Art in the Children’s Room: Elisha Cooper Style
In that alternate universe where I am independently wealthy and spend all my days reporting on children’s literature (isn’t that what you would do if you were independently wealthy?) I spend certain days of the year traveling to different children’s rooms in libraries throughout the country to check out their original art by fantastic children’s illustrators. Murals, paintings, stained glass windows, the works. As of right now I think the only time I’ve ever actually reported on this blog on the art in a children’s room was when I went to the Kalamazoo Public Library’s back in 2009 (note how this was written before my blog was switched to its new format and thus *sob* I lost ALL the images).
Here at New York Public Library you might think that the branches are filled to brimming with the art of local authors and illustrators. While it may be true that we have some lovely pieces by Ezra Jack Keats and Faith Ringgold here and there, it doesn’t come up all that often. So I need not tell you how excited I was when I heard that Elisha Cooper had volunteered out of the goodness of his golden glorious heart to paint art for the children’s room in Greenwich Village’s Jefferson Market Branch.
A little background. When I first got my bright and shiny library degree and moved to New York City I was under the distinct impression that the only available positions with NYPL were on Staten Island. As I came in for my final interview, however, the nice recruiter who changed my life offered me the chance to be in Greenwich Village instead. Hence I came to the most gorgeous branch in the system. Built in the 1860s with a clocktower that holds a giant spider puppet year round (this is true), converted jail cells in the basement, and more stained glass than many a church, it’s a beauty. It had a huge children’s room on the first floor with these massive white blank walls. And there was nothing on a single one of those walls either, long after I left. Not for years and years and years.
Enter Elisha Cooper. You may know him best from his numerous amazing picture books. My personal favorite is Farm followed by Beach, but I understand the love many hold for Magic Thinks Big or Beaver Is Lost or even this year’s Homer. Long story short, the man has this beautiful, distinctive style that somehow turns the merest of outlines into works of beauty. He’s also a Greenwich Village resident and he saw the great gaping walls of the Jefferson Market children’s room and thought he should do something about it.
What did he do? Ladies and gentlemen he brought, from his own home, six empty white canvasses into the branch. Then he got permission to paint on them in the programming room next to the children’s room. His process looked something like this:
Those images were taken by Christopher “Flash” Smith. That is why they were good. These next images are from my camera phone. That is why they are less good. Each canvass, as you can see, contains a variety of different animals. Elisha did think to possibly make each one represent a different continent, but I’m not sure whether or not he proceeded with that plan until the end.
(I love that he worked in that honey badger)
I’m sorry I don’t have a close-up shot of these three canvasses since those are the ones that contain the most children’s literature homages. You can find the ducklings from Make Way for Ducklings (apropos since that book was created in a tiny Greenwich Village apartment), Kitten from Kitten’s First Full Moon, Ferdinand, and a bunch of other folks in these paintings.
Big thanks to Elisha for showing me his art and for passing along some of these photos. So for any of you passing through Greenwich Village, be sure to stop by the Jefferson Market Library at 6th Avenue and 10th Street and admire what’s on display.
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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