Palmer took classes with Boardman Robinson and Kenneth Hayes Miller at the Art Students League and in the 1920s studied fresco at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Much of Palmer's work during the late 1930s was devoted to the various government art programs; he won a coveted commission to paint murals for the Post Office Department building in Washington, D.C., and was later appointed supervisor of the WPA's mural division in New York City. From 1941 until his retirement in 1973, he served as director of the art school at Munson-Williams -Proctor Institute in Utica. Palmer was a painter of the American Scene who portrayed the rolling plains and expansive skies of his native Iowa during the 1930s and 1940s. In the 1950s he began exploring the moods, atmosphere, and light of New York's rural landscape, which he interpreted through abstract planes and closely graded colors.
Virginia M. Mecklenburg Modern American Realism: The Sara Roby Foundation Collection (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press for the National Museum of American Art, 1987)