Spokane Public Library's seven branches house books, yes, but also a plethora of accessible public art

click to enlarge Spokane Public Library's seven branches house books, yes, but also a plethora of accessible public art
Young Kwak photo
Author Toni Morrison inspires Tracy Poindexter-Canton's art, which hangs in the Liberty Park Library.

The possibilities within a library's walls are infinite.

Libraries house many resources, and provide most at no cost to the members of a community served. Spokane's public library system is no exception. Patrons can check out books, receive help navigating Medicare, attend children's storytimes, take classes and even see art.

About a year after the $77 million library bond was passed by voters in 2018, Spokane Public Library and Spokane Arts put out an open call for artists to submit work for the library's permanent and rotating art collection.

"Our construction budget was closer to $52 million," says Amanda Donovan, director of marketing and communications for the Spokane Public Library. "And our total commitment to public art is 1.11% [of the construction budget], or $588,000."

In July 2021, artists whose work was chosen for display in the new buildings were announced. From intricate fiber art to large-scale, hanging glass installations, each piece speaks to books, culture or Spokane as a place. Now that renovations and construction at all Spokane Library branches have recently wrapped up (with the reopening this month of the final two locations, Indian Trail and South Hill), here's a snapshot of some of those newly installed pieces.


"Carrying" and "To Shalimar," Liberty Park Library

Local artist Tracy Poindexter-Canton's eyes light up when she's asked about her favorite author.

"Toni Morrison has had the most profound impact on me as an artist," she says. "She's my world. I'm so enthralled by her work."

Poindexter-Canton's two mixed-media pieces in the new Liberty Park Library are inspired by Morrison's novels Beloved and Song of Solomon.

Based on Beloved, "Carrying" depicts a person cradling a bouquet of dying daisies. Poindexter-Canton says the daisies represent the main character's youth, childhood and innocence dying because of the psychological effects of slavery.

Her mixed-media collage "To Shalimar" has dozens of small intricacies that reference Morrison's Song of Solomon and the events within.

"I always put a lot of metaphors into my work," she says. "You can see that this wing is in the shape of Africa, a nod to how the story is about ancestry, the protagonist finding his roots and coming of age. And the golden bones down in the corner symbolize the importance of heritage — you'll find that in a lot of my work."

Poindexter-Canton wants to continue her Toni Morrison series, emphasizing that books are a main source of inspiration for her.

"When I'm reading one of her books, I can see what I'm going to create in my mind," she says. "Her writing is so descriptive, and I really connect with her female characters as I get older. She makes me want to create."


"Shimmer," Central Library

Upon entering the Central Library, it's impossible not to crane your neck upwards. You can send your chiropractor bills to John Rogers, the artist behind the focal point of the newly remodeled library.

"Shimmer," the Portland-based artist's massive glass art installation, hangs above the main staircase leading up to the library's second floor. It's absolutely impossible to miss the iridescent glass shards dangling from the ceiling.

"I hadn't been to Spokane in 40 years," Rogers says. "I came back to get some inspiration after I was given the go-ahead to start planning my project. I had completely forgotten about the river and the historical significance of the falls. I walked around the city and absorbed the feeling of it, everything after that is subconscious."

Rogers doesn't want people to get too caught up over what he intends the piece to represent. Some of Rogers' friends have said the glass shards represent the white caps of waves on the Spokane River, others have said it looks like salmon jumping over the falls.

"I don't want it to be something you look at and immediately decide what it is," he says. "I want it to be something different for every single person who enters the space."

When asked why he entered the open call for artwork, Rogers says he spent a lot of time in libraries in his 20s.

"I've found that libraries are one of the few public buildings that can act as sort of a refuge for people. I can't think of another building that people can go into, no matter what their situation in life is, and be accepted. I know it was that way for me."


"Urban Landmark: Ice Machine," The Hive

Spokane artist Helen Parsons learned how to sew at the library. Now, she creates fiber art for a living.

click to enlarge Spokane Public Library's seven branches house books, yes, but also a plethora of accessible public art
Helen Parsons' "Urban Landmark: Ice Machine"

"My mom didn't have the time to answer my questions about sewing when I was growing up," Parsons says. "So I sat in the library day after day reading books about sewing, teaching myself the craft."

You won't find a single book or a computer, however, within the four walls of The Hive. The nontraditional library space centers on arts education and free, public event spaces. This makes it the perfect place for Parson's "Urban Landmark: Ice Machine," a fiber-art piece depicting a rusty ice machine, like one you'd find outside a rural grocery store.

"Art doesn't need to have a narrative," Parsons says. "It just needs to create an experience. You don't need a defined language or complex ideas to understand it. Art just is. I am where I am today because of the library. Everyone has access to whatever they need there, including art. There's no greater power than that."


"Hoop," Liberty Park Library

Located on the west side of the Liberty Park Library, "Hoop" is a large-scale, colorful metal sculpture in the shape of an embroidery hoop.

"I'm a textile artist by trade," says Bainbridge Island-based artist Shawn Parks. "This was a bit daunting, but felt like a natural extension of my studio work."

When Parks visited the then-future site of the library, he noticed how rooted in competition and sport the park surrounding it was.

"So, I immediately felt challenged to create something based not in competition, but in craft," he says. "I wanted to create a different kind of hoop in the park, one that wasn't related to basketball. Spokane is Hooptown after all."

After researching a bit, Parks decided on a very particular color scheme for the sculpture: Pink, purple and orange. The stitches on the top of the "fabric" are turquoise, representing the waves of the Spokane River.

"The main goal of the project was to add some colorful, feminine joy to the area," he says. "Oh, and to make people smile." ♦

For a full list of the permanent and rotating works in the Spokane Public Library system, visit www.spokanelibrary.org/art-at-the-hive