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Shauna Withespoon, junior fine arts student with a 3D emphasis, shows guests around the exhibit. Withespoon undertook the project to create the exhibit, selecting the works from the Axel Library Special Collections and University Archives to be included and researching the pieces and their artists.

Student-curated art exhibit opens at Bicknell Center

Artwork from the Special Collections of the Axe Library decorated the walls of the Bicknell Center art gallery in an exhibit called “the Vault: Unlocked” Thursday, Aug. 23. 

“We really wanted to tell the story of the archives themselves,” said Shawna Witherspoon, junior in fine arts and organizer of the art gallery exhibit.  

Joseph Firman, director of the Bicknell, wanted a specific student to help organize a gallery of work by Pitt State alumni and students. Alex Wiedemann, event manager, sought out Witherspoon as the student for the job. 

“I started working for the Bicknell as a student back in January, learning the lighting system and learning about the gallery itself,” Witherspoon said. “Then they handed me this project. They let me run with it and were there any time I needed anything.”  

Witherspoon said the Bicknell was incredibly supportive in putting together the project. Along with the Bicknell, she also worked with the Special Collections in Axe Library basement in finding artwork to display, working hand-in-hand with Steve Cox, Special Collections curator. 

“Steve is amazing,” she said. “He knows so much and there is so much down there.” 

The Special Collections also gained some valuable insight from working with Witherspoon. 

“I was able to find some pieces and find some information that they didn’t have and recorded and likewise,” Witherspoon said. “I had a lot of questions about the pieces or about the people themselves.” 

Witherspoon curated a wide variety of pieces from a diverse selection of artists. The pieces used in the Special Collections were donated by a swath of benefactors, many of whom are Pitt State alumni.  

“Neither of us had a true grasp of all we had in the Special Collections and Shawna came in with a load of energy,” Cox said. “When we first started going through it she had more of an artist’s eye than I did. She knew what she wanted to exhibit and I’m sure it was difficult to get it down to the number that she did.” 

This project, though, is not the first time the Special Collections has loaned out pieces of art to students. 

“The pieces that the University bought in the 1960s for students and faculty to check out are my favorite pieces,” Cox said. 

Many of these works were recreations of famous art, available for members of the University community to hang in their dorm rooms or offices.  

“Those pieces laid the foundation for the art we have in the Special Collections,” Cox said. “Of course, we have lots of pieces by former art professors that have been left behind or donated and many student work, but I think those really laid the cornerstone for what we have here. They may not be the best works in the Archives, but we really wouldn’t have the beautiful art gallery we have now without those pieces.” 

Both Cox and Witherspoon wanted to thank the staff of the Bicknell Center for their cooperation on the “Vault: Unlocked” art exhibit, available for viewing in the Bicknell. 


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