A children’s library is nothing like an adult library and therefore should not look like one.
Children’s libraries instill a love of reading and learning by exciting the imagination. And what better way to do that than by providing an atmosphere that is a virtual storybook itself.
When children reach the new entryway of the Children’s Library within Wilton Library, they will know they are embarking on a journey limited only by their imaginations.
Artist Ed MacEwen, his daughter Bonnie Sailer and granddaughter Jesse Sailer completed a three-dimensional gateway last week that is lush with color, texture and form.
It took the summer to complete, but much longer in concept.
Shortly after she became director, Elaine Tai-Lauria began thinking about enhancing the Children’s Library. It was an idea that had been raised earlier by Andrea Falkner, head of the Children's Library, and former library director Kathy Leeds.
Tai-Lauria was visited by an artist who designed theatrical sets and had created a number of children’s library entrances. “That gave me the impetus to look at it again,” she said. She spoke with MacEwen and he came up with a design.
When the opportunity arose to speak with Thomas T. Adams and Richard L. Mason, trustees of the Shoff Foundation, which has been very supportive of the library, Tai Lauria presented the library’s intention to create the Innovation Station and the design for the children’s entryway. The foundation generously funded both undertakings.
There was one modification to the original design — changing out the original wood doors for glass doors. “What a way to just expose the library and really have an entrance to show what’s inside,” Tai-Lauria said.
MacEwen has been art chairman at the library for more than 20 years, and this is the seventh mural he’s worked on there. He was eager to work on it, and since it was more than a flat painting it offered him an opportunity to expand on the stage work he’s done with the Wilton Singers.
The library requested a jungle theme.
“It seems to fall so well with our mission, to be a gateway to discover,” Tai-Lauria said. “We wanted something inviting not only to kids but their parents, creating a sense of exploration and curiosity — a world beyond the threshhold.”
Falkner pointed out that the theme also ties into the concrete hippopotamus and elephant sculptures outside the library.
“The hippo is the unofficial mascot for the children’s young readers program,” she said.
MacEwen, his daughter, who teaches art at the Saxe School in New Canaan, and granddaughter, a freshman at Ohio-Wesleyan, looked at many books in the children’s section.
They also gave a lot of thought to the materials they would use, and one of their sources was perhaps a bit unusual — Ring’s End. The trees are made of wooden columns used on residential porches and the leaves were cut from aluminum. More than 70 colors of acrylic water-based paint were used, some of which were hand-mixed to get just the right hue.
“Because this is a library, I thought it would be neat to put some literary piece to it,” MacEwen said. “One of my favorite artists is Henri Rousseau. I checked him out and used some of his motifs in the mural.” One of Rousseau’s most famous works is Tiger in A Tropical Storm.
Although the major part of the painting took place during the summer, MacEwen spent the winter in the library’s sub-basement painting both sides of the aluminum leaves. The leaves all have designs on them. Some are realistic and some imaginary, as is the case with the plants that populate the entryway.
MacEwen said his granddaughter Jesse took possession of the trees, carving circular bands for texture and painting them. The leaves are screwed into the trunks.
But affixing the leaves at the top of the entryway proved a challenge. He met with David Cunningham, who for years designed sets for the Wilton Playshop, who suggested putting up one-inch pipes to which the leaves could be tied with fishing line. “We had nothing else to tie them to,” MacEwen said.
Bonnie Sailer created the two children — a boy and a girl — who are dressed according to the library’s dress code, MacEwen said. Sailer also left a signature of a sort in the form of a small yellow flower by the little girl. It is a replica of the central flower in the reading nook mural and a library clock.
Instead of signing the work, the artists’ names are on a book under one of the trees.
The glass doors, whether open or closed, afford a view of a mural near the library’s entryway. MacEwen explained that came about when the library addition was built.
“They didn’t have any art on the wall and they asked for a painting for the dedication,” he said. As it happened, the Wilton Singers had done a concert with a Caribbean theme and MacEwen painted four four-foot by eight-foot panels for it. He donated one of the panels that has two blue tigers, two yellow chickens and a tree with tropical fruit.
“It’s still there and will always be there, I think,” MacEwen said. “It’s a very nice tie-in.”
Andrea Falkner said the entryway has been very popular. “The response has been wonderful. People are taking pictures of their kids by it. All the little kids notice it. They kneel down to look at the plants closer.”