The Sordoni Art Gallery is currently hosting the exhibition A Stirring Song Sung Heroic: African Americans from Slavery to Freedom by William E. Williams. This collection of pieces focuses on historic sites and events, specifically those related to the Underground Railroad from 1619-1865.
William E. Williams is a widely celebrated photographer. His exhibitions have been recognized from Cleveland to Houston, Baltimore to Brooklyn and from the MET to the Smithsonian. Williams is a 1997 Pew Fellow in the Arts, and was awarded artist fellowships from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts in 1986, 1997 and 2003 along with a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship for 2003–04.
He has also served as a both a member and representative on the executive committee of the national board of the Society for Photographic Education from 1997–2003 and as a past member of the executive committee.
Williams’ work also provides an insight into the overcoming of the division regarding civil rights in the United States while also correlating to current issues that are still going on in the United States and throughout the world today. Heather Sincavage, the director of the gallery, hoped this exhibition, inspired by thirty years of research and artwork, would reignite students’ interest and understanding regarding the importance of preserving history.
Furthermore, the Wilkes-Barre area also has a connection to the Underground Railroad. According to the Wilkes University News Release regarding the exhibition, in 1821, a prominent Wilkes-Barre abolitionist, William Camp Gildersleeve began hiding fugitive slaves in his store.
In 1839, Gildersleeve hid runaway slaves in his kitchen and would wagon them to the next underground station at night and was threatened with hanging for his abolitionist activities. Gildersleeve also has a historical marker at 25 East Ross Street in Wilkes-Barre.
Consequently, Sincavage stated that she often chooses exhibitions not related to the art curriculum. This is done in effort to include students of all majors and backgrounds. Sincavage stated that “contemporary corners in our culture and how artists are digesting that and spitting it back out” are types of exhibitions she is hoping to host to encourage conversations and allow others to learn through each other.
This exhibition, like all of the Sordoni’s shows has a series of lectures known as the Lunchtime Lectures that occur throughout the duration of the exhibition. On September 18 at noon, there will be a lecture by Dr. Diane Wegner titled In Their Own Words: Recovering the History of Slavery Through Slave Narratives. The final lecture in the series is on October 2 and is titled Antislavery Actions in the Wyoming Valley presented by Dr. Aimee Newell, Executive Director, Luzerne County Historical Society.
The Sordoni Art Gallery is accessible and free for everyone. The hours of operation are Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. For more information regarding the Sordoni Art Gallery, contact [email protected] or call at (570) 408-4325.