There are a lot of art installations at the five Anchorage Public Library locations, and they have interesting stories to go with them.
Here is a guide to art at the Chugiak-Eagle River Library:
Owl Stained Glass
Have you noticed the big round stained glass piece featuring an owl? It hangs near the south entrance to the Chugiak-Eagle River Library, perpendicular to the New Books area. When the branch was moved to its current location in August 2009, this piece was featured on library staff t-shirts and mousepads. It was made by former local artist (and library patron) Gil Chambers back in the early 1980s, and has hung in our branch at several locations: above Garcia’s, across the street from Tips Bar, and in the Eagle River Town Center. This piece wasn’t commissioned, but was made and donated by Mr. Chambers as a gift to the library. We thank him for many years of enjoyment.
Bicycle Wheel Eye of God
Most people seeing this piece on top of the feature film DVDs don’t realize that it’s made from a bicycle wheel. I’m embarrassed to say how long it took me to notice that detail even as I walked past it countless times each day. It was made by students at one of the local elementary schools when the Chugiak-Eagle River Library moved into its current location. (We’re missing the name of the school donated this, so if you know, please pass the word along!) The variety of materials used is fascinating: yarn, ribbon, felt, thick fabric cord, beads on filament, pipe cleaners, glass Christmas bulbs, and a painted bicycle wheel. Next time you come in, take a closer look and marvel at what simple craft ingredients can become!
This piece has a complex and long-ranging story to go along with it. The banner was commissioned for the Samson-Dimond Library in 2003 to honor Jessie Withrow, a young woman who was killed by a drunk driver while riding her bike, and who had loved dragons and fantasy books. The dragon, designed and constructed by textile artist Amy Meissner, was originally three panels—the head of the dragon on the front of the banner, and hind end on the back–and hung from the ceiling to help divide the program area from the then-new computer lab. I had the good fortune of becoming the manager of the Samson-Dimond Library one month after the banner was installed, and I spent three years with it there before I moved to Loussac Library.
In 2010, the Samson-Dimond Library closed, and the dragon needed a new home. The Chugiak-Eagle River Library had space for it over the children’s area, and it was moved to its new home. The new open space was noisy during preschool programs, and the fabric banner served as a sound buffer in addition to providing a beautiful wayfinder for kids and their families. I followed my dragon (because I do think of it as my dragon now, at least in a caretaking way) to Chugiak-Eagle River in 2012.
Just a little side-note: During certain times of the year, when the setting sun is at just the right angle, it lights up the dragon like a spotlight. So magical!
A couple years later, Amy Meissner approached the library with a proposal: What if the banner were to be expanded so that the dragon ran the full length of six panels, and new back panels were constructed? Then it would be thirty feet long. Oh, and we could hold community art events to make those reverse panels, and everyone would be invited to help. Once the library was on board, money had to be raised to make it happen. Grants were written, donations accepted, and after two more years, we were ready to play with fabric. For pictures and another account of this project, check out Amy Meissner’s blog (https://www.amymeissner.com/blog/how-to-wake-a-dragon). There are three blog posts covering the entire process from 2003 through 2016.
Chugiak-Eagle River Library held three community art sessions in October 2016, and they were a blast! We had everyone, toddlers to senior citizens, cutting out stars and moons and suns and planets to decorate the back of the dragon. See, the dragon has always been reaching for a star, and Amy had the idea to use stars as the theme for the new panels. The reverse side is now called Sky Full of Stars, and includes a square featuring a photograph of Jessie Withrow, sword held high.
Anytime I give a tour of the library, I always tell this story, even though my throat clogs with tears with each recitation. I invite everyone to come out to the Chugiak-Eagle River Library to visit our dragon, and marvel at the strength of the community supporting our library. It’s all right here for you to see.