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Start with art

North Liberty Library commissions artwork for children’s area

NORTH LIBERTY– The North Liberty Community Library (NLCL) has long been a place dedicated to building well-rounded individuals; a place to have deep discussions about serious matters or join light-hearted talks about the latest best-seller, to learn about social issues, meet influential authors and community leaders; to play games and build with Lego blocks and try your hand at knitting.
Soon, patrons will become a little more cultured in other fine arts, as well.
The library has commissioned artist Jennifer Lynn Bates, formerly of North Liberty, to create four works that will hang permanently in the children’s area. The community is invited to the unveiling event and reception Sunday, Oct. 11, at 3:30 p.m. in the library.
As part of a strategic planning process, library staff adopted goals to increase its reach to the community, and one targeted service plan was to help patrons express creativity and stimulate imagination.
Library Director Jennie Garner’s creative side was already at work, considering ways to expose patrons to more fine art pieces like the one hung in the library in 2013 to commemorate North Liberty’s centennial. Painted by Ely artist Bounnak Thammavong, the mural depicts events that shaped the community in the past and those that define it today. In 2014, Garner was excited to commission work by essayist Kevin Hayworth through the Grinnell Grin City Collective’s “Public Writing, Public Libraries” project. It consisted of excerpts of poems, fiction and non-fiction essays by writers all over the world, reproduced on huge vinyl pages that were affixed to library windows throughout Iowa, including North Liberty. The intent was to give people opportunities to discover contemporary creative writing in an unexpected way.
“That got me started thinking about public art, and having a place to expose people to it,” said Garner. “I think there are people who are never exposed to art, or at least, don’t notice it as part of their environment.”
Garner said cities are increasingly taking steps to include art in and around their municipal facilities, such as placing sculptures in public parks.
“Watching people strolling around the parks and looking at the pieces, and kids playing in or around the sculptures, is a cool way to interact with art,” said Garner. “My hope is that this also becomes an interactive thing. I like the idea of interactive services– where people are coming to the library to have an experience. This is just one more way we can make that happen.”
Garner said a grant prospect fell through when initially trying to fund the commissioned work, but Bates was successful in getting a planning grant on her own. Additional general donations from library supporters made it possible to commission Bates to do these pieces, though on a smaller scale than originally planned.
Bates has a bachelor of fine arts in art and design from Iowa State University, and earned a master of fine arts in painting from the Pratt Institute. She specializes in drawing, painting, printmaking, installation art and video making. She has taught painting and drawing at Wartburg College and currently teaches art for the University of Nebraska at Kearney ECampus.
A native Iowan, Bates lived in North Liberty for a brief time.
“It was a lovely year’s stopover between Livingston, New Jersey, and Waterloo,” Bates said, and while career opportunities took them out of North Liberty, she and her daughters frequented the NLCL. “We spent time at the library enjoying ‘Crafternoons,’ doing homework, grading student work for the University of Nebraska in the quiet reading nooks, and checking out cake pans to make the best birthday cakes ever.”
Bates has painted a series of four pieces specifically for the NLCL, and the library– with the help of a generous donation of paint from local paint store Sherwin-Williams–painted a wall to display them at their best visual advantage.
While the paintings will be kept under wraps until the unveiling event, Garner hinted at what is to come.
“We developed the theme, ‘Everybody Loves to Read,’” Garner said. “The artist studied different children’s books and illustrators and developed her own work, so it’s about the communal process of reading. It encourages reading all across the board.”
Bates said the theme resonates with her as a woman, wife, mother, daughter and artist.
“Reading is a part of my earliest memories. I enjoyed listening to my mother and teachers read to me. The words read aloud gave me this fuzzy sensation, transporting me to the world of that book,” Bates said. As a young student, she often made books for school assignments. “Writing text and creating images that tell a narrative through word, line, color, shape and time is a compelling process.”
Now a mother herself, she regularly reads to her children.
“Children’s literature uses words and pictures to ignite the imagination. I aspire to be a published children’s illustrator, combining my love of reading and of art. Fiction books take me somewhere I could not otherwise go. They are born out of creativity, just like visual art,” she said.
Bates translated her own interpretations of the theme, “Everybody Loves to Read,” using acrylic paints. She cultivated the style for this series by considering the audience and environment, and by brainstorming ideas with daughters Calla, 8, and Annaliese, 5. “I describe the style as simple, funny, really big children’s book illustrations hung on a wall. I hope the pictures trigger a child’s sense of humor and serve as a conversation point between adults and children.”
Each image in the series reveals a grouping of figures in different contexts with a book, engaged in the process of reading: a group of friends reading while on an adventure; a caregiver reading to a group of diverse children; siblings reading together at bedtime. “I believe these scenes capture reading experiences most of us can relate to,” said Bates.
Having her work appear in the NLCL is special to Bates in several ways, she said.
“First, my art will be a part of my community. I live in eastern Iowa, in close proximity to the NLCL, so I can share the work with my friends and family,” she said. “Secondly, I have loved libraries since early childhood. The NLCL, its mission and its staff are part of my personal connection with libraries.”
Having her art on permanent display allows it to become a part of peoples’ everyday experience– perhaps noticing something new each time they view the work, she said– and public art has an important impact on the community.
“Through time and exposure, I hope my paintings can help develop an appreciation for art in people who may not frequent an art gallery or museum,” said Bates. “The NLCL is offering the gift of visual art to the whole community. I get to be a part of that.”
That is exactly what Garner was hoping for. In fact, Garner dreams of having a gallery space in the library where art exhibits can be displayed on a rotating basis.
“We don’t know what that is going to look like yet, but the plan is to invite regional artists to display pieces here. The exhibits will be curated, so there will be some standards about what will go on the wall,” Garner said. “My hope is it can be a beginning for some people, whether it’s getting people interested in art, or a budding artist who sees the work and goes home and creates their own.”
Eventually the space could lead to additional arts-based programming, like holding receptions for patrons to meet artists and hear presentations, or creating displays from the library’s book collection about different types of art media.
“It would be a plus for both the community and the artists, and for the library to maybe draw in new groups of people who haven’t come before,” she added.
Garner believes art can create a sense of place, and make an identity for the library as a space where they can go and see art in a comfortable setting.
“Going to an art museum can be a little daunting, or maybe people think they won’t find it interesting,” Garner said. “This gives exposure they might not otherwise get. Once we’ve done this, I would love to see other public art pop up around the community.”
Assistant City Administrator Tracey Mulcahey shares that goal.
“Jennie and I have been encouraging a public art program to be started city-wide. Public art is a component of quality of life in a community,” said Mulcahey. North Liberty’s trails, recreation facilities, community meeting spaces and play options offer many venues to further enhance the lifestyles of residents with the addition of public art. “It gives us great opportunities to do some really neat projects that increase the already-stellar quality of life here.”
As the NLCL continues to develop its ever-growing pallet of opportunities for North Liberty-area residents, Garner credits an energetic staff who volunteer to take on innovative projects, try new activities and seek different ways to reach out and bring people in.
“The big thing is, we want people to feel they’ve had an experience, a positive experience, every time they come,” Garner said.
For more information about the artist, Jennifer Lynn Bates, visit www.jenniferlynnbates.com/jenniferlynnbates.com/Home.html.