Classic Dickens novel ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ inspires group exhibition at Spirit Room

Kary Janousek’s “Night and Daughter Sleep,” ambrotype, displays at the Spirit Room through April 29 as part of the gallery’s “Tale of Two Cities” group exhibition. Contributed/The Spirit Room

The Spirit Room is celebrating the timeless work of Charles Dickens’ classic, “A Tale of Two Cities,” in a noncompetitive exhibit that runs in the gallery through April 29. 

Spirit Room Gallery Manager and Administrative Assistant Hollie DeFrancisco said they chose the classic 19th century tale of revolution, violence and struggle not only for the endless ways artists could go about interpreting themes and tropes in their work, but also to celebrate the book’s newly designated public domain status.

“A complex novel, it explores themes of resurrection, the necessity of sacrifice … class inequities, and our artists were invited to interpret the novel and its themes in whichever means they found most appropriate,” DeFrancisco said. “And we thought it was cool that the novel made it into the public domain.”

Public domain books are those that no longer qualify as copyrighted or protected under intellectual property rights, or they were never copyrighted or were written before copyright laws were enacted. Books that qualify under the rules are typically works of historical significance by authors who died at least 70 years ago. Jane Austen, Lewis Carroll and Edgar Allan Poe are examples of authors with works in the public domain because they died over 100 years ago.

Carol Albright’s “A Tale of Two Breasts, one with a ‘mild architectural change,’ stoneware, is part of The Spirit Room’s current exhibition, a celebration of Charles Dickens’ classic “A Tale of Two Cities,” which recently was released in the public domain. Contributed/The Spirit Room

Birgit Pruess’s Tale of Two Cities piece represents iconic settings in two of her hometowns: the Red River (left) and Chicago’s Hancock building (right). Contributed photo/Birgit Pruess

The Spirit Room show displays works by a wide range of photographers, painters, fiber artists and sculptors. 

One walk through the gallery, and viewers will get a real sense of the depth and breadth of artistic interpretations of Dickens’ novel—or simply the idea of juxtaposing two seemingly disparate places, people, objects or ideas.

For example, artist and NDSU professor Birgit Pruess took a less literal approach to her interpretation of Dickens’ novel since the gallery said the theme was open to interpretation. So, she created a macrame piece representing two of her homes: Chicago and Fargo. 

“My piece is the tale of my two cities. The black image represents the Hancock Tower in Chicago and the owl represents the Red River,” Pruess said.

MSUM English Professor Emeritus Thom Tammaro’s photo, “EastBerlinWestBerlin,” is part of the exhibit. Contributed/The Arts Partnership

MSUM English Professor Emeritus, poet and photographer Thom Tammaro said he was drawn to submit “EastBerlinWestBerlin,” a photo of the Berlin wall he took in 2005.

“East Berlin and West Berlin were once two cities with many tales to be told. This image in particular, with its crumbling concrete, Einsteinian echoes, and twisted barbed wire stretched across a gray-blue sky spoke to me of revolution, resistance, resilience, and the urge to be free,” Tammaro said.

“We like to get people excited to be reading but also get engaged in ways we can translate that into other genres,” DeFrancisco said. “So we got really fortunate that Kristen took them in researching and conducting workshops around the book.”

Gabriel Evenson’s “Girl With Artillery Shell,” acrylic on tin. Contributed/The Spirit Room

DeFrancisco hoped to include a book club reading of “A Tale of Two Cities,” but the timing just wasn’t right. However, she said the works on display are so diverse in their interpretations of what two cities mean, having read the book is not a prerequisite by any means.

“I didn’t want it to be so static that you have to be a part of the book and just have a general understanding that this book is a classic, it’s complex and there’s a whole lot of story inside. And if you take a moment, anybody can find something in their own personal journey,” DeFranscisco said. 

“A Tale of Two Cities” runs through April 29 at the Spirit Room. More information can be found on the gallery’s website at

More about public domain books

If you’re interested in what’s considered public domain literature, visit the Good Reads’ public domain shelf.

About the author

Lonna Whiting is a freelance writer and owner of, a content marketing and communications agency located in Fargo, North Dakota. She is a frequent contributor to The Arts Partnership’s content library and also provides strategic communications consultation to the organization.




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