Remember when public libraries were places where you always had to use your “indoor voice?” And how anyone under the age of twelve was confined to the “Children’s Section?” And no matter how tactile or appealing the work of art, you were never supposed to touch it?
Saturday morning’s (September 7, 2013) dedication of artist Sheryl Tuorila’s mosaics at the Hennepin County Library System’s Roosevelt Community Library showed how much attitudes toward art in public libraries have changed. To renovate the Library’s operating space, the Hennepin Library System contracted Hagen, Christensen &McIlwain Architects to preserve the integrity of a building placed on the National Register of Historic Places in May 2000. The System also employed a rigorous screening process to identify an artist whose work could complement the 1927 building’s mission-style design.
With that primary goal in mind, Tuorila’s winning proposal also was intended to “hold up over time, and welcome touch and exploration by children.” Her “organic mosaic design” started with her customary shaping, cutting, glazing, and firing of the individual tiles. Once that process was completed, she “mindfully” selected and positioned each piece “to create balance among shapes and colors until the work [was] complete.”
The results after 200 hours of painstaking effort are a colorful blend of the natural with the man-made. Her “Gaia” diptych in the Library’s community room and the “Golden Flow” mosaic behind the checkout desk contain ammonite fossils (an extinct group of marine spiral-shell molluscs) and Brazilian agates that create an ageless appeal. Along with the sconces on the Library’s outer walls, her mosaics encourage library patrons to “experience [a] journey of color and shapes” that instills “a sense of history and timelessness.”
These qualities are what encouraged state Senator Patricia Torres-Ray to express her thanks on behalf of the Twin Cities community for “being there for all of us.” In return, Ms. Tuorila remarked how she and her son listened to many of the Library System’s audio books during her labors to complete these mosaics. Having her work hanging in the Standish neighborhood’s classic, prairie-style library she declared “was really special to me.” Considering how sterile libraries used to be, her work provides tactile expression of how artists and communities can unite to transform libraries into places of wonder and inspiration for patrons of whatever age.