Barbara Babcock Millhouse will receive the North Carolina Award, the state’s highest civilian honor, at a ceremony Nov. 16 in Raleigh.
Millhouse’s award, for fine arts, honors her contributions to the arts and culture of North Carolina, including, among other things, her work as a published author and scholar; her commitment to the preservation of North Carolinastate history and her foresight in creating what has become a renowned collection of American art and the foundation for Reynolda House Museum of American Art.
The granddaughter of R.J. Reynolds and Katharine Smith Reynolds, and daughter of Mary Reynolds and Charles Babcock, Millhouse opened the museum in what had been her family home in 1967 with nine important works by Albert Bierstadt, Joseph Blackburn, William Merritt Chase, Frederic Church, William Harnett, Childe Hassam, Martin Johnson Heade, Eastman Johnson and Gilbert Stuart.
It has since grown to national prominence. A wing for traveling and on-site curated exhibitions was added to the historic house in 2005.
“Barbara’s life’s work has been to preserve this historic property for future generations,” said Allison Perkins, the 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.”
Millhouse was 26 when she began preserving the family home and assembling an art collection to fill it. The museum’s board 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, Millhouse sought the advice of scholars and curators as she made purchases.
Under Millhouse’s direction, Reynolda House formally affiliated with Wake Forest University in 2002.
The North Carolina Award was created in 1961 to recognize significant contributions to the state and nation in the fields of fine arts, literature, public service and science. Gov. Roy Cooper will present the awards to Millhouse and other honorees.
Each gets 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.