'Light and Dark' | Artworks from museum's permanent collection on display in Loretto

LORETTO, Pa. – This collection of artistic work explores the nuances between brightness and obscurity and the contrast of light and darkness.

The “Light and Dark” exhibition is on display through Dec. 15 at Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art at Loretto, St. Francis University campus, 112 Franciscan Way, Loretto.

The multi-gallery showcase delves into the profound interplay among light, its absence and artistic expression with works from SAMA’s permanent collection.

The 60-piece show celebrates the contrast in the cultural moment and finding unity within intensity. It is an exploration through which many mediums, artists and subjects are being showcased.

“We’re taking it from the fact that light and dark are some of the key components of making an artistic composition,” said Beverlie Hartnett, SAMA’s registrar. “Those elements can set the mood of a work and can be used by the artist to guide the viewer’s intention, whether it be a painting, photograph or print.

“Those are the primal building blocks that then form color composition, so we’re trying to show works of art from our collection that play on that contrast.”

Through an array of mediums, including paintings, drawings, photographs, etchings, lithographs and three-dimensional artworks, the exhibition is a rich exploration of that fundamental dichotomy.

From ethereal landscapes bathed in golden sunlight to hauntingly beautiful compositions shrouded in darkness, each artwork invites viewers to contemplate the interplay between these elemental forces and their significance in the artistic process.

“It’s a variety of landscapes with everything from really big vistas to close-up work,” Hartnett said. “For example, in the Colleen Browning work “Congregation,” it’s a very colorful image of a stand of prickly pear, but the contrast of light and dark is how it almost looks like the prickly pear is at night or evening, and you have a spotlight on it showing off the color, form and texture of the prickly pear cactus. It’s a dramatic contrast.”

She said another piece in the exhibition is “Wrecked Car” by John Hultberg.

“You don’t see a lot of detail of the car,” Hartnett said. “You see like you’re inside the car, and it’s a silhouette of the car as you’re looking through the windows. You can see if it’s a recent accident, or if this was just an old junker that was left somewhere that someone decided to crawl into and sketch a picture. It has a very different mood from a piece like ‘Congregation.’ ”

She said that in the art world, the term “chiaroscuro” is used to demonstrate the strong contrast between light and dark.

“A good way to think of it is to picture seeing an actor on a darkened stage, and all of sudden a single spotlight shines on them where you can see their face,” Hartnett said.

She said the show offers a large sample to viewers of all the different ways of conveying a variety of moods through dark and light.

“We’ve got industrial scene compositions, where it’s the dark of the interior but there’s this bright molten steel. It’s a manmade environment, but it reminds you of volcanoes with just how dramatic that is inside a factory,” Hartnett said. “There’s also bright outdoor landscapes such as ‘Blue Moment, Sierras,’ where the sky just glows in the background.”

She said when choosing the work for the show, she picked pieces in which artists were experimenting with light, shadow and reflections.

“The smaller photographs and prints are featured together because you need to get up close to those and you need a smaller, intimate space,” Hartnett said. “We have larger works displayed more prominently so viewers can take them in and follow the flow of the exhibition.”

She said what’s fascinating about the show is by pairing light and dark concepts, it opens it up to different works in SAMA’s collection, ranging from abstract to representational.

“It introduces to the viewer that there’s all different kinds of ways of tackling that contrast,” Hartnett said.

Gallery hours are noon to 4:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays.

There is no admission fee.

For more information, visit www.sama-art.org.