Patrons walking into the Greenwood Public Library come face to face with their favorite literary titles from the past 100 years.
Beloved book titles such as “The Grapes of Wrath,” “Call of the Wild” and “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” are depicted in laser-cut steel, climbing 30 feet up the wall in the library’s lobby.
Interspersed with the titles are more intangible concepts: imagine, create, explore, inspire.
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Greenwood Public Library officials unveiled the steel sculpture in its entrance lobby Wednesday as part of its Century of Reading program. The piece ties together some of the most popular titles from the past 100 years, as well as the lofty ideals that the library hopes to instill in the community.
“The classic book titles that are all throughout it remind people of how reading has engaged them throughout their lives,” said Jane Weisenbach, director of development at the library. “Even when you’re little, books spark creativity and excitement.”
The sculpture was commissioned in celebration of the library’s 100th anniversary, which was celebrated Feb. 7, 2017. The anniversary celebration included a community-wide party as well as special programming throughout the year.
But as library officials prepared their plans for the momentous occasion, they started talking about a more lasting contribution to the library that would recognize their history.
Discussion turned to a public art element that would be a permanent part of the library.
“We wanted to do something to commemorate 100 years of service to the community,” Weisenbach said. “We really like to do public art in the community, and thought about what we could do to highlight reading.”
When library director Cheryl Dobbs encountered a steel sculpture designed for a library in Bloomington, she had her inspiration. Dobbs tracked down the artist of that piece, Jon Racek, and asked if he would work on a similar project in Greenwood.
Racek is a multidisciplinary design artist and professor at Indiana University School of Art, Architecture and Design. For him, as an artist and as a book lover, it was a natural fit.
“I spent a lot of time in libraries as a kid, and I spend a lot of time in libraries now with my kids,” he said. “I love the fact that this piece is going to promote this idea of reading and great literature, and will be in a public institution that I really love and respect.”
Dobbs was inspired by the concept of “word clouds,” graphical representations in which the size of words depends on how important they are. She started with that vision, and worked with Racek to see how they could implement the look of a word cloud with a larger message about reading.
Library staff members submitted their favorite titles, and settled on a list of 100 books to include in the sculpture. Those featured include “Pride and Prejudice,” “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Fault in Our Stars.” Children’s books such as “Go, Dog. Go!” and “Clifford the Big Red Dog” speak to the lifelong impact that reading can have on people, Weisenbach said.
Greenwood library officials worked with Racek to take the abstract ideas about the sculpture and turn them into concrete plans for the artwork.
“I was interested in doing something a little bit different than what I did in Bloomington. They had an idea, and it kept coming back to that. It changed in different iterations,” Racek said. “They had a pretty strong concept when they contacted me, so in the end it was a compromise between what they wanted to do and what I wanted to do, and I think in the end, everyone is pretty happy with it.”
The greatest challenge was how to take a large amount of text and make it work as a sculpture.
“It was a question of how to take this text and link it in a way that it will read. It has to be solid enough to stay together and be structurally sound on the wall, but I also wanted it to have a lacy quality to it,” Racek said. “I wanted you to be able to read the text, but also for it to be a little messy, for people to have to really look to see everything.”
Poynter Sheet Metal, a fabricator based in Greenwood who had done Racek’s sculpture in Bloomington, laser-cut the metal to bring the design to life. The piece was installed during the last week of January and unveiled during a special community celebration Feb. 7.
Organizers hope that the sculpture enhances the aesthetic beauty of the library building, while also inspiring people to think more deeply about what it adds to the quality of life in Greenwood, Weisenbach said.
“We want it to spark discussion about reading and what libraries mean to their communities,” she said.