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Do That: Artists’ Books Donated by Karen Lightner

Through Sunday, January 28

Art Community Parkway District

Karen Lightner, Head of the Art and Literature Department, retires from the Free Library of Philadelphia this January. In honor of nearly 35 years of service to the Free Library, the Print and Picture Collection (PIX) is mounting this exhibition of Artists’ Books donated by Karen over the years. Karen is a photographer and book artist, who earned an MFA in Photography and Book Arts from Visual Studies Workshop/SUNY-Buffalo in 1981. She started her career in the Free Library as a library assistant in 1983, before becoming a page while in library school. From 1988-2005, she was a librarian in the Rare Book Department and curated the Beatrix Potter Collection. When she became the curator of PIX in 2005, Karen expanded our small Artists’ Book Collection by donating over 60 books. In 2006, she challenged the local book arts community to match her donation, and since then, the collection has grown to over 400 artists’ books.

This exhibition is comprised of books donated by Karen Lightner, ranging in date from her early collecting days in the 1970s to a donation received in 2017. Karen’s gift has strengthened PIX’s collections. We regularly show our artists’ book collection to scholars, school groups, and university classes, as well as include them in exhibitions. The title of this exhibition comes from a quote by Howard Thurman that Karen includes in her email signature:

Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

We thank Karen Lightner for her years of service to the Free Library of Philadelphia, for her generous donation of artists’ books, and for sharing what makes her come alive with us. 

Do That: Artists' Books Donated by Karen Lightner is on view in the Print and Picture Collection Hallway Gallery on the 2nd Floor of Parkway Central Library.


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Free Library of Philadelphia
1901 Vine Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103
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The Water Works behind the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Photo by Erin DiSerafino.