By Cathy Johnson
If you haven’t visited the Big Rapids Community Library in a while or if you always take the elevator, have I got a story to tell you. Well, actually the story is on the walls of the stairwell which takes you from the first floor to the second. And it’s a story that takes 142 years to tell.
After the renovation of the library building was completed, and patrons began using it again, the staff realized that there were a number of spaces where art could make a big difference in the library experience. The two electronic works – one in the entryway foyer and one at the entrance to the children’s area – came first. And they enlivened the building. But one more indoor space remained, a very large soaring space: the stairwell from the first to second floor.
As the staff discussed the possibilities for the space, Miriam Andrus, then the Library Director, and Chris Cook, the Assistant Library Director, felt that some kind of timeline of the history of the library would be appropriate. It would serve as a visual aid to help those touring or using the library better understand the importance of the library and its time serving the community. And, it just so happened that on the library staff for the summer was a young student who had both talent and vision in the area of art, Gordon Mallet (the younger).
Last summer, patrons watched as a series of framed signed climbed up the walls of the stairway, each sign noting a particular benchmark in the history of the library. In case you didn’t know, the first lending library in the city of Big Rapids opened in 1871. The signs go up to 2013, when the renovations of the current building began. So that was all well and good, but it looked…..plain. And that is where the art and imagination of Gordon took over.
“Let’s illustrate some of these events,” was the next phase. And so Gordon implemented. He researched, he sketched, he proposed ideas, and gradually illustrations began to appear above and beside the timeline. And that was last summer.
This summer, Gordon returned to the library and the idea was proposed to illustrate the stairway further. After numerous discussions with other staff members, and many, many suggestions of book titles, the books of the library collections came to life and literally “took over” the project. Gordon’s work was closely watched by many of the youngsters who came to the library for Summer Reading experiences. The detail of some of the illustrations is amazing. You could spend a lot of time in the stairwell and still not really see everything.
Is it finished? That’s a great question. Gordon did sign the stairwell this summer (2018), but it may still be a work in progress. Regardless, stop by the library and have a look around. The books on the walls of the stairwell have a tale to tell.