A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of finally stepping foot into Lehigh University Art Galleries. And after visiting, I have to say—as a second-semester senior, I only wish that I did it sooner.
I knew Zoellner Arts Center was the center of music, rehearsals, and official Lehigh-sponsored events, such as the 2012 Gala with Kristin Chenoweth, stunning Japanese dance and drums performance by TAO, and renowned poets like the Poet Laureate Billy Collins, yet every time I stepped foot into this architectural masterpiece, I forgot about the other dynamic artists hosted within. Paintings, photography, drawings, and sculptures tucked away yet ever present, still hallmarks of the Lehigh curatorial genius and culture on campus. While not “dynamic” in the common sense—not being outside or popularly conceptualized as so—these artworks are no less so than the dancing across the Mustard and Cheese stage. Those rooms hold a quiet vigor of their own, as two students and I discovered.
There has never been a time where I haven’t seen mentions of the Art Galleries in the University Announcements, a daily email upon whose arrival announced to students that they were up too late. In spite of its written prevalence and new series and events added each month, there seems to be an unfortunately low number of visitors. Finally, to complement my consumption of arts events produced by students, I convinced two others to explore what Lehigh’s staff had created in the Arts Galleries.
The walk was five minutes from my previous class, easily accessible, yet seemingly so far out of reach for most students, aside from rehearsals and the occasional Zoellner event. It turns out that the walk and self-guided tour itself were easy to do between classes, aka a perfect to-do for those awkward “forty-five minutes between class” moments. After signing in and paying nothing—it’s for free! Lehigh really does want you to experience the arts—we entered a comfortably lit room together. Rather than planning which pieces to view, we simply engaged in the spontaneous with the walls. Our steps were random, yet methodical. If a painting or photograph caught our eye, we simply walked towards it and studied it together, not particularly concerned with the artist’s name—there were too many after all—but more entranced by the details, strokes, and textures involved. At the more striking ones, we all tilted our heads, trying to make sense of them and observing, studying to see how we could replicate those motifs in our own non-art major work. While we did watch the movement of the works together, we each split off to explore on our own, occasionally catching up to each other wordlessly to admire what we saw in union and unison. Oil red flowers’ shading made real by slight shifts in pressure of the brush, the intricate cutting of colored outlines by a modernist, a traditional Japanese ink painting and a more modern one, made apparent by the roughness of the strokes. And many more, all breathtaking and ponderous, from a painting in the likeness of the Hudson River School and Picasso’s self-portrait to black and white photography interspersed amongst the colored glory.
None of us were art majors, yet we could all find some solace in the spacious rooms and frames along the wall. One friend had arrived late, his hair in tufts and circles etched visibly under his eyes. His posture read the Galleries as skeptical, yet by the end, he had entered his own world. We all had, and we were all less stressed, our shoulders lank and footsteps languid and unhurried, a stark contrast to our arrivals. We didn’t have much to say to each other after that as we had lingered in the Galleries for too long and a few minutes late to class, but it was clear that all of us had enjoyed the brief respite amongst the squares and rectangles along the wall, almost tripping over the sculptures on the ground in our daze to float to the next one. While we did not have the literature or vocabulary to conduct a full vocal investigation of the litany of tropes and themes present, we could mumble a “look at the positioning in this one,” “imagine the wrist of the artist creating this gesture drawing,” “these colors are so bold,” and “I didn’t know we had a Picasso! Was this painted in his transition between a child prodigy and burgeoning abstract artist?”
We admired the varied collection held by Lehigh, for we truly did not comprehend its diversity and scale, how a beautifully-curated gallery with inspirations across the globe was right here at school, with no need to visit Philadelphia or New York for its art museums there. Because we couldn’t chance the “…Of The Americas: Contemporary Latin American Art” and “Revisiting South Bethlehem: 150 Years of Photography” galleries, also mentioned in the announcements, due to class, we vowed to return again. In the meantime, we wondered about ways to increase the collections’ visibility to the student body—modern and Millennial-created flyers around Maginnes, Williams Hall, UC, and other hotspots in the university, mentioning the (im)possibility of a Picasso in our very midst—the differences between the experience with and without music, infusing our work with these inspirations, the current and potential value they have and could have for the South Side community, and when, exactly, we could return, not in between classes, to truly experience all that the Lehigh Art Galleries had to offer.
Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of the Galleries, but inspired by the diverse art forms and strokes in the Art Galleries, I took the time to explore the significance of line, angle, texture, and pressure of pencil together in my own time. Every stroke is significant. Every stroke contributes. Every stroke is a foundational matter (and matters). (Instagram)
—Sunny Huang, Class of 2016