Palmer Museum of Art announces exhibition from recent gift of American drawings

January 14, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Palmer Museum of Art at Penn State presents a special exhibition from the recent gift of 140 American works on paper donated by alumnus John P. Driscoll in 2018. "Drawing on a Legacy: Highlights from the John Driscoll American Drawings Collection" opens on Jan. 21 and features selections from the expansive gift, one of the most important in the 48-year history of the University’s art museum.

“This inaugural exhibition showcases a selection of superlative works from John Driscoll’s recent gift of American works on paper to the Palmer,” said Erin M. Coe, director of the museum. “We at Penn State are so grateful to John for this transformational gift, which will reshape our presentation and interpretation of American art for generations to come.”

The John Driscoll American Drawings Collection spans more than 150 years of American art history from 1798 to 1950, and in many ways, reflects the wide-ranging scholarly and collecting interests of its namesake. As the first show to highlight the collection, "Drawing on a Legacy" surveys an array of techniques and media, including graphite, charcoal, ink and watercolor. Through 30 works, the exhibition explores the changing cultural importance of drawing during the so-called “long” 19th century. Selections from this significant group of works include landscape views and botanical sketches, animal scenes and still lifes, as well as portraits and preparatory figure studies. Artists represented include many well-known luminaries of the period, such as John Vanderlyn, William Trost Richards and Edwin Howland Blashfield, along with lesser-known figures whose work deserves further study.

“The museum is pleased to share many of these rare and outstanding American drawings and watercolors with a broad public for the first time,” noted Adam M. Thomas, curator of American art. “The bulk of the gift comprises works before the advent of Modernism and is particularly strong in depictions of nature and the American landscape.”

Driscoll, who earned a master’s degree and a doctorate in art history from Penn State, is a scholar, collector, gardener and art dealer based in New York City. His involvement with Penn State’s university art museum dates back nearly 50 years to the summer of 1972, when he began working at the museum as a graduate assistant. He later went on to become the museum’s first official registrar before leaving Penn State to become a curator. In following years, he established art galleries in Boston and New York, renaming his business Driscoll Babcock in 2012. Today it is one of New York’s oldest art galleries. He has written extensively on American art and has been the curator, co-curator or a contributor to exhibitions that have traveled to more than 20 leading museums across the country, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National Gallery of Art.

Driscoll’s philanthropy has taken many forms since his initial time at Penn State, and his past gifts of art to the Palmer include major paintings by Benjamin West, Sanford Robinson Gifford, Tomkins Harrison Matteson and Arthur B. Davies.  

He currently serves on the Advisory Board of the Palmer Museum of Art, has twice been its chair, and was the 2019 recipient of the James and Barbara Palmer Service Award. In 2000, he received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the Penn State Board of Trustees. He is a past member of The Board and The Council of the National Academy of Design, and is currently on the Visiting Committee, Department of Drawings and Prints, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

"Drawing on a Legacy" will be on view from Jan. 21 through June 7.

Related programming

Friday, Jan. 24, 12:10 p.m.

Gallery Talk

"Drawing on a Legacy: Highlights from the John Driscoll American Drawings Collection"

Adam Thomas, curator of American art

Tuesday, April 7, 4:30 to 5:30 p.m.

Donor Spotlight

Art History Dialogue: "Drawing on a Legacy"

Join us for this interview with John P. Driscoll, notable Penn State art history alumnus, conducted by Ethan Robey, associate teaching professor of art history. Presented as a complement to the exhibition "Drawing on a Legacy: Highlights from the John Driscoll American Drawings Collection," this discussion will review Driscoll’s career as a collector and dealer specializing in American art and examine the role of philanthropy in collecting pursuits.

About the Palmer Museum of Art

The Palmer Museum of Art on Penn State's 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 nine 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 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. on 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

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

  • John P. Driscoll

    John P. Driscoll

    IMAGE: Image courtesy John Driscoll
  • John William Hill (1812–1879), Under the Falls, Niagara, c. 1870

    John William Hill (1812–1879), "Under the Falls, Niagara," c. 1870, watercolor on paper, 29 x 21 1/2 inches. 

    IMAGE: Palmer Museum of Art, John Driscoll American Drawings Collection.
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Last Updated January 14, 2020