Art in the Library
Skokie Public Library has a collection of art, some by painters and sculptors with national and, in some cases, international reputations. All of the art in the building was either donated or funded by the Illinois Arts Council and/or private donors.
Following is a “virtual tour” of the highlights of the Library’s collection.
|Art in the Library building|
|Art near the Library|
In the plans of the prize-winning original Library building constructed in 1960, the Water Court in what is now the west building was to remain empty of decoration, featuring only the play of light on the water and rocks. However, in 1977, the Village began negotiations to buy the first piece of public sculpture in Skokie to be placed in the Village Green between the Library and Village Hall. Perhaps influenced by those negotiations, the Library Board began to search for a sculpture for the Water Court.
Elliott Balter, then chairman of the Art Department at Niles North High School, submitted a model titled Swans. His model was chosen by the Board and Mr. Balter began construction in the studio of his Skokie home. In September 1979 the finished work was removed from his studio by crane and lowered into the Water Court by the same means. The sculpture is constructed of burnished stainless steel and is ten feet tall, thirteen feet long, seven and one-half feet wide, and weighs approximately one thousand pounds.
Balter studied in France and at the Art Institute of Chicago. His work has been exhibited at various locations around the United States and in Paris, Barcelona, and London.
The Zen Bench
The Zen Bench is located in the small courtyard adjacent to the Youth Services Department. It is constructed in the style of traditional Japanese carpentry: the joins are clearly visible in a celebration of structure. The redwood base is notched and fitted, and the top is solid granite — two-thirds smooth and one-third rough hewn. There is an indented area filled with polished stones in water, symbolizing tranquility.
The bench was purchased and placed in the courtyard in 1999 as a memorial to Library staff member Steve Oserman. Steve began working in the Library as a shelver while in high school and continued during the summers while attending college and graduate school. Preferring library work to writing and teaching, he accepted a position as Reference Librarian. During the recession years of the 1980s, Steve and a colleague created an Employment Resource Center, an area in the Adult Services Department where Steve introduced patrons to job-hunting aids and also counseled and encouraged them. He became widely known as the “job man,” was interviewed by local and national media, and spearheaded a national movement to encourage all libraries to develop services for those seeking employment. Later, with colleague Frances Roehm, Steve wrote the first book on Internet job searching.
His death in 1998 prompted an outpouring of contributions to the Library, and it was decided to honor him with a lecture series and a piece of art. The Zen Bench was chosen because of Steve’s interest in Eastern thought and religion, and his love of the outdoors.
Untitled and Search
The Library has two pieces of sculpture by Chicago artist Brian Monaghan.
The first of Monaghan’s sculptures acquired by the Library, Untitled, was installed in the small courtyard adjacent to the Youth Services Department in 1979. It is constructed of cor-ten steel, an oxidized steel which has a slight rust-looking veneer preventing weather damage. It is eight feet tall. The artist has this comment about the piece, “Its symmetry is a recurring theme in my work, evoking serenity.”
The second piece in the Library collection is located outside the Mary Radmacher Meeting Room and was purchased to honor Miss Radmacher’s service to the Library as Head Librarian from 1956 through 1985. A meeting room was named for her in 1995 and, because of her love of art, it was decided to embellish the area with a commemorative piece. The studios of several artists were visited by a Board committee, and Monaghan’s work was chosen. From the various pieces shown her, Miss Radmacher selected Search.
The sculptor describes the piece thusly, “It is constructed of silicone bronze sheets welded into a dynamic and fluid form, evoking a restless and energetic nature... I am working with two themes — serenity and dynamic energy.”
Artist Norris Hall was born and educated in Tennessee. He lived briefly in Illinois and during that time was commissioned by the Library Board to paint Jungle Library, which was the first artwork hung in the Youth Services Department in 1991 during National Library Week as part of the celebration of the Library’s fifty year anniversary.
Hall’s work is characterized by whimsical animals and has been displayed in galleries and museums across the country. Perhaps his most famous work is one commissioned by Disney — three cat sculptures, each twenty-five feet high, which have been installed on top of the Thunder Mountain Roller Coaster at Disneyland Resort Paris. Hall has also recently designed Tennessee automobile license plates.
His graphics were chosen to decorate the Library bookmobile.
Peace in Vietnam
This series of four lithographs on zinc by Salvador Dali are located in the Library’s East Lobby. They were given to the Library by a private donor and were created in 1973 to celebrate the conclusion of the war in Vietnam. The first lithograph is entitled Peace at Last, followed by Warrior’s Dream, and Angel of Mercy. Last in the series is Liberation.
