Designed as an artistic complement to The Arboretum beside it, the new Palmer Museum of Art—with its metal lenses and interlocking pavilions clad in Pennsylvania sandstone—showcases innovative design that museum director Erin M. Coe says “brings art, architecture, and nature in dialogue with the diversity of works in the collection.”

What can art lovers expect from a museum that has nearly doubled in capacity? Here’s a sneak peek inside. 


exterior entrance to the new Palmer Museum of Art, photo by Nick Sloff '92 A&A

Architectural firm Allied Works was tasked with the challenge of providing museum visitors plenty of opportunities to take in the views of the neighboring arboretum —without allowing sunlight to damage the artwork within its walls. Perforated stainless steel lenses, suspended across portions of the building’s facade, do the trick, filtering incoming light while allowing glimpses of the blooming gardens and fields outside. ​​​​​​

closeup of perforated stainless steel lens filtering light into museum, photo by Nick Sloff '92 A&A



interior entrance into Palmer, with light wooden floors and blue walls, photo by Nick Sloff '92 A&A
At 73,000 square feet, the museum has nearly doubled in size, with each of its 20 galleries curated according to its own theme. The building boasts an event space, the Kish Bank and William P. Hayes Family Exploration Gallery, the Barbara and Lee Maimon Teaching Gallery, and the Honey and Bill Jaffe Museum Store and Café. A peek into one of the Enid Hennessy Schneider Galleries shows early 20th- century American art, including works by Georgia O’Keeffe, Milton Avery, Arthur Dove, and Esphyr Slobodkina.


interior of Palmer with salmon colored walls and a gallery of ornately framed art pieces, photo by Nick Sloff '92 A&A
A “salon” wall of 19th–century American paintings, typical of that time period, allows more works from the Palmer’s collection to be shown. The wall can be viewed from the first and second floors, and a digital interface in the gallery will give visitors a chance to learn about each painting.


interior of Palmer framed by doorway between rooms and one large painting on the wall, photo by Nick Sloff '92 A&A
The galleries vary in proportion and ceiling height, with sightlines between them that encourage a sense of wonder. Using floor plans and digital renderings, curators created lists of the artworks to be featured, back when construction was barely underway. “We tell stories as curators,” says assistant director Joyce Robinson. “Our decisions are often guided by creating ‘conversations’ between objects.” Below, The French Chevalier, by Frederick MacMonnies, is seen in one of the Benjamin and Lillian K. Snowiss Galleries.


photo of a room full of glass encased artifacts and pottery or sculptural pieces, by Nick Sloff '92 A&A
“Ceramics and studio glass are a core area of the collection that is growing,” Coe says. The Kahren Jones Arbitman and Michael Arbitman Gallery includes ancient vessels, studio ceramics from Japan, England, and Denmark, and works by contemporary ceramists such as David MacDonald, whose Middle Passage is visible behind the large display case above. Each piece of furniture, glass case, and metal mount was fabricated for a specific work of art.


closeup of Blue Blossoms glass piece, by Nick Sloff '92 A&A
Lupine Blue Persian Wall by internationally acclaimed artist Dale Chihuly evokes the beauty of the arboretum in bloom with a piece comprising 22 glass forms along the museum’s main staircase. Spanning more than 13 feet in height and 35 feet in width, this new and permanent addition to the collection was commissioned for the Palmer in honor of Eric and Molly Barron.


photo of painting of the Palmers, the museum's namesake, by Nick Sloff '92 A&A
The late philanthropists Barbara and James Palmer, shown here in a portrait by Jerome Witkin, were museum supporters dating back to the 1970s; Penn State’s art museum was renamed in their honor in the late 1980s. The Palmers’ private collection of American art, numbering more than 200 works by artists including Mary Cassatt, Frederic Edwin Church, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Winslow Homer, was gifted to the university in 2019.