University City

Art keeps thoughts of library visitors in clouds

A new art installation nearly three years in the making can be seen in the recently renovated Beatties Ford Road Library.

The project, titled "Imaginary Clouds," features colorful fabric banners by internationally acclaimed artist Maja Godlewska, assistant professor of art at UNC Charlotte and a Fulbright Fellow.

Three sets of printed and painted banners hang from cables beneath skylights, and six smaller fabric swatches are encased in Plexiglas panels in the computer lab.

"Maja created a work that really blended well with the youth of this facility," said Jean Greer, public art manager of the Arts and Sciences Council. "She created something really vibrant and bright to add to this space."

The ASC commissioned the 46-year-old artist in 2008, after considering artists from the Southeast region. Renovations to the library, down the road from Johnson C. Smith University, began in 2009. Godlewska installed her finished work in time for the library's reopening in June.

The aura of "Imaginary Clouds" reflects the nature of a library, as both the artwork and libraries encourage visitors to daydream, imagine and create their own interpretations, Godlewska said.

"People look at clouds, and they imagine things. Our brains want to recognize things in them," she said. "Similarly, the library is about cultivating the imagination. People come here, they read, they look at things, it inspires them."

The banners are decorated with West-African symbols and colors, inspired by Godlewska's brief residence in Nigeria. Godlewska decided to use influences from the region after getting feedback from library patrons, many of whom are African-American.

Godlewska used a special technique called "heat transfer" printing to color more than 120 yards of polyester mesh fabric. She then used acrylic paints to draw animals, plants and West-African symbols.

Godlewska paid special attention to the library's skylights while creating her work. She wanted the light to enhance the fabric.

"The lighting changes everything," she said. "It makes the fabric seem very ethereal, almost nonexistent, like clouds."

The natural lighting, coupled with the banners' vibrant colors, produces a "wow" effect on patrons, said library manager Irish McNair.

"People comment on it all the time," said McNair. "I watch people come in here and look up to see the colors and designs. Everyone thinks it's just gorgeous."

Godlewska said she wanted to make a public art display for some time, and the library presented a good opportunity.

Libraries also hold a special place in Godlewska's heart. Born and raised in Communist Poland, Godlewska appreciates public libraries' emphasis on access and learning.

"It's empowering."