Explore curated items inspired by some of the physical exhibitions presented by the Free Library as well as a number of web-only presentations based on our digital collections.

We Are What We Eat

April 1, 2024 to August 30, 2024
William B. Dietrich Gallery (Third Floor), Parkway Central Library
Food is more than just fuel to sustain our bodies; it's an important part of our cultural and social identity. We Are What We Eat examines culinary heritage through historical recipes and cooking techniques passed down through generations. With specially curated items from the Free Library's Rare Book Department, Print and Picture Collection, Map Collection, Children's Literature Research Collection, and Sheet Music Collection, these appetizing artifacts intertwine to tell the many stories of food's role in our lives.

Past Exhibitions

The Art and Influence of John Dowell

October 2, 2023 to March 1, 2024
William B. Dietrich Gallery (3rd Floor) and Special Collections Gallery (2nd Floor), Parkway Central Library
John Dowell (born 1941) is a Philadelphia based, nationally recognized artist, master printer and photographer. Dowell generously organized donations of his work and the work of other artists to the Free Library of Philadelphia's Print and Picture Collection. The prints and photographs in The Art and Influence of John Dowell spotlight Dowell's life as an artist and his 46-year teaching career.

Mapping Imagination: The Art of World-Building

March 6, 2023 to August 31, 2023
William B. Dietrich Gallery, Parkway Central Library
Mapping Imagination: The Art of World-Building, is a collaboration between the Map collection and Children's Literature Research Collection that explores the creative and artistic choices that mapmakers use to build worlds and enhance storytelling. Traditional maps of real places dating from the 17th century to present, are displayed beside imaginary maps from various genres — fantasy, science fiction, graphic novels, and more — to highlight the role artistic and creative decisions play in building and characterizing real and fantastical worlds. Mapping Imagination features tactile maps and an audio narration to supplement your exhibition experience.

Chronicling Resistance

September 22, 2022 to December 31, 2022
Throughout Parkway Central Library with satellite exhibition at South Philadelphia Library
The roots of activism in Philadelphia run deep, and local archives hold innumerable stories of resistance. But many of these stories—those that center historically marginalized peoples—have been diminished, erased, neglected, and buried. Chronicling Resistance: The Exhibition reveals what eight local activists, cultural organizers, and artists unearthed when they dug deeply into the same Philadelphia archives that have historically excluded their voices and perspectives. Through archival items, rare books, oral histories, and original artwork, Chronicling Resistance counters the systemic erasure of Black, Brown, and LGBTQ+ people from the historical record, breaks silences, and uncovers new ways of understanding and enacting resistance.

For the Greatest Number: The New Deal Revisited

September 2021 to February 2022
William B. Dietrich Gallery, Parkway Central Library
It's been ninety years since the crisis of the Great Depression inspired the New Deal's government investment and aid. This exhibition highlighted the Free Library's collections of art and objects from the 1930s that show how workers shaped the country. But it's not just history. The country is again facing a choice: What do we owe our neighbors? What does our country owe us?

In the Path of Islam: An Exhibition and Experience

June 22, 2021 to August 31, 2022
William B. Dietrich Gallery, Parkway Central Library
In the Path of Islam was a community-driven project amplifying the diverse voices of Philadelphia's indigenous Muslim community, born and raised in the city, while engaging all Philadelphians who connect with Islam. The project was inspired by the books and paintings made in Muslim lands that are housed at the Free Library of Philadelphia. The project featured eight major components: a virtual Arabic language conversation series, a community-curated exhibition at the central library, a community-curated traveling art display, a lecture series given by community leaders, an oral history project, a community-wide culinary program, a collaborative art program, and two hands-on traveling trunks.

Making Her Mark: Philadelphia Women Fight for the Vote

November 2020 to October 2021
West Gallery, Parkway Central Library
In 2020, the United States observed the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which granted the right to vote to some women, while excluding so many others. Making Her Mark: Philadelphia Women Fight for the Vote focused on the timeline of the fight for the vote, how the 19th Amendment came about, how Philadelphia women made vital contributions to that fight, and how efforts to expand voting rights continue today. Making Her Mark was intended to inspire conversations and action around the rights of citizenship, activism, and voting.

