The Kellogg-Hubbard Library, with its Italian Renaissance-influenced architecture and its beautiful Dummerston granite, hails from a different age. When it officially opened 127 years ago, on Jan. 2, 1896, with a collection of 5,613 books, the building itself was pretty much the extent of art at the library, but today the library has a growing art collection that includes ancient reproductions alongside modern and contemporary works.
“Art is one of the best ways that we can be reflective and responsive to our community,” said co-director and library director Carolyn Brennan, adding that art is an “impactful and visible way … that we can be welcoming, warm, and inviting.”
In the fall, the library had a special program to highlight the classical frieze reproductions that have been upstairs in the Karen Bitterman Kitzmiller Fiction Room for 70 years — treasures “hidden in plain view,” as the library describes them. The program marked the publication of a brochure and booklet about the friezes, written by Vermont historian Michael Sherman.
Spotlighting the friezes is one of several art initiatives at the library. During the pandemic, the library installed nine pieces by two famous modern American artists that came in an impressive donated collection; it has also embarked on an effort to ensure the art on its walls represents Black and Indigenous Vermonters, as well as others who have not been adequately represented in the past.
“When we think about the community of patrons and visitors we serve, it’s important that the physical space reflect the incredible diversity of the people who walk through our doors,” said co-director and nonprofit director Jessie Lynn. “As our budget allows, I want to continue to expand our art collection, making this one of the many types of collections that the KHL is known for. It may take a number of years, but I’m excited to now say that it’s a work in progress.”
An Unexpected Gift
In 2018, the library received, as an unexpected gift, the carefully cultivated art collection that Westview Meadows resident Carol Cromwell had built over decades. Cromwell, who had lived in North Carolina and had a doctorate and a career in organic chemistry, enjoyed vacationing in Vermont; in 2011, after her retirement, she moved to Montpelier. She passed away in 2018, and in her will she gave the library more than two dozen works of art, nine of which have been installed in the nonfiction room.
“Carol’s collection included these six pieces by Alexander Calder and three by Arthur Secunda,” states an explanatory page posted near the works. “Alexander Calder was an internationally known artist, famous for his innovative and large, colorful mobiles. Arthur Secunda is an American artist, born in 1927, whose work hangs in prestigious galleries, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York.”
Although the styles of Calder and Secunda differ, the works of both are bright, colorful, and sometimes playful. Calder (1898–1976) was also known for his sculptures and his lithographs, of which the library has six. His large outdoor sculptures have been installed around the world, including in New York and outside Boston. One of the closest to central Vermont is his “Stegosaurus” in downtown Hartford, Connecticut.
Secunda, who died in 2022, was a painter, printmaker, and sculptor. Lynn said that his three works at the library are a painted wood panel, a serigraph print, and a silkscreen. Secunda’s first solo show, back in 1950, interestingly, was in Montpellier. That’s with two l’s — Montpellier, France.
Classical Friezes Add Elegance the Building Deserves
The Kellogg-Hubbard Library and the T.W. Wood Gallery were both founded in the mid-1890s, and they were each embroiled in early, sometimes overlapping, struggles. Although Thomas Waterman Wood, the prominent Montpelier-based artist, had wanted the 42 works he donated to start the gallery to be housed with a library, that wouldn’t happen for more than half a century.
In 1948, the library proposed to the gallery that it move to its second floor, converting the large, open space used for public lectures into its own art gallery. Sharing the building fit the financial and space needs of both organizations; in 1953, the Wood Gallery moved in. The Wood remained upstairs until 1985, when both organizations needed more space and the gallery moved to what was then the Vermont College campus of Norwich University.
When the Wood Gallery moved into the library, it installed a treasure that remains there: reproductions of friezes from buildings from ancient Greece and Renaissance Italy.
“A frieze is a continuous band of ornamental and figurative low-relief sculpture,” explains a library brochure. These reproductions hail from outside the Parthenon in Athens, Greece, and “part of the organ and choir galleries, called cantoria, sculpted by Luca della Robbia and Donatello, for the cathedral at Florence.”
“This is the right place for them,” Sherman said. “The ambiance is right. It’s not a modern building, and the room is high enough. This is the kind of elegance that the building itself deserves.”
Sherman, who holds a doctorate in Renaissance history but has specialized in Vermont history since 1985, said, “No historian can escape the influences of ancient Greece on everything else that has happened in Western history.”
Expanding into the 21st Century
Brennan and Lynn each emphasized the library’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion in aspects of what it does.
“Diversity, equity, and inclusion are embedded in the work of a public library,” Brennan said. “We are meant to be a space where everybody can come in and do whatever their thing is, explore whatever their interest is. Or, they can just come in and exist. We serve everyone with as much equality, with as much equity, as we possibly can. We serve everybody from senators to next-door neighbors.”
Lynn, an artist herself, particularly enjoys adding art to the library’s walls. Those additions include five small pieces by Black Vermont artist Harlan Mack.
“I came across Harlan Mack in Clemmons Family Farm’s e-newsletter, and I really liked the variety of his work,” Lynn wrote in an email. “To start with, I chose a mix of his pieces that seemed to display a range of his talents, both abstract and representational. To me, Harlan’s work represents a vitality and an energy that expresses the direction that the library is going.”
Recently, the library acquired a watercolor-with-pen-and-ink painting by Amy Hook-Therrien, the Vermont Abenaki Artist Association Artist of the Year 2019. The piece hangs in the Vermont Room, above the framed land acknowledgment, which reads, in part: “We are on the land which has long served as a site of meeting and exchange among indigenous peoples for thousands of years and is the home of the Western Abenaki People.”
And There’s More …
Not including rotating exhibits in both the adult and children’s libraries, the friezes, and a variety of historic framed maps and photos, there are over two dozen pieces of art in the library’s permanent collection. They include “Flying Off the Pages,” Carolyn Shapiro’s mural in the children’s area — a commissioned gift in memory of longtime children’s librarian Mary Jane Manahan — and Emilia Olson’s “Volumes of Appreciation” mural by the rear stairwell on the main floor. Olson’s mural presents a wall of shelved books, with the names of larger donors painted on bindings.
Although most art is inside the library, sculptor Ryan Mays’ popular granite “Mouse,” greets visitors as they approach the front entrance. A commissioned 2016 gift from Barb and Jay White, the endearing mouse with a book sometimes sports a hat or scarf left by children or other patrons who don’t want it to catch cold.
Editor’s note: Tom McKone is a regular contributor to The Bridge and served as executive director of the Kellogg-Hubbard Library from 2014 to 2019.