Payne Gallery’s Finale

Gallery show is canceled. Please meet at class at 6:30 p.m.

The headline popped up on my phone at 5:16 p.m. on Thursday, March 12.

When I tapped open the email from Camille Murphy, my graphic design professor, it took a moment for me to process the news. The Faculty Art Show reception in Payne Gallery, which our art course had planned to attend before class, had been canceled due to the coronavirus panic. First the field trips to New York City, then the faculty art talks, and now this? Just minutes before, I had been eagerly imagining what sort of works the art professors would have created for their showing. Now my five classmates and I sat quietly in our classroom, waiting for our normal class to start, the air heavy with disappointment.

“The teachers worked so hard, too,” said Francesca Bartolucci, who had just been in Payne Gallery helping the faculty set up their work. “Dr. Morelock had covered a whole wall with this really pretty wallpaper.”

We were voicing our shared sympathies for the teachers when Dr. Murphy suddenly strode into the room, her steps quick and purposeful, her eyes bright.

“So, the reception is still happening,” she told us. “But it’s basically just faculty there. Do you guys still want to go see it before class?”

The gloomy atmosphere fled instantly as we all quickly nodded, hopping out of our seats and climbing up the stairs to Payne Gallery.

Here was one show that would go on.

As we entered the gallery, I quickly noticed the shift in energy. At every opening I’d attended before now, both the bottom and top floors were overflowing with bodies, the place spilling forth a raucous tangle of excited chatter. Now the space was almost a blank canvas itself, dotted sparsely with pairs of art students and faculty. A steady murmur floated through the air, broken occasionally by a good-natured laugh.

As our class drifted through the area, I spotted the wallpaper that Francesca had mentioned. It covered an entire section of the wall, rising along the stairway wall to the top floor. A soft pastel pink striped with darker pink and decorated with tiny lacy flowers, it served as the perfect backdrop to Dr. Morelock’s collection of photos that depicted glowing reddish plants. I loved the photos’ surreal, ghostly quality.

I took my time moving through each professor’s work. I didn’t have to worry about navigating a loud, unfamiliar crowd, or being in someone’s way. It was just the faculty and my fellow art majors soaking in the place. I felt like I was part of a casual private viewing.

I saw Dr. Murphy’s work – a line of books that she had created with famous designer Seymour Chwast. Looking at the covers’ whimsical illustrations, striking colors, and thoughtful typography, I felt a rush of admiration for her talent.

Every showing was entirely unlike the other.

I was awed by the dynamic poses and popping, vibrant colors of Dr. Colegrove’s cyberpunk-photoshopped city scenes. The technique that Dr. Fraleigh displayed in her painting of fabric and the human form was mind-blowing. Dr. Ciganick’s landscape portraits pulled me right into the scenes, making me feel the chilly winter breeze on my skin.

These artists were our teachers for a reason.

With the whole art department involved, there was a hugely diverse range of media – from paintings to photographs, sculptures to drawings, magazine spreads to collages, and some works even dipping into multimedia. It was clear that an immense amount of time, effort, and talent had been invested in every single piece. As I walked out of Payne Gallery and back into class that night, I felt very grateful to have seen the product of that time and effort.

I would feel even more grateful, later on, when I realized that it was the last art show I’d see for a while.

Every day that followed wrought another email dropping another cancellation. The Moravian Women Exhibition. The Zinzendorf trip to Silence! the Musical. Reeves Library. The fitness center. And then came the conclusive call for every Moravian student to vacate their dorms and head back home. The faculty show had suddenly become Payne Gallery’s – and Moravian’s – semester finale.

As our homes now become our quarantines, fear and uncertainty sit in the back of every mind. We live in a bustling, moving world that has suddenly been put on hold. We can’t go outside without the threat of sickness on our shoulders. The emptiness of the streets is unsettling. We are confined to whatever our houses can offer us, and we do not know how long this will last.

It is now more than ever that we need art.

In a new situation full of unknowns, art allows us to take back control. It urges us to grab hold of our fears and spill them out on paper, to unleash our fiery angers, to let loose the gloom bottled in our brains. It lets us speak our truths.

So, as you sit in your home, stuck for now in this state of the unknown, see what you can make. Find some paper and just draw a little doodle or write a couple of sentences.

Though we cannot hold a show, we can still create.