Medieval Life: European Manuscripts in Philadelphia Collections

Fall 2020 to Spring 2021
William B. Dietrich Gallery, Parkway Central Library
Explore daily life in medieval Europe through manuscripts from the collections of the Free Library of Philadelphia and 14 other nearby institutions. Varied books and objects from the 12th through 16th centuries illuminate how people practiced religion, interacted with their governments, worked, built families, and experienced the natural environment. This exhibition considers how medieval Europeans thought about their lives and the world around them, and how their concerns relate to our own in the 21st-century.

Our Five Senses

May 13, 2019 to February 1, 2020
William B. Dietrich Gallery, Parkway Central Library
Our Five Senses connects the science of the senses with the mind and the literary experience. Visitors of all ages will learn about their identity, perceptions, and brain development by following five anthropomorphic characters (Touch, Taste, Sight, Hearing, and Smell) across multiple sensory stations. These hands-on sensory stations create intergenerational conversations around literacy, science, and fun!

Philadelphia: The Changing City

October 10, 2018 to April 13, 2019
William B. Dietrich Gallery, Parkway Central Library
From river to skyline and stoop to stoop, Philadelphia has been re-formed and re-shaped throughout its history. Its transformation from bustling port to workshop of the world to World Heritage City and hub for education, medicine, and entrepreneurship has had a profound impact on both its built and natural environments and the lives of those who call it home. Images of the city drawn from 300 years of prints, photographs, documents, and maps in the Special Collections and Research Departments of the Parkway Central Library reveal the planned and unplanned changes that have affected Philadelphia's landscape, its buildings, and its inhabitants.

In Our Nature: Flora and Fauna of the Americas

April 9, 2018 to September 15, 2018
William B. Dietrich Gallery, Parkway Central Library
The ecology of the Western Hemisphere has been shaped by human intervention. Landscapes and wildlife have been helped, hindered, moved, lost, displaced, and replaced, including a native American cactus that nearly conquered Australia, the fantastic "sea unicorn" that became the narwhal, and the gone-but-not-forgotten Carolina parakeet. Six centuries of illustrations of the natural world, from Greenland to Tierra del Fuego, will demonstrate human attempts to profit from, understand, metaphorically transform, and celebrate both native and introduced species.

Corridor of Culture: 100 Years of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway

September 2017 to November 2018
West Gallery (First Floor), Parkway Central Library
Between September 2017 and November 2018, all of Philadelphia celebrated the centennial of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Since 1917, this grand avenue has connected Philadelphia's City Hall with the entrance to Fairmount Park, linking the heart of our city to the natural wonders of Pennsylvania. The Free Library of Philadelphia honored our home on this historic boulevard along with our past and current neighbors by featuring photographs, artwork, and memories of the creation and use of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway over the past century. In this exhibition, we explore moments from the history of the Parkway, touching on examples of the art, faith, science, and community that reside together on Philadelphia's grand corridor of culture.

Kollner's View: Philadelphia and Beyond in the 19th Century

August 1, 2015 to September 6, 2015
Print and Picture Collection Hallway Gallery, Parkway Central Library
Augustus Kollner (1813-1906), a German-born artist, settled in Philadelphia in 1840 and spent the next 50 years producing lithographs and watercolors as he traveled throughout the region, making sketches of the scenery. This exhibition presents watercolors of Philadelphia locations, from the Fairmount Waterworks to Germantown, as well as scenes from his travels outside Pennsylvania. Also included are prints and watercolors representative of Kollner's career as a working artist in the 1800s, including his work with the American Sunday School Union and U.S. Military Magazine.

Web Only Exhibitions

WPA Posters from the Pennsylvania Federal Art Project

Posters created between 1936 and 1943 by artists working for the Pennsylvania Federal Art Project under the Works Progress Administration (WPA, later renamed Work Projects Administration). View serigraphs, woodcuts, and lithographs about Philadelphia and Pennsylvania tourism, zoos, books, jaywalking, industrial safety, and more. Artists represented include Katherine Milhous, Robert Muchley, Allan Nase, Isadore Possoff, Nathan Sherman, and Louise Welsh.

Movie Lobby Cards from the 1930s-1960s

Foyer Entertainment: Movie Lobby Cards from the 1930s-1960s offers a rare glimpse of this forgotten Hollywood art form.

Snow Your History: Philadelphia Winters

The winter of 2013-2014 is the third snowiest winter in Philadelphia history. Here are some fun images of Philadelphia's snowfalls of the past from our digital collections and from the City's Department of Records.

Drawn into Politics

Selected Political Cartoons from the Print and Picture Collection.