When an Artist Loves a Library: Elisha Cooper and the Jefferson Market Branch
There is a connection between a child and their local library that is difficult to put into words. It’s personal, I suppose. A landmark that they can cling to as other aspects of this big and scary world change. Likewise, there can also be a connection between a children’s author or illustrator and their local library. In the case of my own library, Evanston Public, it is not uncommon to see many of the children’s book creators in town walking in with or without kids in tow.
When I lived in New York City, though, libraries took on a different meaning for me. There are 88 branches of New York Public Library, all scattered amongst different neighborhoods around the city. When you consider the fact that many library users do not have cars, branches are a necessity. And if you were to work in one of these branches you would get to know the locals and the regulars. You would also come to know the children’s book creators. You’d know that Jules Feiffer is a St. Agnes branch man while Ezra Jack Keats was a Webster Branch denizen, back in the day. But truly, there are few artist/library branch love stories to compare to that of Caldecott Honor winner Elisha Cooper and the Jefferson Market Branch of NYPL.
Over the years I’ve written a number of posts about Mr. Cooper. The first (aside from the occasional review) was in 2012. Called Art in the Children’s Room: Elisha Cooper Style, the piece was about the fact that for all that New York City is filled to brimming with artists its libraries are surprisingly spare. So when Elisha asked if he could paint on the horribly blank walls of the Jefferson Market Branch’s children’s room and was told no, he found a workaround. Bringing in six empty white canvasses he was given permission to paint them in the library. They were then hung around the room. Check ’em out!
In the intervening eight years, Elisha has gone on to improve the children’s room in additional ways. For example, check out these cool signs made for the library:
Neat, right? But that is not all, oh no, that is not all. Many artists that love a library would do that work and be done. Yet the other day I received this message:
“I am sending you a bag of animals.”
Lots of possibilities there. But what I received was:
I look at that bag and it’s like a love letter to a favorite library. And yes, I’ll admit it. To this day the Jefferson Market Library is my favorite library too. It was my first true library job and holds a place deep in my heart. So it gives me a special kind of pleasure to watch Mr. Cooper and this particular branch draw even closer over the years.
Interested in seeing more of Mr. Cooper’s work? Then you’re in luck. Elisha has produced a series of “How to Draw” videos on Instagram, which are perfect for those of us with antsy homebound children who need a little something to draw: https://www.instagram.com/elisha__cooper/
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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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