The first step toward reading is learning your ABCs.
And the first things kids see when they enter the Port Townsend Library children’s section are those 26 letters colorfully hanging from the ceiling.
Made of yarn, paper, felt, moss, and all kinds of material imaginable, each letter is different. The “H” has windows and a door like a house, while the “O” made of silk to look like an owl hangs next to a “P” that is decorated with a princess sitting atop 20 mattresses as in “The Princess and the Pea.”
The letters were designed by members of the North Olympic chapter of the Surface Design Association, who were commissioned by the Port Townsend Library Foundation.
“The Surface Design Association had made an alphabet as part of our Art in the Library program that we do with Northwind Arts Center, but that was very much more of an adult-focused art show and it hung in the addition of the library,” said library director Melody Sky Eisler. “We were very sad when the art went down and we thought, ‘wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had a children’s themed alphabet to hang in the children’s library?’”
After reaching out to the Surface Design Association to ask if it would be willing to create the art for the library and hearing an emphatic “yes,” the artists set off to work.
“Our members were very excited to do it,” said Diana Gipson, who headed the project.
The North Olympic chapter is a group of more than 40 artists who work in media including bookmaking, quilting, weaving, paper art and fiber sculpture. Twenty-six members of the group took up the challenge, and were assigned a letter to make.
“I wanted the artists to have a coordinated look and feel to how they approached the artwork, but I wanted them to have the artistic freedom,” Eisler said. The most important part, she said, was that the letters have a whimsical touch.
“When Diana came in to give us a preview, we just dropped our jaws,” Eisler said. ”They are so fanciful and whimsical and that’s what we wanted. We wanted children and their parents to just be utterly inspired when they come in this space because a core component of public libraries is to promote early literacy. What a wonderful way to do that, with such a visual presence of the alphabet.”
For the artists, the project was a chance to become a kid again.
“I do serious art,” Gipson said. “But every once in a while, something crazy whimsical comes into my brain and I have to do it. This just was a time when I needed something crazy whimsical.”
The letters were installed Dec. 10, but the library will have a celebration of their installation at 6 p.m. Feb. 22, when the next Art in the Library show begins. The celebration will include story time for kids, and alphabet themed snacks.
“I like to think a lot about libraries as connecters,” Eisler said. “We bring people together, we’re a hub. And how wonderful to bring this group of 26 artists together and to have our wonderful library foundation be able to fund the project and then to bring our kids and families together as they’re learning their ABCs.”