There’s a new face at the Bethlehem Area Public Library. She’s gazing out over the stacks, opposite the circulation desk. Her name is H.D., and BAPL is thrilled to finally hang her portrait for everyone in our community to enjoy.
The portrait will hang permanently in the Main Library at West Church Street, commemorating H.D. as a citizen of Bethlehem who made a tremendous contribution to literature and the world—and who, as a child, lived on land where the library now stands.
Bethlehem native Hilda Doolittle (1886-1961), known as H.D., drew on the experiences of her hometown throughout her long writing life. H.D.’s innovative and experimental poetry and prose established her as a leading Modernist in the early twentieth century, and she is widely recognized today as a queer, feminist visionary. She remains the most influential literary figure born in the Lehigh Valley, and in 2017, in partnership with Lehigh University and the American Library Association, BAPL was recognized as a Literary Landmark in honor of H.D.’s childhood home.
The portrait commission was undertaken in conjunction with Finding H.D., a 12-month long public exploration of the life and work of the poet, which culminated in the premiere of a new play by Mock Turtle Marionette Theater in October of 2019 at Touchstone Theatre’s Festival Unbound. Finding H.D. was a partnership between the Lehigh University English Department, Mock Turtle Marionette Theater, the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center, and BAPL.
“I can’t imagine a more effective, worthy and inspiring portrait,” said Doug Roysdon of Mock Turtle Marionette Theater. “Beyond all our efforts to celebrate H.D., this portrait will assume the true point of reference for all future explorations of H.D.’s work.”
The portrait was painted by Angela Fraleigh, professor and chair of the Moravian College art department. “Not only is H.D.’s poetry evocative and mesmerizing,” says Fraleigh, “but her work aligns with my own interests, as she helps reconstruct a mythic past for women. It’s an honor to receive this commission.” BAPL announced an open call for portrait submissions in the spring of 2019, and the commission was awarded by a committee of Finding H.D. stakeholders, artists, and community members.
“The idea for a portrait of H.D. came from renowned local portrait artist Ben Fortunado Marcune, who approached us with a proposal in 2017,” says BAPL Executive Director Josh Berk. “Unfortunately, Ben passed away before work could begin on the painting. We were so saddened by this loss, but decided to move ahead with the portrait of Bethlehem’s greatest literary light.”
The next time you’re at the library, stop in and say hello—and discover H.D. through her poems and essays, which are available in the library’s collection.