“Founder’s Vision: The Private Collection of Barbara Babcock Millhouse” to open at Reynolda House August 24, 2024

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (June 25, 2024)—“Founder’s Vision: The Private Collection of Barbara Babcock Millhouse” will open in the Mary and Charlie Babcock Wing Gallery at Reynolda House Museum of American Art Saturday, August 24, 2024, and will be on view through December 15, 2024. The exhibition features works of art from the personal collection of the founder of Reynolda House Museum of American Art. 

Audiences will have a unique opportunity to view more than 50 objects reflecting the best of American modernism from artists including Romare Bearden, Alex Katz, Edward Hopper, Joseph Cornell, Georgia O’Keeffe and John Singer Sargent among 40 other artists from the late 19th and 20th centuries—all under one roof.

“The ‘Founder’s Vision’ exhibition traces the entire arc of modernism in America,” said Phil Archer, the Betsy Main Babcock Deputy Director at Reynolda and the exhibition’s curator. “In a condensed, one-gallery presentation, we move through modern art’s early, daring assertions of independence from moral or religious argument, its restless innovativeness in terms of techniques and subjects, the eventual embrace of complete abstraction ‘beyond the veil of illusion’ and, nearing the end of the 20th century, a radical questioning of style, medium and the artist’s very role in society.

“This evolution is familiar to lovers of 20th-century art, but ‘Founder’s Vision’ is distinguished by refracting the story through the lens of one collector who came early to the appreciation and advocacy of American art in the mid-1960s,” he added. “Barbara Millhouse brought the same discernment to her own collection that she brought to the development of Reynolda House Museum of American Art, but she could take greater risks in buying for her own environment. We guarantee there will be many, many surprises.”

The granddaughter of tobacco industrialist R.J. Reynolds and his wife Katharine, Barbara Babcock Millhouse dedicated her family home in 1967 to become what is now Reynolda House Museum of American Art. With ambitions of inspiring the people of North Carolina to love her grandparents’ home even more than her family had for the previous half-century, she worked to fulfill this pledge, first with a sterling inaugural collection of American paintings and later with a succession of major gifts, collectively representing what may be the greatest gift of fine art in state history. The Reynolda collection was described by art historian John Wilmerding (1938–2024), then deputy director of the National Gallery of Art, as the “finest concentration of American art south of Washington, D.C.”

Millhouse received an education in art history at Smith College in Massachusetts and interior design at Parsons School of Design in New York City, then made her primary home in Manhattan. She attended gallery openings and museum exhibitions and gained a third aesthetic education in the high-stakes art market when New York was indisputably the center of the modern art world. Born in 1934, Millhouse currently divides her time between Manhattan and Winston-Salem.

“At different times on her journey of collecting American art, Barbara was a sleuth, a scholar, a student, and, occasionally, even a gambler. She relied as much on her own eye as on the advice of experts in the field,” said Allison Perkins, executive director for Reynolda House and Wake Forest University associate provost for Reynolda House & Reynolda Gardens. “She wasn’t the first to redirect attention to American makers and American themes, but she was early—to North Carolina’s everlasting benefit.”

When acquiring works for Reynolda House, she planned for perpetuity, selecting paintings she believed would come to be accepted as iconic works by future generations of Americans. For her private collection, she was moved by personal inspiration and a marked adventurousness. “Founder’s Vision” celebrates her dedication to American art with an exhibition drawn from her private holdings, many of which are intended for future donation to the museum. Representing most of the major movements in modern art, these are the works with which she has chosen to live. For the first time, they will be shown at Reynolda, some of which have never been on public display until now.

Reynolda House is grateful for the support of the following sponsors of “Founder’s Vision: The Private Collection of Barbara Babcock Millhouse”: major sponsors Arts Council of Winston-Salem & Forsyth County and The David R. Hayworth Foundation; lead sponsors Patty and Malcolm Brown, Dyeann and Henry Jordan, Scottie and David Neill, Mike and Debbie Rubin, Cyndi Skaar and Gwynne and Dan Taylor; contributing sponsors Dianne and Chuck Blixt, Anonymous, Laura Walter Hearn, The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation, PNC Private Bank, Leigh and Gray Smith, Susan Starr and Ralph Womble and Ashley Edwards; and exhibition partners Bruce and Anne Babcock, Brown Advisory, Jacqueline Humphrey, Robbie and Dave Irvin, Lynette Matthews-Murphy, Nancy and Ed Pleasants, Debi and Noah Reynolds and The Robert and Constance Emken Fund of The Winston-Salem Foundation.

About Reynolda

Reynolda is set on 170 acres in Winston-Salem, N.C. and comprises Reynolda House Museum of American Art, Reynolda Gardens and Reynolda Village Shops and Restaurants. The Museum presents a renowned art collection in a historic and incomparable setting: the original 1917 interiors of Katharine and R.J. Reynolds’s 34,000-square-foot home. Its collection is a chronology of American art, and featured exhibitions are offered in the Museum’s Babcock Wing Gallery and historic house bedrooms. The Gardens serve as a 134-acre outdoor horticultural oasis open to the public year-round, complete with colorful formal gardens, nature trails and a greenhouse. In the Village, the estate’s historic buildings are now home to a vibrant mix of boutiques, restaurants, shops and services. Plan your visit at reynolda.org and use the free mobile app, Reynolda Revealed, to self-tour the estate.


IMAGES can be found at reynolda.org/press-founders-vision

Above, left: Photo of Barbara B. Millhouse. Courtesy of Reynolda House
Museum of American Art

Above, right: Oscar Bluemner (1867–1938) Moonshine Fantasy, 1929, oil on
panel, 22 x 14 1⁄2 in. Courtesy of Barbara B. Millhouse