Thursday, October 24, 2013

Art Matters. Architecture Matters.

Bringing Two Creative Endeavors Together at Peoria’s New North Branch Library
by Edward J. Barry Jr., Principal, Farnsworth Group

“Art matters. It is not simply a leisure activity for the privileged or a hobby for the eccentric. It is a practical good for the world. The work of the artist is an expression of hope - it is homage to the value of human life, and it is vital to society. Art is a sacred expression of human creativity that shares the same ontological ground as all human work. Art, along with all work is the ordering of creation toward the intention of the creator.” - Michael Gungor

These words, by singer-songwriter and author Michael Gungor, summarize beautifully the intrinsic value of art in our world. A value that can oftentimes be sidestepped or forgotten in favor of more pressing or pragmatic societal priorities. Curiously, the word “art” in Mr. Gungor’s sentiments could be readily replaced by the word “architecture” to create an equally powerful message. Architecture, like art, is an essential element of a dynamic and progressive civilization, providing an equally powerful expression of the human creative impulse. It then brings to the table the added dimension of functionality, offering purposeful shelter for all manner of human activity.

When these two prized endeavors – art and architecture – work in unison under the same roof, the result can be particularly rewarding for both of them. The opportunity for such creative collaboration presented itself at the recently completed North Branch Library located in Peoria, IL. Designed to gently find its place amidst the surrounding native prairie grasses, this all-new facility is intended to embody the highest and best principles of environmental and cultural sustainability.

A signature architectural feature of this all-new structure is a prominent rotunda at the front façade clad entirely in richly-textured and rough-hewn stone.  Given this rich and carefully considered architectural design, a powerful infusion of art seemed only natural. And, given the surrounding prairiescape, home to an equally rich and diverse cacophony of flora and fauna, the transformation of this rotunda into a Beehive for those younger patrons was a perfect act of serendipity. The endangered status of the honey bee worldwide, due to Colony Collapse Disorder, offered an added opportunity for educational enrichment of these younger patrons.

Two artists, from two very different worlds, were engaged to collaborate with the Beehive Rotunda project team. Madame Valérie Saubot-Rouit, a Parisian artist with strong cultural links to the Pyrénées Region of Southwestern France, maintains working studios in both the Métropole and in Barcellonette, a village in the southern French Alps. And, Jason Hawk, previously a student of art and sculpture at both the Academy of Art College in San Francisco and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (where he was mentored by Peoria artist Preston Jackson), calls the Midwest his home.

Mister Hawk, not limiting himself to the immediate space of the Beehive Rotunda, created a series of whimsical wire-frame metal bees of varying shapes and sizes. These were installed either « in flight » on their way back to the hive of the Rotunda, or walking on the walls or along the floors of that Rotunda in search of a new prairie flower to pollinate. One or two errant bees even found their way to other disparate spots in the library, bringing the concept of the Beehive Rotunda to the four corners of the building. Madame Saubot-Rouit’s « Bee’s Armada » (as she affectionately christened them) were created in paper mache, using a classical Japanese « Washi » paper. That « Bee’s Armada » found its home alongside Mister Hawk’s bees inside the main hive. « I am very proud and honored that my bees flew all the way from Paris to Peoria, and now find a welcoming home in this beautiful new library. »

Inside Madame Saubot-Rouit’s art studio in that bucolic French village of Barcellonette, visitors are welcomed by the words “Ne fuis pas l’art”. While this expression literally translates as “Don’t run away from art”, it represents Madame Saubot-Rouit’s slightly philosophical interpretation of the English “Fear No Art”, a mantra that strongly resonates in the creative scene of Jason Hawk’s Chicago. In and around the Beehive of Peoria’s North Branch Library, both of these individuals have lent their artistic expressions to this community landmark that illustrate just how much art and architecture matter.

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