Over the past 20 years, the Palmer Museum of Art has added 4,000 objects to its collection, undergone a renovation that resulted in a new 3,100 square foot gallery, and expanded its outreach programming to include musical performances and poetry readings.
These are just a few of the accomplishments that Jan Muhlert can proudly boast about when she steps down as Director in December 2016, after two decades of service. The museum, which has only had four directors since its inception in 1972, will soon launch a nationwide search for its next director.
When Muhlert took over in 1996, the Palmer Museum was still finding its place after a major expansion and renovation project in 1993, which added ten new galleries to showcase the museum’s growing permanent collection. Since then, the museum has not only grown its collection to around 8,200 objects, but has also gained a solid reputation for its collections of American art.
John Driscoll, Penn State Alumni Fellow, Palmer Museum of Art Advisory Board Member, and owner of the Driscoll Babock Galleries in New York City, said Muhlert brought “tremendous stability” to a significant moment in the museum’s history. . âShe was very effective in building the collection. â¦ Under Jan’s direction, the collection has grown into one of the best in the Big Ten and, in some areas, one of the best in the country. It is a real testament to his leadership. “
Muhlert, a long-time member of the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), led the Palmer Museum’s entry into the prestigious organization, which comprises just 242 institutions – and just 50 college / university museums – from the United States. , Canada and Mexico. âAAMD is the gem that you want your museum to be a part of,â Muhlert said. âWhen the Palmer joined, we gained visibility and credibility. “
Longtime benefactor of the museum, Barbara Palmer says Muhlert will be a difficult act to follow. âShe was an exceptional director. She is a tremendous asset, with a great eye, and is very knowledgeable about all of the operations and facets of the museum, âsaid Palmer, who, along with her late husband, James, made the primary donation in 1986 for further expansion of the museum. museum and has also made significant donations of American art. âIt’s hard to believe Jan has been here for 20 years, but time flies when you’re having fun!â
During her tenure at the Palmer, Muhlert focused on the ‘selective’ growth of the collection, which she believes is essential for creating an art museum with a wide variety of works and artists represented. . âWhen I got here it was becoming clear that American art was a key part of the collection, and the staff and I worked hard to put together and complete this collection, which is primarily on display at the Hull Gallery, named after the founding director of the museum, William Hull, and the Snowiss Gallery, named in memory of Benjamin and Lillian Snowiss by Alvin and Jean Snowiss. â
Highlights of the exhibition under Muhlert’s direction include, among others, Red Grooms and the Heroism of Modern Life (1998); A Baroque Legacy: A Selection of Paintings from the Collection of Mary Jane Harris (1999); An American sculptor, Seymour Lipton (2000); An Endless Panorama of Beauty: Selections from the Jean and Alvin Snowiss American Art Collection (2003); An Intimate Eye: Selections from the James and Barbara Palmer Collection (2005); and Luminous Allure: Studio Glass from the collection of Norbert and Audrey Gaelen (2015).
Barbara O. Korner, dean of the College of Arts and Architecture, said Muhlert guided the Palmer Museum to become a valuable cultural asset not only at Penn State, but throughout Pennsylvania. âThanks to Jan’s leadership, the museum has grown into a well-respected institution, known not only for its stunning exhibits, but also for its extensive outreach program which has attracted many new clients to the Palmer. It allowed the museum to continue to gain visibility and credibility beyond Penn State and the local community to embrace a national reputation. “
Muhlert has led his team of 12 people in developing a diverse programming related to the museum’s exhibits, which includes both traveling exhibitions and exhibitions of works from the permanent collection. A highlight, she said, is the âPaper Viewsâ series of exhibitions, a one-day monthly exhibition in which works on paper are displayed.
âTheâ Paper Views âexhibits really grabbed the attention and mobilized different people: professors, donors, students. They allow us to show so much more of our collection of works on paper, which can only be shown for short periods of time for conservation reasons.
Other programs launched under Muhlert’s direction include the âArt of Poetryâ and âArt of Musicâ series, open-air concerts in Palmer Museum Square and a jazz series in collaboration with WPSU. Most of the museum’s outreach events are supported by the Friends of the Palmer Art Museum, who also host the museum’s annual fundraising gala.
âEducational programming is included in just about everything we do,â Muhlert said. âWe are looking for a way to give people a chance to go to the galleries. For example, when we have a jazz concert, the galleries are always open.
Muhlert retires with nearly 50 years of museum experience, having worked at the Smithsonian Institution, the University of Iowa Museum of Art, and the Amon Carter Museum. She has been active in both the Association of Art Museum Directors and the American Alliance of Museums, holding several leadership positions. Locally, she served on the board of directors of the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts and on the steering committee of Partners in Public Service, a collaborative project with Penn State University Libraries and Public Broadcasting.