Palmer died in 1965 at the age of 83. He was a bedridden and wheelchair-bound religious visionary who spent evenings with followers gathered around his bed in order to share prayer and visionary perspectives. In 1954, at the age of 72, he began to experiment with religious drawings with complicated, symmetrical borders. These rudimentary drawings evolved into complex ink and gouache paintings he obsessively completed over the next 11 years. The output of this undertaking resulted in roughly 400 works of art that were discovered at an auction in Wisconsin in 2005.
The discovery of the Palmer paintings resulted in exhibits in important galleries in New York City and Chicago as well as being displayed at the prestigious Museum of American Folk Art's American Antiques Show in 2009. When reviewing the 2009 show, The New York Times wrote: "Keep a special eye out for Stephen Palmer, a Wisconsin farmer who, after becoming bedridden, turned out shrine like portraits of Jesus and other religious figures framed in bright curvilinear plant patterns that suggest fancy, demonic playing cards."
The works of Palmer were never intended to be sold. They were simply completed as individual masterpieces one after another. No picture of Palmer has been located but the power of his paintings is compelling evidence of his devotion, religious faith, and obsessive talent.
The Janalyn Hanson White Gallery is open:
Monday – Friday | 4:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Viewings outside of normal business hours can be arranged by checking out a gallery key from the University Center Information Desk, or by calling 319-363-8213.