KETCHIKAN — When the new Ketchikan Public Library opened at the beginning of the year, there was much to do about the building, its placement and the new open space to house the city’s collection of books, audio and movies. Many think the library is only a place for books, but it also houses a collection of public art, new and old.
Artist Nathan Jackson and Ketchikan City Council Member Bob Sivertsen unveiled the final commissioned art piece installed in the new library on May 31. A wood medallion, featuring a male and female salmon with eggs swirling between them, was hung above the fireplace and is the last of four pieces commissioned for the library.
“This is the finishing touch on the library,” Sivertsen said, calling the city’s public art the “jewel of Ketchikan.”
Four new pieces were part of the library’s original design and included in the budget of about $12 million for the building. The city commissioned the collection for $67,900, according to Kathleen Light, executive director of the Ketchikan Area Arts and Humanities Council
The artists were selected by Ketchikan Public Art Works, a selection committee of various members of the community including business owners, artists and “regular people,” Light said.
“It’s an amazing process to be one of the innocent bystanders as the committee selects the piece,” she said. “So far every piece has fit beautifully. We have done this process for several (projects) now and I don’t think anyone has any complaints.”
In the library’s new collection are Jackson’s medallion; a hanging piece in the entrance by Evon Zerbertz and Rich Stage; metal panels by Rhonda Green and Anne Fitzgerald and the fabric tree in the children’s library created by Deb Turnbull, Sherry Henrickson, Ann Carlson and Jackie Keizer.
Lisa Pearson, the adult technical services librarian, said the art adds to the beauty of the building, making it more comfortable and welcoming for both residents and visitors.
“People are hanging out here. People are being comfortable and spending time,” Pearson said. “The art is a part of that, because it makes it seem like a really comfortable space to be in.”
She said the library often receives visitors from out of town, exploring away from downtown and the cruise ships, and they often comment on the art in the library.
“We get a lot of visitors from Alaska, and from Down South, that have been amazed at the quality of art in the building,” she said. “Since Ketchikan is a great artist community, I think it’s fitting that we have those pieces in the library where people can easily see them.”
Along with the new art, the library brought its “old” art to the new building. Pieces that adorned the walls in the old building now grace the walls of the new building, adding a sense of familiarity and comfort.
“We have tried to place it thoughtfully, put the brightly colored paintings in the children’s library, and it’s nice for them because they recognize that was the poster or watercolor from the old library,” Pearson said. “We have brought some of the old building with us.”
The placement of the art has a slight gallery-feel. As people pass from one end of the library to the other, the various pieces are spread out to greet and welcome patrons. On a practical level, the art pieces serve as landmarks.
“When we have new people to the library, especially tourists that are coming in to use the Internet computers, we just tell them it’s just past the humpback whales,” Pearson said with a laugh, referring to the art being used as a landmark. “Because that’s the last post before you get to the computers.”
According to Light, the selection process for the library art went smoothly and was completed quickly.
“The selection committee pretty much knew what they wanted,” she said. “It’s a function of looking at the proposals and thinking about what kind of library they wanted.”
Pearson said she is impressed with the art that was selected and the comfortable feeling it brings to the library.
“It’s just amazing what the artists have done with their space and ideas,” she said. “As someone who has no talent in that whatsoever, I am just so impressed with what people have done.”
Included in the collection of “new art” is a steel-cut cedar tree created by Rich Stage and donated to the library by the U.S. Forest Service. It stands outside the building and can be viewed through the southeast windows of the children’s library.
The next public art unveiling will occur on July 4 on the Creek Street bridge, where a new salmon sculpture, created by Terry Pyles, will be installed.