Bringing two creative endeavors together at Peoria’s North Branch Library…
“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.”
These words, by singer-songwriter and author Michael Gungor, summarize beautifully the intrinsic value of art in our world—a value that can often be sidestepped or forgotten in favor of more pressing or pragmatic 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 brings to the table the added dimension of functionality, offering purposeful shelter for all manners of human activity.
When these two prized endeavors—art and architecture—work in unison under the same roof, the results can be particularly rewarding for both. The presence of art can enliven and enhance the best possible qualities of a building or space, taking the architect’s carefully considered intentions to new levels of realization. Likewise, the architecture itself can inspire the artist to further stretch his or her creative impulses, resulting in new and previously unexplored accomplishments.
A Signature Feature
The opportunity for such creative collaboration presented itself with the newest addition to the family of libraries serving the Greater Peoria community: the North Branch Library, located on Grand Parkway in the northwest corner of town. Designed to gently find its place amidst the surrounding native prairie grasses, this all-new facility is intended to embody the highest principles of environmental and cultural sustainability. Generous amounts of natural daylighting (as an esoteric feature) are intended to foster a powerful connection between the natural prairiescape outside and the academic activities occurring inside, while generous amounts of gathering space (as a functional feature) are intended to foster a sense of community and belonging for all who visit.
A signature architectural feature of this structure is a prominent rotunda at the front façade, clad entirely in richly-textured, rough-hewn stone. Over the course of time, this rotunda will help to establish the North Branch Library as a strong landmark for the larger North Peoria community (in the classic sense of the word “landmark”, as defined by the veteran MIT urban planner Kevin Lynch). It also offers a heartfelt, contemporary nod to the stone storage silos that served previous generations of farmers. On the inside, this open and airy construction offers a high-energy learning venue specifically dedicated to the library’s younger patrons.
The Beehive Rotunda
Given this rich and carefully considered architectural design, a powerful infusion of art seemed only natural. 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 the perfect act of serendipity. The endangered status of the honeybee worldwide due to Colony Collapse Disorder offered an added opportunity for educational enrichment.
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. Jason Hawk, a previous student of art and sculpture at 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.
Mr. 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 in search of a 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 it, was created in paper mache using a classical Japanese “Washi” paper, and found its home alongside Mr. 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.”
Fear No Art
With these two very different, yet complementary representations of nature’s honeybee inhabiting the Beehive Rotunda and environs at the North Branch, all that remained was the possibility of introducing a colony of real bees. The project team thus decided to add one more artist to the mix, local beekeeper and aficionado Janet Hart. Ms. Hart assisted in the creation of a working demonstration-style beehive just outside the entryway from the main library space into the Beehive Rotunda. 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 resonates strongly 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, illustrating just how much art and architecture matter. iBi