Founder of Reynolda House Museum of American Art to Receive North Carolina’s Highest Honor for the Museum She Founded in Her Family’s Home

Winston-Salem, N.C. — Barbara Babcock Millhouse, founder of Reynolda House Museum of American Art, will receive the North Carolina Award, the state’s highest civilian honor, at a ceremony to be held Friday, Nov. 16 in Raleigh. Millhouse is being awarded for her timeless gift to the people of the state and the nation in establishing her family home as a museum more than 50 years ago.

Millhouse’s award, for Fine Arts, honors her many contributions to the arts and culture of North Carolina: her work as a published author and scholar; her commitment to the preservation of North Carolina history; and her foresight in forming what quickly became a renowned collection of American art and the foundation for Reynolda House Museum of American Art.

“Barbara’s life’s work has been to preserve this historic property for future generations,” said Allison Perkins, executive director of Reynolda House and Wake Forest University associate provost for Reynolda House and Reynolda Gardens. “We are the beneficiaries of her vision, her scholarship and her benevolence.”  

In the early 1960s, at only 26 years old, Millhouse undertook the work of preserving the family home built by grandparents Katharine Smith Reynolds and tobacco magnate R.J. Reynolds, and assembling an art collection to fill it. To establish the art museum, the board of the museum created a purchase fund from family foundation donations, through which she began collecting American art, which was plentiful, but less popular at the time. An art history major at Smith College and an astute collector, she sought the advice of scholars and curators as she made purchases. Millhouse’s acquisition choices, based on quality rather than price, established Reynolda House’s reputation as the museum with one of the finest collections of American art in the Southeast.

Millhouse has stewarded many of the museum’s most significant milestones since its founding in 1967, including the restoration of the historic house, addition of an education and exhibition wing named for her parents, and the successful affiliation of the museum with Wake Forest University. Adding to the visitor experience today are the surrounding historic grounds of Reynolda through its natural areas, expansive gardens, and farm buildings now boutiques and cafes. Millions have viewed the works of American masters at the museum and been inspired by Reynolda’s grounds – including a record number of visitors during the estate’s centennial last year.

“The granddaughter of a great entrepreneur and the daughter of another, she has succeeded in her own special public entrepreneurship,” wrote Tom Lambeth, director emeritus of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation and former chair of the Reynolda House Board of Directors, in his nominating letter for the award.

Millhouse foretold Reynolda’s potential and purpose. In her remarks on the museum’s opening day in September 1967, she said: “It has been my earnest desire to utilize this house for the people of this city and state in such a manner that it should become more valuable and loved by my fellow citizens than by my family and me. I hope you will agree with me that by using Reynolda to house some of the visually great expressions of American creativity, my family and I have constructively administered the trust which it has been our lot to receive and to return to the community from whence it came.”

Thomas Hoving, then director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, also addressed the crowd gathered that day.  “People touring the house are going to be struck repeatedly by certain paintings,” he said. “The names of artists, in some cases, are not going to mean much to them. The quality of the work is.”

Hoving’s remarks highlighted Millhouse’s founding principle: acquire only the best. She continues as chair of the museum’s collections committee of the Board of Directors and in this role has worked to create a world class collection known by fine art collectors and scholars of American art for its rigorous quality. Today, the collection spans 250 years of paintings, prints, sculpture, photography and video art, including canonical works by Albert Bierstadt, William Merritt Chase, Frederic Edwin Church, Chuck Close, Stuart Davis, Martin Johnson Heade, Lee Krasner, Georgia O’Keeffe, Nam June Paik, Gilbert Stuart and Grant Wood. In addition to its collection of fine art, Reynolda House displays collections of decorative arts and archival photographs and documents from the era when it was the centerpiece of a large estate.

Under Millhouse’s direction, Reynolda House formally affiliated with Wake Forest University in 2002, further bolstering both institution’s educational missions. Wake Forest President Nathan Hatch wrote in support of her nomination: “Had Barbara Millhouse not taught herself how to buy American art – the finest examples of each artist’s work – and offer it to others as tools of scholarly exploration, thousands of college students across North Carolina would be the poorer.”

