Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Open To All


On a wintry wet Monday in Columbus, Ohio, my second-born and I decided to go exploring at the library.


^ Our first impressions were fantastic. This grand old lady, who dates back to 1873, stretched far and wide across her palatial lawns on Grant Avenue, and despite the bone-chilling breeze, we lingered to take in her regal and dignified beauty. 


^ "Open to All." I slammed to a dead stop on the stairs as my eye fell on those words. I wondered who exactly the designers were thinking of when they chiseled those words in marble above the door. 

Maybe farmers with muddy boots.
Maybe children who would skip and run down the hallways, and forget to use inside voices.
Maybe the descendants of runaway slaves who'd come to town on the Underground Railroad and decided to put roots down here. 

Or maybe some prophetic soul knew that in a hundred years, homeless people would flock here to find a warm place to sit and be. 

 With these questions swirling through my mind, I pushed open the door and stepped inside. 


^ In an instant, I was swept back though the centuries. Marble columns, arches, filigrees, pedestals, walls, and mosaics wrapped around me from floor to ceiling. The effect was overwhelmingly grandiose.  


^ The staircases, also, were sublime. 


^ I saw no books anywhere in sight, but what I did find was art. Large and small paintings, sculpture, African masks, jewelry, collage, photography. This oversize take on a classic View Master caught my attention right away.


^ After inspecting every bit of art I could find, it was this suspended sculptural creation that was my favorite. The mash up of old and new, and the beautiful symmetry of the setting around the installation really did it for me. 

Still no books anywhere in sight. But after a bit more snooping around, we discovered this library's secret.


^ Behind the marble facade of the original reading room, as it was so charmingly named, lies the beating heart of the modern library. 


^ Three stories of modern spaces, renovated as recently as 2015, square off against the original building to form a glorious atrium. Two sets of stairs - one a solid bulwark and the other an airy artwork, move patrons to and fro. The orange column that juts through all three floor ties the space together. 


^ The collection of modern art continued on through the newer spaces too. This one, by Kate Spencer Stewart, is called Rake Verb. That title blew my mind; I could not imagine what a rake verb might be but my confusion did not keep me from falling in love with the art.The warm tones of pink and lemony yellow brought a ray of sunshine to the gloomy winter's day.


^  But striking as they were, the paintings couldn't help but play second fiddle to the soaring ceiling, myriad balconies and windows, and gorgeous sunlit spaces within the library walls. 


^ We walked around for literally two hours, not in search of anything in particular, just enjoying the different spaces, views, and ever-changing light. 


^ Eventually, my daughter and I landed in a gathering of four blue chairs parked by a framed quilt that captured the essence of city back in the day when the library first opened. As I sat and stared at the tiny details, those words again, "Open to All" jumped out at me from the left center of the art. 

I'm still not sure who those founders were referring to, back in the day, when they made their proclamation. But based on the number of apparently homeless men and women I saw, quietly resting and relaxing in the library today, I can promise them that their sentiment is alive and well. 

And if you should ever happen to come visit at the main library in Columbus, I'm sure you'll be welcome too. This place truly is open to all.

* * * * *

Who on earth would choose to go to the icy Midwest during the darkest days of winter? 
I do, and I invite you to read all about it. 

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