Friday, January 24, 2020

Art in the Heart of State College

State College, Pennsylvania is located an easy 90-minute drive from the area in which I live, so I manage to get there fairly often. Downtown State College, surrounded by bars, restaurants and retail establishments is always bustling and as such, is a fun area to visit nearly any time of the year.

Last weekend my husband and I decided to take advantage of a long holiday weekend for a quick overnight getaway to the area to enjoy a change of scenery. The weather may not have been the best, but the sun did pop out from behind the clouds on occasion.

State College sign
Downtown State College is replete with shops, restaurants and taverns.
A Short History of the Pennsylvania State University

Old Main
"Old Main" dates back  to 1863.

So many people from my area are PSU graduates, including my husband and me, so we're familiar with the history of the college, but those who are not are often surprised to learn that it started out as a farmer's college with a 200-acre gift from iron master and gentleman farmer James Irvin of Bellefonte. Fun fact: seven Bellefonte natives went on to serve as Governors.You can learn more about them here.

In the 1880's, under the leadership of President George W. Atherton, the college expanded its curriculum to include engineering, the sciences, the liberal arts and more.

The Palmer Museum of Art

Palmer Museum of Art
The Palmer Museum of Art
Our goal on this visit was to see something we hadn't seen in the past, so we researched the area and discovered an art museum that fit the bill. Better yet, it was free and open to the  public.

The Palmer Museum of Art is located at the northern end of the PSU campus. We parked downtown and plugged the meter, then hiked about a mile up the hill past Old Main. If this sounds daunting, closer parking is available for $1 an hour at the Nittany and East Parking decks.

The museum opened its doors to the public in 1972 and was later renamed to honor James and Barbara Palmer, Penn State benefactors who initiated an expansion campaign with a $2 million gift in 1986.

Today, the museum houses approximately 7,000 works ranging from American and European paintings, to drawings, photographs, prints and sculpture, ceramics, glass art and more. Below are a few examples of what visitors will see in the collection.

Art glass by Chihuly and others
(r-l) Dale Chihuly, Peacock Blue and Yellow Sea Foam Set, 1995, Sidney Hunter, Quasi Modern #4, 1997, Harvey Littleton, Amber Mobile Arc, 1982, Dale Chihuly, Tiger, Piccolo, Venetian, 1994
Glass teapot by Janie Miltenberger
Janie Miltenberger, Tea Garden, 1958
Artist Unknown, 7-10th century, Chinese
When I spotted the artwork below, I guessed that it was a piece painted under a government program that was created during the Depression. Once you see a few of these works, they become easier to spot. I had previously viewed a few similar pieces displayed in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

This fresco on cement painted by Reginald Marsh is called "Gathering the Mail" and was created under the Treasury Relief Art Project for a post office in Washington, DC.

This museum focuses on American art, but there is also an intensely interesting gallery of Italian Baroque paintings on the 2nd floor.
David with the head of Goliath
Girolamo Forabasco, David with the Head of Goliath, 1650.

Sacrifice of Jephthah's Daughter
Pietro della Veechia, Sacrifice of Jephthah's Daughter, 1650.

A Future Expansion
According to the Centre Daily Times, the Palmer Museum of Art will eventually expand into a new building. Just last May, an architect was hired for the $71 million dollar project. The structure will range between 68,000-73,000 square feet and will be located at the H.O. Smith Botanic Gardens and Arboretum. Work is expected to be completed by 2023. According to Director Erin Coe, one of the key goals will be accessibility, with the front entry of the museum prioritizing pedestrian and vehicle access.

The public will be able to continue visiting the current museum for the next several years before the collection is ultimately moved.

Accommodations and Eats

During our visit, we stayed at the Carnegie Inn and Spa, a 20-room boutique hotel located approximately one mile from the university. I didn't take the time to avail myself of the services there, but did enjoy the wild mushroom and goat cheese ravioli with a Parmesan cream sauce at
Grace, their onsite restaurant. The portion was small, but the dish was rich and delicious.

Ravioli and cream sauce
Wild mushroom and goat cheese ravioli with a Parmesan cream sauce.
One other food item that is not to be missed is a very special carrot cake. When I visited downtown State College a few years ago, I indulged and had to do a bit of research to once again track it down. I discovered that the name of the business is Saint's Cafe at 123 W. Beaver Avenue. It is still open and thriving and sure enough, the carrot cake was displayed in the case up front.

The coconut-studded, walnut packed, six-layer sensation is held together with a delicious cream cheese icing and not for the calorie conscious. If you're worried about that sort of thing, perhaps you can share with a friend. I took half of mine home to enjoy the following day.
Saint's Cafe was bustling when I visited.
This six-layer carrot cake is worth the trip.
State College is small enough to enjoy much of what it has to offer in several hours' time. We walked around most of the town, saw everything at the art museum, did a bit of shopping and retired to our room. We were on the road by 7 a.m. the next day in an effort to beat the predicted snowstorm. Unfortunately, we didn't make it; the snow started falling around 7:20 a.m.  Nonetheless, we managed to descend the mountain before things got too dicey. Such is life in Pennsylvania in January.