Millhouse has published several books about Reynolda House and its collections, and she has lectured widely on American art. Her research on Hudson River School of landscape artists culminated in a widely acclaimed book with an introduction by the curator of American Paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, who wrote that no other book “performs the services that this one does and so entertainingly.” She is the author of “Reynolda House-American Paintings, catalog 1971”; “American Originals: Selections from Reynolda House Museum of American Art,” published in 1990 by Abbeville Press; “American Wilderness: The Story of the Hudson River School of Painting,” which was rewritten in an expanded edition and published in 2007 by Black Dome Press; and “Reynolda: 1906-1924,” published in 2011 by Arcadia Press for the Images of America.

Millhouse’s commitment to the preservation of her family home expands beyond the art collection that fills its walls. Her interest in historic interior design and graduate work at Parsons School of Design prepared her for the 2003-2005 restoration of Reynolda House’s original furnishings of the first-floor interior rooms and the basement recreational facilities. In 2010, Millhouse led the effort to jointly commission, with Wake Forest University, a cultural landscape report for the Reynolda Historic District which documented Reynolda’s landscape and made recommendations on its use and preservation.

In 1998, Millhouse was awarded a L.H.D. (Doctor of Humane Letters) from Wake Forest, where she is a former Trustee. In 2010, she was awarded the Medallion of Merit, the University’s highest honor for outstanding achievement and contributions to Wake Forest. Last year, during Reynolda’s centennial celebrations, Millhouse received The Order of the Long Leaf Pine, a governor’s award for exemplary service and significant impact on North Carolina. She has served on the Board of Directors of the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation and formerly on the American Painting and Sculpture Visiting Committee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She was also a former member of the National Committee of the Whitney Museum of American Art.

The North Carolina Award was created by the General Assembly in 1961 to recognize significant contributions to the state and nation in the fields of fine arts, literature, public service and science. Governor Roy Cooper will present the awards at a banquet and ceremony Nov. 16. Millhouse joins other 2018 honorees Carolyn Q. Coleman of Pleasant Garden for Public Service; Bill Leslie of Cary for Fine Arts; Michael A. McFee of Chapel Hill for Literature; Gene Roberts of Bath for Public Service; and William L. Roper of Chapel Hill for Public Service.

Each awardee receives a medal designed by the sculptor Paul Manship, an artist whose work “Flight of Europa” was donated to Reynolda’s collection by Millhouse in 1979, and is one of her favorite sculptures in the museum’s collection.

About Reynolda
Reynolda, in Winston-Salem, N.C., is a rare gem among the nation’s cultural institutions and historic greenspaces. The 51-year-old art museum at the center of Reynolda’s 180 acres, Reynolda House Museum of American Art, presents a renowned art collection in a historic and incomparable setting: the original 1917 interiors of the country manor of R. J. Reynolds. Spanning 250 years, the collection is an uncompromisingly selective one, a chronology of American art, with each artist represented by one work of major significance. Highlights are: Albert Bierstadt, Mary Cassatt, William Merritt Chase, Frederic Edwin Church, Stuart Davis, Martin Johnson Heade, Alex Katz, Lee Krasner, Jacob Lawrence, Georgia O’Keeffe, John Singer Sargent and Grant Wood. The collection was assembled by the unerring eye of Barbara Babcock Millhouse, granddaughter of R. J. and Katharine Reynolds. The Reynolda experience includes a free app called Reynolda Revealed; touring exhibitions in the museum’s Mary and Charlie Babcock Wing; formal gardens, conservatory and walking trails of Reynolda Gardens; and more than 25 of the estate’s original buildings repurposed as shops and restaurants in Reynolda Village. Reynolda, located at 2250 Reynolda Road, is adjacent to Wake Forest University. For more information, please visit

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