About the Museum

Palmer Museum of Art
Palmer Museum of Art

The Palmer Museum of Art is a free-admission arts resource for the University and surrounding communities in central Pennsylvania. With a collection of 9,850 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 special exhibitions each year, and, with eleven 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 History

The Palmer Museum's bold façade, the outward result of a major expansion and renovation in 1993, surrounds the museum's original 1972 building, a three-story structure that once housed only three galleries to display traveling exhibitions and art from the museum's permanent collection.

The Museum of Art, as it was known, opened to the public on Sunday, October 7, 1972. More than 1,500 students, faculty, and members of Penn State's administration were given tours of the new building and the museum's first exhibitions. Along with a Penn State faculty show and the exhibition Masterworks by Pennsylvania Painters in Pennsylvania Collections , curated by the late Harold Dickson, were selections from the newly formed permanent collection. One of the original pieces in the museum's collection was a mobile by Alexander Calder titled Spring Blossoms that is still on view in the galleries today. The mobile had been a gift to Penn State from the Class of 1965. To assist in expanding the permanent collection, the mobile and a portion of the moneys from the graduating class gift each year were given to the museum through the 1970s.

Jerry Kearns, Affirmative Action, 1987, acrylic on canvas. Gift of Joseph D. and Janet M. Shein, 99.98.

Jerry Kearns, Affirmative Action, 1987, acrylic on canvas. Gift of Joseph D. and Janet M. Shein, 99.98.

Slowly, the museum built a permanent collection with funding from graduating classes, the University, private donors, and the Friends of the Palmer Museum of Art, a membership group founded in 1974 to help with the museum's fund-raising and outreach efforts. The Friends alone, have donated more than fifty works of art to the collection, including a fifteenth-century woodcut by Albrecht Dürer, a marble portrait bust of the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow by American sculptor Henry Dexter, and an oil-on-panel portrait by Gilbert Stuart, to name just a few.

Many of the 9,600 works of art in the permanent collection have been donated or purchased with funds contributed to the museum. Significant donors include Dr. and Mrs. Harold L. Tonkin, who bequeathed a large portion of their collection of Asian ceramics and decorative arts along with numerous European paintings with Asian themes; Dr. William E. Harkins, who has donated more than 150 Japanese prints to the museum since the mid-1970s; Mary Jane Harris and her late husband, Morton, who have given several Italian Baroque paintings with a number more promised; Joseph and Janet Shein, who have donated more than two dozen contemporary paintings and sculptures since 2000; and, of course, Barbara Palmer and her late husband, James, who have not only made great contributions to the museum's collection of American art but also gave $2 million in 1986 to initiate the campaign to expand the museum.

Completed in 1993, the expansion added ten new galleries to better showcase the museum's outstanding and still growing permanent collection and special exhibitions, including impressive titles from Rembrandt to Rodin . Many of the galleries and renovated spaces were named for donors to the expansion who have become some of the museum's greatest supporters. These include Katherine W. Christoffers, Donald Hamer, the Palmer and Lipcon families, Richard and Sally Kalin, the Tonkins, David and Gerry Pincus, and Alvin and Jean Snowiss.

Now, more than ten years later, the museum has undergone another transformation. Just in time for the museum's thirtieth anniversary in fall 2002, renovations to the original 1972 building were completed, adding a new space for the study of works on paper and a fully reconstructed, 3,100-square-foot gallery--the largest of the museum's exhibition areas. James and Barbara Palmer, again, made the lead gift for these most recent renovations, which were also supported by many of our oldest and dearest friends, including John and Ruth Robinson, Philip and Judith Sieg, Katherine W. Christoffers, Marie Bednar and Donald W. Hamer, Gerald B. M. Stein, B. J. and Carol Cutler, and Blake and Linda Gall. Collectively, the major donors to the renovation decided to name the new gallery for William Hull, the museum's founding director.

The William Hull gallery may seem familiar to those who remember the museum's earlier days. The original slate floors and unique grid ceiling are in tact--with a new coat of polish and paint, of course. By reclaiming such a large and significant gallery on the second floor of the original building, the museum has gained more exhibition space for its collection. The addition of a new print study room on the same floor also enables the museum to share its expansive collection of works on paper with interested students, faculty, visiting scholars, and the general public.

Marsden Hartley, New Mexico Landscape, c. 1921-1923, oil on board. Gift of James and Barbara Palmer, 2002.153.

Marsden Hartley, New Mexico Landscape, c. 1921-1923, oil on board. Gift of James and Barbara Palmer, 2002.153.

