Pepperell’s Lawrence Library Gallery glows with natural light, as designers intended

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By Anne O’Connor

aoconnor@nashobavalleyvoice.com

PEPPERELL — Art looks different in natural light.

When Lawrence Library was completed in 1901, it was outfitted with the most modern conveniences, including gas lights. But during the day, skylights allowed daylight into the three public rooms.

Over the years, the library modernized. Electric lights replaced the old gas fixtures. The translucent skylights were covered. The reading room made way for stacks of shelved books and a large addition gave the library more space.

Most recently, the periodicals room was refurbished to create a lyceum where job-hunters and computer-users could plug in.

The library was still in need of some tender, loving care. After all, it had been serving the town for well over 100 years.

In the winter of 2014-2015, disaster struck. Ice dams on the many-leveled roof caused water leaks. Plaster molding was destroyed. Walls needed repainting.

The disaster was a blessing in disguise. Insurance pulled through with $163,000 to repair the damage. Austin Ornamental of Dedham came in and painstakingly redid the damaged plaster.

While the work was underway, the materials blocking the skylight in the art gallery were removed. They never went back. The Friends of the Lawrence Library stepped up, donating translucent shades for the ceiling.

Now, on a sunny day, the room glows with the natural light, just as it would have in 1901.

Photographer Steve St. Lawrence is showing his work in the gallery, the second time he has hung a show in the room. His first show was before its restoration.

He is thrilled with the change. “I’m a natural light photographer,” he said.

As the day progresses, the light in the room changes, traveling along the curved wall. For viewers, the photographs change with the sun.

“It’s about the quality of light,” St. Lawrence said. “When you see a picture in different lights, things pop out.”

The photographer is always ready to share a story about his work. He tells of waiting for hours to take a photo of a butterfly or taking the time to relax a reluctant sitter.

As much as he enjoys telling the story behind each photo, he likes to hear why a certain image affected a viewer. Every week, on Friday, he sends one photograph, with its story, to everyone on an email list.

“Then, somebody will share what they like,” he said.

Light comes into play in his work, but not just the light from the sun.

“When they shine from the inside and you can photograph that,” he said, “you can see them feel good about themselves at the end.”

The librarian feels good about the changes to the art gallery. It is doubly energy-efficient, said Library Director Deb Spratt. During daylight hours, natural light illuminates the room. New track-lights turn on at 4 p.m. When the LED lights are on, they use less energy than did the older lights.

The room is also home to a performance series. The Pepperell Community Media purchased a new backdrop curtain and spotlight for the library.

St. Lawrence comes down to play guitar and harmonica at the open-mic nights.

“Deb does so much culturally,” he said. “This is just such a wealth of culture.”

St. Lawrence’s photographs will hang in the library art gallery until Nov. 21. To receive a weekly photo from him, email stevestl@comcast.net.

Follow Anne O’Connor on Twitter and Tout @a1oconnor.