New exhibit reveals visual clues of bigotry and inequality spanning hundreds of years in America

The first American cultural institution launches the exhibition “Imperfect History”

Philadelphia, PA –News Direct – Library Company of Philadelphia

In an age when Americans are constantly bombarded with graphics, some with hidden meanings, our ability to interpret visuals has taken on a new urgency. Imperfect History: Conservation of the Graphic Arts Collection at the Benjamin Franklin Public Library is a new exhibit designed to help us read between the lines of popular graphics. Drawing from a collection of extraordinary magnitude spanning 300 years, Imperfect story presents hidden and rare objects, untold stories of ordinary people, and prejudices and preconceptions from different periods. It’s a visual time machine of the good, the bad, and the ugly in American culture.

It opens on September 20, 2021 and ends on April 8, 2022.

A rare print circa 1789 of a teenage slave with Vitiligo which has been objectified as a spectacle of curiosity. Photo credit: Library Company of Philadelphia

“The point is not to take things at face value,” said Michael Barsanti, the Edwin Wolf 2sd director of the Library business. “Inequalities and prejudices have existed for centuries. We just need to look for the clues in the visual materials. Our hope is that this exhibit will help educate the public to understand racist, sexist and other biased images in popular culture today and throughout history, with the aim of alleviating bigotry.

Rare and unusual objects

Objects glorifying white men, stereotyping African Americans, satirising feminism and representing economic disparities will be on display. The same will be true of “imperfect” works that would never see the light of day in a fine art exhibition, but which offer important lessons about how people lived, what they cared about and what they did. really thought.

“We want to help patrons understand American history through graphic material,” notes co-curator Erika Piola, director of the Visual Culture Program. “These are images created and seen by ordinary people. They were collected by the son of a Library Company librarian, hung on the walls of American homes, kept in scrapbooks, and mailed to homes of average citizens.

The exhibit includes an ink blotter with female nudes on lettuce, a promotional item never before seen in public. There are rare items such as a print of a teenage slave with vitiligo which has been exploited as a secondary curiosity and a lithograph of white male masons, living and dead, described as “the wise and the good among mankind” .

Among the five areas of the exhibition is the “Imperfections Section” with elements that have been altered, have suffered deterioration by age, damage, artistic errors or inscriptions. “We want people to understand that just because things like photographs, prints and sketches can be damaged doesn’t mean they are less important to future generations,” says Piola.

Co-Curator Sarah Weatherwax, Senior Curator of Graphic Arts, notes: “Benjamin Franklin founded the Library Company to prepare settlers for citizenship by giving them access to books. But today, being an engaged citizen requires us to look beyond the text and also focus on the visuals, to understand the nuances and the context.

Two year project

The Imperfect story The project includes an exhibition, publication, digital catalog, visual literacy workshop, one-day symposium and curatorial scholarship. It is in commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the graphic arts department.

The digital catalog creatively demonstrates multiple points of view through descriptions of the same visual material written by four guest catalogers from different fields. The exhibition publication is an illustrated catalog offering an overview of the history of collecting graphics at the Library Company as well as narratives and a case study of the relationships between American art history, culture visual and literacy, race, gender and imagery and image of Philadelphia. manufacturers.

Visual Literacy Workshop: Urban Insights

A select group of historians, curators and other professionals from across the United States came together virtually at the end of June for a workshop designed to improve participants’ ability to “read” and analyze material. graphic documents. In addition to the historical background, they learned different graphic processes and how to conduct primary and secondary research using graphic materials.

Symposium: Collecting, Preserving and Consuming American Folk Graphic Arts Then and Now

The one-day symposium scheduled for March 25, 2022 will examine the changing and innovative trends in the way popular graphics are organized, interpreted, used and understood by those who produced, viewed and consumed them.

Conservation scholarship

Imperfect story included a 20-month fellowship providing an aspiring graphic curator with hands-on professional training.


Support Imperfect story is provided by the Henry Luce Foundation, the Walter J. Miller Trust, the Center for American Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Jay Robert Stiefel, and the Terra Foundation for American Art.

The Graphic Arts Collection

The fonds of more than 100,000 items includes one of the few public collections in the United States specializing in popular historical American graphics from the 17th to early 20th centuries. The works represent the multiple perspectives and aesthetic senses of their creators, while also serving as material documents of the culture, politics and economy in which they were produced and consumed.

About the Library Company of Philadelphia

Founded in 1731 by Benjamin Franklin, the Library Company of Philadelphia was founded as the first public library with the mission of putting books into the hands of ordinary citizens. It is America’s oldest cultural institution, the nation’s first library of Congress, and the largest lending library during the Civil War.

Today, the Library Company is an independent research library and educational institution specializing in American and world history from the 17th to the early 20th centuries. Along with one of the largest collections in the world of ancient America, the Library Company also has nearly a million pieces in its collections that relate to African American, economic and women’s history. , the history of medicine and visual culture. The Library Company promotes access to these collections through scholarships, exhibitions, programs and online resources. To find out more, visit

Contact details

Snap 2 Marketing / PR

beverly volpe

+1 609-230-4696

[email protected]

Philadelphia Company Library

Raechel’s Hammer

+1 856-383-4397

[email protected]

See the source version on

Previous LISTEN TO YOURSELF! LISTEN TO YOURSELF! market day to bring colonial crafts and art fair to Newtown Historic District | Entertainment
Next PENDING TRADE # 3: Week of September 22, 2021

No Comment

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.