The Permanent Collection

The Palmer Museum's permanent collection is displayed in seven galleries and is nearly comprehensive in terms of world cultures and time periods. The first three galleries on the first floor feature the museum's collection of Old Master paintings and sculpture, which is particularly strong in canvases from the Italian Baroque. A fourth gallery offers a varied selection from the museum's ceramics collection, including examples from ancient Peru and Korea, China, Japan, and twentieth-century Europe. The museum's second-floor galleries feature American paintings, sculptures, and works on paper from the eighteenth century to the present. Exceptional examples include a late eighteenth-century portrait by the New England artist John Brewster, Jr.; a lush, highly detailed nineteenth-century still life by Severin Roesen, a German-born artist based in Williamsport in the 1860s; exquisite nineteenth-century landscapes by William Sonntag, John Kensett, and William Trost Richards; and an impressive range of twentieth-century paintings and sculptures by artists, including Marsden Hartley, Richard Diebenkorn, Red Grooms, and Marisol. The collection continues to grow in these areas, primarily through the generosity of the museum's donors and supporters.

 and Educational Programming

In addition to displays of its permanent collection, the Palmer Museum presents an exciting schedule of rotating exhibitions throughout the year. Special, temporary exhibitions offer works of art by world-renowned artists from all periods and places and from both public and private collections. 

Serving both the university and area communities, museum events and various programming, including gallery talks; lectures by national and international artists and scholars; music, dance, and theater performances; poetry readings; one-day exhibitions; panel discussions; film series; docent choice tours; workshops for teachers; workshops for adults; and workshops for children and youth; are always offered free admission.

Friends of the Palmer Museum of Art

Support for museum programs, exhibitions, and acquisitions is provided through membership dues and funds raised by the Friends of the Palmer Museum of Art, the membership, fund-raising, and volunteer organization for the museum.


Guided tours of the Palmer Museum of Art are offered free of charge for university, school, and community groups of ten or more people. One-hour tours may be scheduled Tuesday through Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. A maximum of 60 participants can be accommodated for each tour. 

Public Museum Tours - Sundays at 2:00 p.m.
Explore highlights of the collection with friendly and knowledgeable docent guides every Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Tours last about 45–60 minutes and begin in the Christoffers Lobby. Every tour is different, so come back often. No reservations necessary. (Groups of ten or more may schedule a private tour, with at least three weeks advance notice. For more information about scheduling a tour, email PMoAdocent@psu.edu).

For questions regarding tours, call the museum at 814-863-9188 or visit our "Tours" page for more information: https://palmermuseum.psu.edu/education/tours

Drs. Albert and Lorraine Kligman Print and Drawing Study Room

Nearly a quarter of the Palmer's permanent collection is comprised of works on paper, including prints, drawings, watercolors, and photographs. Because of the vulnerability of works on paper to light, these pieces are rotated in the museum's Works on Paper Gallery or can be viewed in the Drs. Albert and Lorraine Kligman Print and Drawing Study Room by appointment. Call 814-863-9187 for more information.

Facility Use

The Palmer Museum of Art supports the use of its facility for educational events and public programming. Educational events, such as lectures and symposia, sponsored by Penn State colleges and departments are eligible for consideration as long as they relate to the visual or performing arts and are appropriate for a broad audience. The museum is not available for parties, job candidate interviews, or other non-educational events. The museum cannot be used for any fund-raising event not related to Penn State, for promotion or sale of a commercial product or service, for political events, or for religious ceremonies. Events with more than 150 attendees should be held elsewhere due to space limitations and the fire code. Call 814-863-5232 for more information.

Submission Policy

The Palmer Museum of Art's exhibition schedule is booked several years in advance. Our exhibition program is determined by the curatorial staff in concert with the director of the museum and is not developed from unsolicited submissions. Open calls for contemporary shows may be posted in the future, at which time we will announce a call for online applications. Due to limited staff, however, we are not able to respond to email or phone queries about exhibition possibilities. 

We appreciate your interest in the Palmer Museum.


The Palmer Museum of Art accepts donations of art in accordance with its Collections Management Policy. Potential donors should contact one of the individuals listed below to discuss the nature of works they would like to donate and to clarify their relevance to the museum's collection. 

Joyce Robinson, Assistant Director
Contemporary Art, African American Art, and photography

Adam Thomas, Curator of American Art
American Art

Patrick McGrady, Charles V. Hallman Senior Curator
European Art, ceramics, and prints and drawings