Libraries as Alternative Spaces

by Jon Parrish

In 2016, a Pew Research Center study found that 48% of people over age 16 say they visited their public library in the past year and Millennials, whose lives seem to be all about technology, are “more likely than their elders to say that important information is not available on the internet.” The number of 18 to 28-​​year-​​olds regularly using libraries is growing, not diminishing, giving the lie to claims by some that libraries are no longer relevant and therefore can be first in line for budget-​​cut closures across the US and the UK.

Library Books

Library Books

Years ago, the function of your local public library was pretty clear – it was all about the books, borrowing from the collection, using it for doing research, and homework. For many, it was a place to catch up on the national and international newspapers of the day. It also provided a few hours of sanctuary for the lonely, the widowed bereft, and the homeless. Today’s libraries still serve all of those needs, but they are multi-​​functional in ways that nobody could have imagined in the past. In addition to classes in literacy and computer tech., and providing WiFi to those without it at home, one only has to look at the calendars of libraries in the Hudson Valley from Phoenicia to Newburgh to witness the diversity of activities and programs on offer. These include classes in Tai Chi at the Kingston library, Yoga in Olive, film screenings in Saugerties, classical music concerts in Rosendale, a coding club in Newburgh, cartooning workshops in Woodstock, to name but a few. Some libraries have incorporated exhibition spaces to show the work of local and regional artists, thereby bringing visual art into the heart of the community and providing alternative spaces for artists and the public to traditional galleries and museums.

John A. Varriano, The Poet. Oil on canvas, 24” x 20”.

John A. Varriano — The Poet — Oil on canvas, 24” x 20”.

Among those libraries in the region that host art exhibitions are the Olive Free Library, the Saugerties Public Library, and the Woodbury Public Library and the Stone Ridge Library. Following is what they are offering this summer: The Olive Free Library, located at 4033 Rt 28-​​A, West Shokan, NY, is hosting a four person show entitled Go Figure that opens on May 18 with an artists’ reception for the public from 2 – 4 pm, and runs through July 6. Per its title, it is a show of figurative art featuring the work four well established Hudson Valley artists: Eddi Fleming, Keith Gunderson, Claire Lambe, and John A. Varriano, all of whom reside in different towns across the region.

Keith Gunderson, Seated nude from the back. Charcoal and pastel on Canson Mi-Teintes paper, 25” x 15”

Keith Gunderson -  Seated nude from the back — Charcoal and pastel on Canson Mi-​​Teintes paper, 25” x 15”

British-​​born Edie Flemming lives and works in Croton-​​on-​​Hudson; Gunderson is based in Kerhonkson; Lambe, who is Irish, is in Woodstock, and Varriano is in Gardiner, NY. All four artists have exhibited widely in the US and abroad; Lambe and Gunderson are both instructors at the Woodstock School of Art, and Varriano teaches in the Art Students League of New York. “Figurative art is one of humanity’s oldest forms of artistic expression, and has helped reveal the human condition for millennia,” says Go Figure curator Linda Lynton. “The figurative work of these four artists reveals the breadth of style and insight currently found in the region. Their work ranges from classical portraiture to contemporary styles, revealing current social and political concerns as well as the spiritual beauty of the human face and form.”

Eddi Fleming, Tiny Dancer. Oil on board, 48” x 40”.

Eddi Fleming — Tiny Dancer -  Oil on board, 48” x 40”.

The exhibition, Go Figure, is followed at the Olive Free Library by Reverie, a juried group show of regional artists from Saturday, July 20 – September 7.

Saugerties Public Library, 91 Washington Avenue, opens its gallery space primarily to artists from the locality. It is currently showing the work of lawyer/​artist/​poet and Saugerties resident Elizabeth Shafer. As a lawyer, Shafer has dedicated much of her energies to the fight for a nuclear free world including serving on the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy. Her parallel life-​​long passion is for art making. Shafer has studied at the Art Students’ League, the Woodstock School of Art, R & F Encaustic Studios and taken print-​​making classes at Columbia University. More of her work can be seen this month at Emerge Gallery in Saugerties in a group collage exhibition, Cut Pieces, along with noteworthy artists Dorothea Marcus and Annie Loel Barr, among others.

Elizabeth Shafer. Spring Still Life, 2000. Oil on canvas. 30 x 22 inches

Elizabeth Shafer — Spring Still Life, 2000 -  Oil on canvas. 30 x 22 inches

Shafer’s solo show at the Saugerties Public Library runs through June 29 and is followed by a show of work from British-​​born, Hudson Valley resident Prudence See in July and August. A gifted colorist, See is known for her luminous town and landscapes of Saugerties. Opening reception for this exhibition TBA.

The Woodbury Public Library at 16 County Rte 105, Highland Mills, NY 10930, is now showing work by Roger Dowd entitled Hurt of the Antarctic – a 3-​​D fantasy travelogue in which he combines model making, photography and paint with digital imaging to create images that often parody nineteenth century artistic styles. The show continues through May and is followed by a collection of botanical watercolor paintings by Barbara Dodsworth.

Barbara Dodsworth, Lily. Watercolor.

Barbara Dodsworth -  Lily. Watercolor.

Dodsworth is an Associate Professor of Music & Fine Arts in the Mercy College School of Liberal Arts. The exhibition is on view for the month of June and there is a “Meet the Artist” reception on Saturday, June 1st, 12 – 2 pm. Dodsworth’s fine botanicals take many hours to produce and often pose mathematical challenges found in nature. This exhibition will include a number of watercolors of flowers about which she said: “I want to create a certain unexpected feeling in the viewer, as he or she encounters a seemingly passive flower that appears to be endowed with sensitivity or reactivity.”

And currently at the Stone Ridge Library there is an on-​​going exhibit of watercolors by local artist Staats Fasoldt. The works are situated among the stacks in the 1798 library building as well as in the new Children’s Wing. Staats Fasoldt is Executive Vice President of the Woodstock School of Art’s Board of Directors, and has taught painting and drawing there for more than 35 years.

Staats Fasoldt — Watercolor

Hopefully more libraries will make room for exhibition space, whether it’s used for local school children’s art and amateurs, or professional artists, or all of the above. In Woodstock, where a new library building is now close to being assured, there is an opportunity to create something really inclusive for the community. Sad as many are to say goodbye to the quaint façade of the existing building, this will be an interesting project to watch. Today, as we endure so many attacks on our democracy, we need to cherish and support our public libraries, because a library is what democracy looks like.

Featured Image: Claire Lambe, Destination Unknown #3 (detail), 2017. Graphite – 80 x 40 inches.

All images courtesy of the artists or their representatives.










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