Dali was born in 1904 in northern Spain. He is considered the greatest artist of the Surrealist art movement and one of the masters of 20th century art. His most famous painting is Persistence of Memory, featuring the drooping clock faces that are now world famous. He died in 1989.
A Game of Chance
This poster was donated to the Library in 1997 and hangs outside the east entrance to the Petty Auditorium. It is the result of a project begun by late artist and feminist Hollis Sigler. Ms. Sigler was born in Gary, Indiana in 1948. She studied in Florence before receiving an MFA at the Art Institute. In 1985 she was diagnosed with breast cancer, which went into remission after treatment. In 1993 the cancer returned. For her last professional project, friends gave her the idea of asking artists to each design a playing card or joker, the resulting “deck” to be laid out on a poster. The idea appealed to her because “getting cancer is the same as a game of chance. Who gets it or doesn’t is chance — which is why the idea of playing cards is an appropriate theme.” She contacted artists all around the country — men and women, some she knew personally and some not, some who had had experience with cancer and some who, from their work, she thought would be sensitive to the concept.
The poster rewards close observation. Seattle artist, Lou Cabeen has painted an upside-down map of Chicago in the shape of a diamond. Two of the more famous local artists represented are Audrey Niffenegger, a writer and visual artist who was born and raised in Evanston. Her first book, The Time Traveler’s Wife, was published in 2003. She chose to depict St. Agatha, an early Christian who was mutilated for her faith. Ed Pashke, a Chicago artist with an international reputation, chose to depict a blindfolded King of Spades.
Semi-Nude with Flower, Zooples #5
This work by Peter Max is located on the second floor, near the Computer Lab. It is a serigraph, which is a silkscreen process. Zooples is the name Max has given to the little squiggles he often includes in his work.
The artist was born in Berlin in 1937. His family moved to the United States when he was a child. He became famous during the sixties when his colorful, exuberant style seemed to exemplify the times. It is he who designed the animation in the Beatles’ film Yellow Submarine.
The serigraph was hung shortly after completion of the Library’s renovation, begun in 2001. The donor, raised in Skokie, said that when he was in college at Northern Illinois University he remembered seeing only drab, grey walls in the university library when he looked up from his books. Now a Skokie Public Library user, he wanted to give his fellow patrons something interesting to look at when they looked up.
Carousel, painted in 1957, is an early work of artist LeRoy Neiman. It was donated to the Library in the 1978 by a couple who visited and appreciated the “attractive display of paintings.” Since that time, the work has doubled in value as the artist’s reputation has grown.
Neiman was born in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1926 and studied at the Art Institute, where he then taught for ten years. He moved to Manhattan and had his first one-man show in 1963. He frequently depicts sporting events, which he feels are a dominating force in the world. He was the official artist for ABC during the telecasts of the Olympic games of 1972, 1976, and 1980. His works are in museums around the world, most notably the Smithsonian in Washington DC and the Hermitage in Russia.
Two works of art, located on the Skokie Village Green, are owned by the Village but are included here because of their proximity to and impact on the Library building.
Light Sculpture is the first piece of public sculpture to be installed in Skokie. The Village held a competition in 1977 and John David Moody, a Chicago sculptor with an international reputation, won. The sculpture, made of steel and plexiglass, is twenty feet tall. Neon red and blue lights run along the inside border and come on automatically at night.
Moody has had pieces installed in various United States cities, and in France, Switzerland, Scotland, Germany, and recently in the former Yugolavia. His work has been exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and Chicago’s Art Institute.
The Holocaust Memorial Monument
After the threatened American Nazi Party march in Skokie in the late 1970s, the leadership of various Holocaust survivor groups began to think about erecting a monument for the victims of Nazism. The Village of Skokie agreed that Village property could be used. Many felt an abstract monument would be most effective but those who preferred representational art prevailed, and the design of Bert Gast of Chicago was accepted. Edward Chesney of Detroit was chosen as sculptor.
The bronze sculpture, approximately nine feet tall, depicts a freedom fighter sheltering a grandfather, a young boy, and a mother with a dead child. They are standing on the debris of bricks, torn prayer books, a menorah, and other items symbolizing the destruction of European Jewry. The sculpture stands on a five-foot granite base, polished and engraved with the names of six extermination camps and a verse from Lamentations. It was unveiled on May 31, 1987.