Berkeley library selects artists for two new commissions

Eric Powell's design for a steel rail-guard at the Claremont library which will look like bookshelves.

The Berkeley library has chosen two artists to create new public works for their North Berkeley and Claremont branches, both of which are to undergo major renovations, after holding a competition for the projects.

On Friday last week six local artists presented possible projects to the library’s Visual Arts Selection Panel as part of the competition which, according to Berkeley Civic Arts Coordinator Mary Ann Merker, attracted 16 initial entrants. The winning entries were those submitted by Berkeley metal artist Eric Powell for the Claremont library, and Castro Valley artist Marion Coleman for the north Berkeley library.

The brief to the artists included the fact that the art elements had to be designed to be a functional component of the buildings, as well having a decorative role.

Eric Powell, whose studio is on Camelia Street in Berkeley, will create a steel plate guard rail for a new ramp leading to the Claremont library’s front doors. Titled “Bookshelves”, the rail will feature stacks of books as well as the ocasional object one might find on bookshelves, such as a globe or a bust.

“It will be an integral part of the building both visually and functionally,” says Powell who is particularly pleased he won the commission as this branch library is one he lived close to and frequented regularly when he was a student at the California College of the Arts and lived on College Avenue.

Powell, who has been involved in many public art projects, including for new libraries in San Francisco and Castro Valley, has a budget of $29,000 for the railings which, he says, will have “tremendous longevity”. He says railings are often seen as a mundane part of a building, but he views them as being full of potential. “Gates and railings can be used as canvasses and have endless possibilities,” he says.

Marion Coleman's presentation of her winning project: a copper and steel patchwork of trees.

Marion Coleman, who specializes in quilts, both traditional textile ones and those made in mixed media, will create two appliqué metal quilts using tree motifs.

Coleman says she was inspired to use nature as a theme because of the library’s location  – she points to the “abundance of trees and greenery in north Berkeley” — and as a reference to the California Arts & Crafts movement whose influence can be seen in munch of the area’s architecture.

It also turns out there is a natural synergy between Coleman’s work and the library as the library has a special collection of books on quilts. Coleman has created numerous public work commissions and has been artist in residence at the deYoung Museum, among others.

The piece, called “A Patchwork of Trees”, is to be made of copper and stainless steel and will be part of information boards located in a new section of the library being built as part of the renovations.

The budget for the North Branch Library artwork, based on 1% of the estimated construction costs, was $38,000 and was $29,000 for the Claremont Branch, calculated on the same basis.

The eleven members of the selection panel included representatives of the Board of Library Trustees, the Civic Arts Commission, the Landmarks Preservation Commission, local community representatives of library users, and the Branch Library manager for each library.

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