Art Re-imagined

Art reflects rural community at New Lebanon library

Commisioned artists include Amy Kollar Anderson, James Michael Kahle, Shon Walters

When librarian Carole Macmann was asked to describe her community she talked about a rural, family-oriented village that was both traditional and forward-thinking.

“New Lebanon is very small with less than 5,000 people, but it’s a great place to live and its people are very supportive of one another,” Macmann told the architects and steering committee involved with planning the Dayton Metro Library’s new buildings and renovations. Patrons from New Lebanon were invited to attend community forums and asked for their input as well.

Thanks to a $1 million grant from an anonymous donor, branch librarians like Macmann also have been intimately involved with “Artwork Re-Imagined,” the project bringing original commissioned artwork to each of the libraries. Macmann, who has been a librarian for more than 30 years and the New Lebanon branch manager for the past nine years, is also a resident of the town.

The new library, which sits next door to its predecessor, hosted a soft opening on July 23. The Grand Opening will occur in October after the old library has been torn down and more parking added. The building features new spaces for community gatherings; new technology including mobile audio/video equipment and in-house laptop lending; a quiet reading room; an outdoor patio; children’s and teen areas and an Opportunity Space that can be used as a training room, gallery, maker space and more.

“We have more computers and more places for our patrons to hook up their personal devices and work on them comfortably,” Macmann said “It’s really exciting because we are able to offer so many more services.”

How it evolved

The art project is a collaboration between the library system and the Dayton Art Institute. The idea is to use pieces from the museum’s permanent collection to inspire the artists to create new work. Serving as “Reimagining Works” project manager is former museum staff member Susan Anable.

“I attend the community meetings that the architects have for each branch and try to get a sense of what the community might best respond to in terms of the art inspiration pieces,” Anable explained. “Then I choose 6-8 works and review with the art committee, who then hone the list down to 5 for the community to vote on.”

Selected for New Lebanon was a Japanese Footed Dish with foliage design that dates back to 1573-1615 and a painting titled “Homage to the Square: Sentinel” by Josef Albers.

“Because of their knowledge of their local communities, each branch manager participated in the selection of both the inspiration pieces and the art commissions for their new facility,” said Jayne Klose, community engagement manager for the library system.

The Albers piece is a large square in various orange hues. Macmann says it was chosen because it is reminiscent of a quilt square. “We have a quilting group that has been meeting at our branch for around 10 years,” Macmann said. “Traditional quilting is basically shapes where squares are pieced together.”

Once the Dayton Art Institute pieces were selected, it was time for the artists to come up with proposals and to make art.

Enjoying the results

Take a drive out to New Lebanon, and you’ll see how the creative process has all come together. The wall over the library entrance entrance is graced by a beautiful grouping of giant sculpted wood flowers by Shon Walters of Dayton. His piece, titled “The Flowers’ Ultimate Devouring of the Sun,” is a sculpture of 13 flowers. Walters says he transformed the simple grasses seen in the Footed Dish into elaborate blooms.

“For me, the Footed Dish represents the library filled with knowledge,” Walters explains. “The grasses are the patrons who are nourished and inspired by that knowledge. The grasses flourish and expand as the flowers rejoice and bloom as they reach a level of enlightenment.”

Amy Kollar Anderson of Kettering has helped set the stage for readers who want to spend some peaceful time in the library’s new Quiet Reading Room. She has created “Manabu Haiku” with acrylic paint and crackle paste on wood panels. Anderson says she focused on the spare, elegant composition of the Footed Dish and incorporated concepts from the Japanese form of haiku poetry, as well as referencing the subtle bands of color found in the Albers piece.

“Inspired by the composition in the Footed Dish and to reference haiku, I chose the five panels, then created seven branch clusters and finally five blades of grass,” Anderson explains.

The colorful glass composition designed by James Michael Kahle of Dayton is located in the children’s room and is meant to be touched. Working with a team of local glass blowers — Kirstie Chakeres, Aubrey Hackett, Steve Lamb, Abiona Pleasant, Josh Merritt and Matt Walland — Kahle created “Oblio’s Tones.” The final assembly of glass roundels that form an abstract design was completed by Kahle and stained glass artist Judy Bebee.

“Drawing inspiration from the Albers work, my team utilized a combination of hues, colors and opacities unique to the medium of glass to create an interplay of form and color,” Kahle says.

In the transportation-themed children’s room, kids can climb into a little vehicle attached to road-signs that indicate some of the places books can take them. In addition to Dayton, there are sign posts to spots like “The Chocolate Factory” and “Neverland” and “Hogsmeade.” A clever idea!

Blown away!

Macmann was obviously delighted to be included in the artistic process and then watch the artists install each of the pieces. She said the finished artwork “blew her away” and that her patrons feel the same.

“It really personalizes our new building,” Macmann said. “The art pieces are the colors of nature, natural woods. They reflect tradition and seem so organic. When you look at the children’s glass window, for example, at the moment it’s framed on both sides by real corn fields. Imagine how beautiful it will be in the winter, fall and spring.”

Hint: If you head for New Lebanon, take time to stop at the roadside stands along the way for yummy fresh homegrown corn, tomatoes and more. Two we spotted on US Route 35 are Bayer’s and Garber’s.