Palmer Museum of Art opens exhibition of dynamic abstract art

April 06, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – The Palmer Museum of Art at Penn State presents "Mark Makers: The Language of Abstraction," a special exhibition bringing together paintings, drawings and prints by notable 20th-century artists who engaged with the natural world through their art even as they moved into the abstract and away from overtly recognizable content.

Alma Thomas, Hydrangeas Spring Song, 1976

Alma Thomas, "Hydrangeas Spring Song," 1976, acrylic on canvas, 78 x 48 inches. Philadelphia Museum of Art, 125th Anniversary Acquisition. Purchased with funds contributed by Mr. and Mrs. Julius Rosenwald II in honor of René and Sarah Carr d’Harnoncourt, The Judith Rothschild Foundation, and with other funds being raised in honor of the 125th Anniversary of the Museum and in celebration of African American art, 2002-20-1. 

IMAGE: Provided by Palmer Museum of Art

Featured in the exhibition are several loans from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, including a major canvas by Alma Thomas, a Black artist who worked for nearly four decades as an art teacher in the public schools of Washington, D.C. She later launched a critically acclaimed career as an abstract painter in 1960.

“This is an outstanding opportunity to see a major painting by one of the country’s great abstract artists,” said Erin M. Coe, director of the Palmer Museum of Art. “The painting by Alma Thomas and other loans to the exhibition are emblematic of our ongoing partnership with the Philadelphia Museum of Art made possible by the Art Bridges Terra Foundation Initiative, which benefits our university audience and local community in so many ways.”

Born in Columbus, Georgia, in 1891, Thomas drew inspiration from the cherry blossoms and azaleas of the nation’s capital as well as the leaves and flowers in her own backyard. Painted in 1976 — when she was in her 80s — "Hydrangeas Spring Song" captures the artist’s signature calligraphic style. Thomas’s paintings can be found in major museum collections across the country. In 2015, one of her colorful abstract works was added to the White House Collection.

Mark Makers also features works by other abstract artists, including Mark Tobey, Norman Lewis, Leonard Nelson, Henry Pearson, Alan Gussow, and contemporary artists Jo Margolis and Mary Judge. On view alongside the other art objects are small-scale works on paper by Warren Rohrer, a Pennsylvania artist whose luminous abstract paintings are featured in "Field Language: The Painting and Poetry of Warren and Jane Rohrer," also currently on view at the Palmer.

“All of these works — the Alma Thomas, the large Rohrer canvases, the intimate works on paper — reward close viewing,” said the museum’s assistant director, Joyce Robinson, who worked on both exhibitions. “I hope visitors will take a moment to experience these beautiful shows that invite us to connect with the natural world and to one another via the intimate gestures of creative mark making.”

The presentation of "Mark Makers: The Language of Abstraction" is one in a series of American art exhibitions created through a multi-year, multi-institutional partnership formed by the Philadelphia Museum of Art as part of the Art Bridges + Terra Foundation Initiative. The exhibition is on view through June 6.

Free timed tickets can be reserved through the Palmer Museum website to visit Wednesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m., with the last timed ticket reservation at 4:30 p.m. for half an hour. The museum is closed Mondays, Tuesdays and some holidays.

Related Programming

The public can enjoy the following archived virtual programs related to the exhibition Mark Makers.

Lecture — "Impossible Interviews: Artists Alma Thomas and Warren Rohrer in Conversation"

Jonathan Frederick Walz, director of curatorial affairs and curator of American art, The Columbus Museum

Inspired by Miguel Covarrubias's "Impossible Interviews" for Vanity Fair in the 1930s, this talk brings together the lives of two artists who were contemporaries but who never met in person. Walz highlights the similarities and differences between Alma Thomas and Warren Rohrer, including their shared position on the margins of the 1970s art world. Jonathan Frederick Walz, an expert on American modernism, is co-organizing a major traveling exhibition, "Alma W. Thomas: Everything is Beautiful," which will open in 2021.

The Feb. 16 recorded Zoom lecture is now available at this link.

Museum Conversation: "Mark Makers"

Joyce Robinson, assistant director, with special guest artists Jo Margolis and Mary Judge

Robinson will host a lively conversation about the mid-20th-century “mark makers” whose work is on view at the Palmer. Joining in are contemporary artists Jo Margolis and Mary Judge, who are also represented in "Mark Makers: The Language of Abstraction."

The March 3 recorded Zoom lecture is now available at this link.

About the Palmer

The Palmer Museum of Art on the Penn State University Park campus is a free-admission arts resource for the University and surrounding communities in central Pennsylvania. With a collection of 10,000 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 9 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.

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 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. Like the Palmer Museum of Art before it, it will depend upon visionary philanthropy from the Penn State community. Learn more at

  • Warren Rohrer, Settlement: Magenta, 1980

    Warren Rohrer, Settlement: Magenta, 1980, oil on canvas, 72-1/6 x 72-1/8 inches. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with funds contributed by Henry Strater and Marion Boulton Stroud, 1982-46-1

    IMAGE: Provided by Palmer Museum of Art
Last Updated April 09, 2021