Behind the Uniform: Joanna Gabler

Joanna Gabler, night librarian at Sawyer-Stetson, is also an artist responsible for works on display currently at the Library. Photo courtesy of Carol Wu.
Joanna Gabler, night librarian at Sawyer-Stetson, is also an artist responsible for works on display currently at the Library. Photo courtesy of Carol Wu.

Joanna Gabler, also known as “The Night Queen of the Library,” is often the only staff member closing Sawyer-Stetson Library at 2:30 a.m. An artist by day, librarian by night, Gabler recently opened exhibitions of two photography series on display in the library, which bridge her two identities of artist and librarian.

Some upperclassmen might remember the wall-sized projections outside the east exit of old Sawyer during the spring — those were pictures from Gabler’s photography series, arranged around the theme of “Goodbye Old Sawyer.” Furthermore, Gabler has been exhibiting her new series, “Goodbye Old Sawyer, Welcome New Sawyer,” along the brick walls in the new library. Some photos are simply shots of the Old Sawyer and of the construction site during the summer, but some are more abstract, with a passionate frenzy of colors. Gabler noted that she created many of the abstract pieces by manipulating the simpler shots bedside them with Photoshop.

“Transcape,” or rather, “landscape transfigured,” as Gabler explained, is a theme behind many of her pieces. Transcape is the digital transformation of photos of landscape and nature. “Each piece is alive on its own,” Gabler explained, “When I look at my pieces, each tells me its own story.”

Gabler also paints using a variety of materials, including watercolor and pastels. For certain selected pieces, she worked with predetermined topics or themes; all of the others involve meditation. For those pieces, Gabler frees her mind and lets “whatever comes manifest itself on the canvas.” It is the process that matters most to her, which makes sense, considering her guiding belief that life is about making journeys.

However, there is a similarity amongst many of Gabler’s pieces: their vibrant colors. Gabler first became interested in color theory as well as the application and combination of colors when she took courses at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, N.Y. To her, the manifestations on the canvases are not only for the aesthetic aspect of the piece but are, more importantly, stemmed from extemporaneous callings from her “layers of colors inside.”

January 2015 will mark Gabler’s 10th year working at the College, but she has not always lived here. Born in Poland, Gabler is a philosopher by training and taught as a university philosophy and sociology professor. Gabler moved to New York City with her six-year-old son in 1989, working as a research librarian in the World Financial Center. She also worked for Nomura Securities International, the biggest Japanese investment company on Wall Street. Thus she calls her position at Williams her “third job incarnation,” because her three professional lives are so different from one another and span across so many work fields.

Gabler happened to have taken a day off when the Twin Towers were destroyed on 9/11. When she heard the news, she rushed to the window of her apartment and was dumbfounded that she couldn’t see the Towers through the smoke drifting across the bay. After the tragedy, Gabler decided to move to a quiet, peaceful town so she could focus on her career as an artist. She arrived in Williamstown in the summer of 2002 and has been here ever since.

Gabler’s favorite aspect of working at Sawyer is watching the students grow. “I see people change. They come here young… and four years later they leave ready to take on the world. I grow close with some students, and even after years, they still come talk to me whenever they come back.” Having watched over the countless academic overachievers at the College, Gabler advises us to “live where you are at the moment.” She believes that “life is about the journey – not about the arrival.”

To help students relieve stress, Gabler expressed she would be happy to facilitate an art and meditations workshop. She has experience in both teaching formally as a professor and informally as a librarian, and as an artist, she wants to help students “open their amazing layers of colors, which everybody has inside.” Gabler’s position at the library is no longer just a job to her – it is a means to help the students explore both academically and internally as they trek through these four years at one of the most academically rigorous schools in the country. As the Night Queen of the Library confirms, “my work at Williams is my service for the community.”