 9 7/8 inches. Bequest of James R. and Barbara R. Palmer. 

    IMAGE: Martin Johnson Heade
  • Thomas Anshutz, "A Challenge (Portrait of Rebecca H. Whelen)", c. 1907

    Thomas Anshutz, "A Challenge (Portrait of Rebecca H. Whelen)," c. 1907, pastel on canvas, 30 x 24 inches. Bequest of James R. and Barbara R. Palmer.

    IMAGE: Thomas Anshutz
  • Thomas Hart Benton, "Shallow Creek," 1938–39

    Thomas Hart Benton, "Shallow Creek," 1938–39, oil and egg tempera on canvas mounted to board, 36 x 25 inches. Bequest of James R. and Barbara R. Palmer.

    IMAGE: © 2019 T.H. and R.P. Benton Testamentary Trusts / UMB Bank Trustee / Licensed by VAGA at Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York
  • Romare Bearden, "Untitled (Mother and Child)," 1969

    Romare Bearden, "Untitled (Mother and Child)," 1969, collage on board, 13 5/16 x 9 13/16 inches. Bequest of James R. and Barbara R. Palmer.

    IMAGE: © 2019 Romare Bearden Foundation / Licensed by VAGA at Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York
  • Jacob Lawrence, "Confrontation at the Bridge," 1975

    Jacob Lawrence, "Confrontation at the Bridge," 1975, gouache on paper, 22 1/2 x 30 1/8 inches. Bequest of James R. and Barbara R. Palmer.

    IMAGE: © 2019 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York
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Last Updated September 11, 2019