Local artists and Bolles students bring art and books to life in new Downtown Library mural
Artist and Atlantic Coast High art teacher Thom Buttner’s career has primarily been in the field of commercial illustration. “I get paid to come up with pictures,” he laughs. But when he walked into the Jacksonville Public Library’s Main Library to view a blank wall that was slated for a mural in the Children’s Department’s Discovery Zone, the idea came faster than any before it.
“Within five minutes I had the picture, the concept,” he says. “Normally it doesn’t come that fast, but this one came super-fast!”
Working with Jim Smith, a fellow artist and longtime visual arts instructor at The Bolles School, along with their studio mate, photographer Mary Atwood, Buttner fleshed out his idea for The Joy of Discovery – a mural spanning the entirety of one fifty-foot wall, above bookshelves. The mural depicts animals flying out of a book with children on their backs “having the time of their lives,” as Smith puts it. The scene is complete with many three-dimensional elements to really bring the picture to life.
The Children’s Department of the Main Library is funded in large part by donor Joy Korman, a community leader and co-founder of Living Leadership, a consulting and training partnership. Korman has worked as a teacher, counselor and administrator, holding numerous leadership positions over the past thirty years, including at The Bolles School. There, Korman created several leadership, mentoring and community service initiatives for high school students and worked with Smith. So when the idea for a new children’s mural at the library emerged, Korman first tapped Smith.
“Joy Korman had asked me to do a mural for the Sulzbacher Center with some students years ago,” says Smith. “She always remembered it and liked it, and when the Discovery Zone library project came up, she asked me to do this mural – with one request: that Bolles students are involved.”
“The fine and performing arts are a cornerstone of Bolles’ academic experience: our youngest students are expanding classroom lesson perspectives both onstage and in the art studio, while our oldest students are honing artistic passions and developing lifelong interests,” says Bolles President and Head of School Dave Farace. He notes that one-hundred percent of Bolles’ lower school students are involved in art, music and theatre instruction, while eighty percent of their middle and upper school students enroll in fine and performing arts classes each year.
For the library mural, Smith, in turn, immediately thought of Buttner, who has designed and painted murals and illustrated children’s books in the past. Atwood is aiding in various facets of the project, including typography design within the mural, and project paperwork and logistics.
Buttner says his design is “a good solution for the space,” since it is on the upper portion of a long horizontal wall. A five-foot-tall book opens up three-dimensionally at the bottom left corner of the space and seemingly unleashes the painted characters – many of which are cutout, mounted elements that hover off the wall. The characters fly across the horizon and back into a book at the right-hand side, “to show that you can have adventures that stem from books,” Buttner says.
“The concept of these 3-D components coming off of the wall is in keeping with the design of the children’s section,” Buttner comments. “There are 3-D pieces already there in the architecture, like the foliage at the entrance.”
He also points out that the animals in the design are all indigenous to our region, which is also in keeping with the existing theme of the Children’s Department.
Smith, who is a sculptor, has been tasked with making the three-dimensional pieces. Though the majority of the work will be completed by the end of the summer, Smith says they’ve saved a part for his Bolles students to work on. The dimensional elements of the piece will be brought back to Bolles, he says, where his AP and Honors 3-D students will work on them in class.
“The library mural work is such a beautiful example of how students can develop a serious passion for art through their Bolles experience,” says Farace.
The mural’s title, The Joy of Discovery, is a nod to the act of reading, the library’s Discovery Zone, and its namesake. “It’s an ode to Joy Korman and books,” Buttner says.
Involving Bolles students makes it an ode to artistic discovery as well. “Students who were once pleased to see their art exhibited in the Gooding Gallery [on the San Jose campus] or Betsy Lovett Arts Center [Bartram campus] are now experiencing the privilege of public art creation with some of this city’s most dynamic artists,” Farace comments. Certainly, all facets of this project will inspire generations to come.
The Joy of Discovery is set to be complete in September. Contact The Bolles School for more info., 256-5024, www.Bolles.org. Visit the mural at the JPL Main Library, 303 N. Laura Street, Downtown.
By Meredith T. Matthews • Photos by laird