A visitor walks into Moravian University’s Payne Gallery on a Saturday afternoon in October to find installation artist Neill Catangay drilling into chartreuse-painted wood, building the framework for what appears will be a room or a tiny house. From the second tier of the gallery, artist Ashley Garner drapes symmetrical quilts—two wings sewn from shimmering, iridescent fabric in colors that shift from greens to blues to violets when viewed through changing light and perspectives. They nearly touch the floor. Against the wall along the perimeter of the main floor lean paintings and prints waiting to be hung.
It’s all part of the installation of the exhibit Reflected Existence, cocurated by Matthew Pring ’17 and Emily Strong ’15. The show ran from October 27 through December 18, 2022, and showcased the work of eight artists: Catangay, Garner, Ira Upin, Kate McCammon, Richard Hricko, Madeline Rile Smith, Lauren Packard, and Heather Drayzen.
You could say that Angela Fraleigh, professor of art at Moravian University, brought Pring and Strong together. Both chose to come to Moravian to study under her. “Her artwork is amazing,” says Pring. “I wanted to learn from someone with her talent.” Strong, who majored in art and psychology and minored in sociology, liked that Moravian supports double majors, but discovering Fraleigh on the art faculty list sealed her commitment. “I was looking at who was teaching at different schools,” says Strong, “and Angela Fraleigh’s work was absolutely in line with what I wanted to learn.”
Strong and Pring became well acquainted through their courses, art club, and class trips to museums and galleries in New York, Boston, and Washington, DC. “We always enjoyed talking about art and viewing art together during our time at Moravian,” says Strong. So when Strong graduated two years ahead of Pring, the friendship continued. They had studios across from each other at the Cigar Factory Artist Studios in Allentown, and they would gather friends and take trips to museums and galleries.
Then COVID hit.
“I had gone from being in constant contact with the arts community via my own art making, working with galleries, modeling for artists, etc. to being completely isolated due to concerns about my husband being high-risk,” says Strong. “I was feeling deeply disconnected from my usual network.” Pring was in his first year at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA) pursuing a master’s degree in fine arts when lockdown severed him from his community.
Adversity breeds creativity.
“I thought to myself, ‘We don’t have to endure this loss of community,’ ” says Pring, “so I contacted Emily about creating an online art gallery.”
Pring had been interested in opening a brick-and mortar gallery, and Strong had hands-on experience with all aspects of running a gallery. Through the support of Dave Leidich, director of the Payne Gallery, she’d had the opportunity to curate a few exhibitions while working there as a Moravian student. That led to her curating at the Alternative Gallery in Allentown immediately after graduation. “When Matt contacted me about starting an online space, I was completely on board,” says Strong.
Webster’s dictionary defines manifold as “a whole that unites or consists of many diverse elements” and “a pipe fitting with several lateral outlets for connecting one pipe with others.” Manifold Global, the virtual gallery that Pring and Strong conceived and launched in 2020, is a pipeline that reaches around the world and delivers artists and their art to an online space and community.
The exposure can be invaluable to an artist. “Prior to 2020, I wasn’t showing my work much,” says Heather Drayzen, a painter from Brooklyn, New York. “After exhibiting online with Manifold and other online galleries, I saw an increased interest in my work, which helped me build my CV and led to in-person exhibitions, including Reflected Existence at Moravian.”
Strong and Pring chose an online platform that uses three-dimensional design to create a virtual experience of walking through a gallery and stopping to look at the art. Individual works can be viewed from multiple angles and close enough that you can see the brush strokes on paintings. “We have a very good platform for creating the 3D virtual space,” says Pring. “If we wanted to replicate Payne Gallery on our site, we could.”
Manifold Global is unique among online galleries in that it also hosts events—openings and artist talks— that bring people together. Recordings are saved in the site’s archives. The community that these talks build is as important to the artists as the exhibition of their work.
“Emily and Matt are extremely warm and wonderful human beings. Exhibiting with them in the depths of the pandemic gave me the opportunity to build community in a time when everything else was shutting down,” says Drayzen. “The artist talk in particular helped build my confidence in sharing my work with others and speaking about my influences, concepts, and process.”
