Skillman Library offers much more than a mere study space for students. While people are typically drawn to the building to study, socialize, or work in a quiet area away from bustling campus life, the staff transforms the space each semester to fit a new aesthetic through the use of their exhibition space. Volunteers make up the Exhibits Working Group, which discusses and carries out plans for exhibits that make the library a more inspirational, educational, and dynamic environment for patrons. 

Currently on display is the “Claiming Freedom” exhibit, featuring over twenty eclectic selections from the Petrucci Family Foundation Collection of African American Art. The collection was curated by Claudia Volpe, former Easton resident and the foundation’s director. Each piece was chosen to highlight the motif of freedom, both “freedom from oppression and the freedom to thrive in this nation.” The art spans several decades, depicting the linear history from slavery times into the contemporary, and displays how personal narratives of freedom were defined through art across time.

Kate Pitts, operations, communications & assessment manager at Skillman Library, shared that the library strives to bring in local organizations and artists whenever possible and to leverage opportunities to link the art on display to other programming on campus.

The collection draws inspiration from Annette Gordon Reed’s bestselling book On Juneteenth, which combines her personal experience in Texas with historical research to underscore the importance of Juneteenth being recognized as a national holiday. A unique feature of this semester’s exhibit is that it coincides particularly well with other campus events. This year, Reed will deliver the annual Hatfield Lecture on February 29th, where she will discuss her book and the significance of Juneteenth to close out Black History Month.

installation shot - artist: Kaphar, Titus Maternal Great Grandmother

artist: Kaphar, Titus Maternal Great Grandmother

Pitts emphasized the exhibit’s role in strengthening public understanding of the material sourced from Reed’s book. Although art exhibits are typically planned for one to two years, making it challenging to align with enriching programming, this year’s Hatfield Lecture offers a “multi-modal way to interact with art” in tandem with the exhibit. Community members can attend the lecture to hear Reed speak on her writing inspiration and then travel to the library to experience the visual art first-hand to further understand the complexity of the topics at hand. 

The “Claiming Freedom” collection will only be on loan until the end of May, but a new exhibit will be installed in the space for the start of next semester. Engaging with the exhibits in Skillman Library allows patrons from Lafayette and the Lehigh Valley community to interact with the knowledge and stories being told through art to better connect them with the physical space around them.

The Exhibits Working Group has created a new form for those interested in showcasing their art in the library’s exhibit space. Students and faculty are encouraged to submit ideas for future collaboration.