Emerson Gallery

History of Exhibitions


Uncovering the Path to Freedom: Photographs of the Underground Railroad by William Earle Williams '73

January 14 - April 13, 2008

Interior, Main Building of the Oneida Institute
Whitesboro, NY,

For more than 20 years, William E. Williams has been photographing Underground Railroad sites across the United States. During a residency at Light Work in Syracuse, NY, Williams, an alumnus of Hamilton College, became especially interested in the rich history of the Underground Railroad in Central New York. Uncovering the Path to Freedom features 30 black-and-white photographs by Williams that have been selected especially for exhibition at the Emerson Gallery. The photographs offer a new look at the history of the Underground Railroad and its impact on Central New York and Hamilton College.

At once beautiful and compelling, these photographs contain multiple layers of meaning that begin reveal a fascinating and complex history that is often hidden within the mundane. Three Hamilton students, Katerina Adair '10, Ilana Carlin '09, and Sophia Franck '08 worked with Williams, Deborah Pokinski, associate professor of art, and Susanna White, associate director and curator, to provide historic context for the photographs. Together, the photographs and interpretive materials present a new way of understanding American history, collective memory, preservation and loss.

A highlight of the exhibition includes a group of letters, photographs and sculpture that tell the story of the abolitionist movement at Hamilton College and the surrounding region.

William E. Williams received his B.A. in History from Hamilton College in 1973 and his M.F.A. in Fine Arts from Yale University in 1978. He has been the recipient of several prestigious fellowships including a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2003-4. His photographs are in the permanent collections of major museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY; The Baltimore Art Museum, MD; and the Minneapolis Arts Institute, MN. Williams is a Professor of Fine Arts at Haverford College in Haverford, PA.

This exhibition has been made possible in-part with funds from The Dietrich Foundation and the John B. Root '44 Exhibition Fund.