As of this writing, Strong and Pring have curated 14 exhibitions on their site and arranged more than 20 artist talks. Their work goes uncompensated. “It’s a big commitment of time,” says Strong, “but it’s been wonderful to meet all these artists and learn about art from all over the world.”
A recent Manifold Global online exhibition, Red, included a piece by Philadelphia-based multimedia artist Brian Dennis. His work Stepping Into is a 30-by-30-inch manipulated photograph on metal. “Manifold Global provides great worldwide exposure,” says Dennis. Like Drayzen, he is grateful for the community that the site engenders. “They kept this vibrant thing happening during the lockdown, and through the talks, we meet other artists. It’s wonderful to hear what artists are doing.”
Strong and Pring have also curated exhibits that tie into the Lehigh Valley community. The Lehigh Valley Annual Collegiate Art Exhibition showcases the work of juniors and seniors at the colleges and universities in the area. Pring refers to the mission statement posted on their website: “Manifold Global is an online gallery by artists for artists worldwide.”
It also fosters accessibility and inclusivity by taking art to remote places far from museums and galleries. Looking to the future, Pring and Strong plan to provide a critique service to artists, and they will continue to enhance the Manifold Global platform as technology advances.
“As an emerging artist, you may feel like you aren’t getting any opportunities, people don’t know you,” says Fraleigh. “It’s been my experience that success comes not only from offers from but from offers to.” And to do that, an artist needs to shift the dynamic— instead of thinking about what you need and aren’t getting, think about what you can give, and see how that shifts your experience. “Emily and Matthew did this in spades. Manifold Global has opened pathways of connection for their work and themselves, and they have created a platform for artists from all over the globe to share their work.”
Payne Gallery director Dave Leidich invited Manifold Global’s first physical exhibit, Reflected Existence. “I approached Emily and Matt after following all the good work they were doing with their virtual gallery. Emily had curated a few shows at Payne, and Matt had just finished up his MFA at PAFA, so I had great faith in them individually and as a team.”
In developing the exhibit, Pring and Strong thought carefully about what would most benefit Moravian’s students: a variety of media and artists from Philadelphia and New York who would be accessible. Pring and Strong turned to their Manifold Global group and invited artists working in printmaking, installation art, painting, glassblowing, and collage making. “All of them are creating work that talks about their personal history or makes commentary on contemporary culture,” says Strong. Their work represented the exhibit’s theme.
Opening night brought students, staff, faculty, and visitors from the Lehigh Valley and Philadelphia to the show. Drinks and hors d’oeuvres in hand, people meandered around the main exhibit space, climbed the stairs to the upper level, and stepped down into the permanent gallery, stopping to contemplate a piece or talk with the artists about their work.
As Leidich intended, the exhibition fed art students’ perspectives on their own work. “Some of the pieces by Ash Garner reflected conflicting feelings about topics such as childhood and sense of self, which are subjects that I like to explore in my own art,” says sophomore Jeanna DiAngelis. “I take a lot of inspiration from pieces like these, where you can feel the tug-of-war the artist experiences within themselves.
“I feel influenced to express my thoughts and feelings through art as authentically as I can to try to convey a raw and powerful message,” adds DiAngelis. “I feel encouraged to go outside of my comfort zone to try different mediums and techniques to create openly and without self-judgment.”
Audrey Thompson ’24 had a similar experience. “I liked how each individual artist’s work was a representation of their view of the world. I enjoyed learning about the artists and their histories relating to the exhibited artwork,” she says. “Since that exhibition, I have started viewing my art in a way that describes how I felt while making it and how I want others to feel while looking at it.”
“The show was a great success,” concludes Leidich, “and it brought two workshops to our students: one in glassblowing and a second incorporating soft sculpting techniques and performance art.”
Reflected Existence was another pipeline originating from Manifold Global. It connected artists with other artists, with Moravian students, with the many visitors to Payne Gallery. It brought people together not simply to view art but to become absorbed in the human endeavor to create and the expression of ideas and feelings. Affected by those ideas, viewers find more meaning in their own lives.
Together Pring and Strong have created something much larger than themselves and far-reaching, an experience that touches artists, the public—all of humanity, really—around the globe.