Valentine Adams is the creator of the new library sculpture set to be unveiled on Tuesday, April 11 at 5:30 p.m. Adams discusses the process, and inspiration behind his work. 

My gratitude and respect for libraries runs deep. So when the Friends of Brentwood Library (FOBL) commissioned me to create a sculpture for the front entryway, I saw, beyond the creative challenge of this project, an opportunity shows my personal appreciation for the lifetime these institutions that have answered my queries, fueled my creativity and shaped my intellect.   Before I sketch my first design for a project, I spend time educating myself about the place where the sculpture will reside.   I was fascinated when my research revealed that the exact geographical location of the library has an association with artwork that predates the library itself by hundreds of years. As it turns out, Fredrick Ward Putnam, a member of the 1882 Harvard Peabody Expedition, discovered this connection when he unearthed a Native American Shell Gorget from a stone burial box located where the library now stands. Shell Gorgets were a form of Native American Artwork fashioned from seashells that were painstakingly carved into ornate figurines that were worn around the neck.

Native American Gorget
Example of Native American Gorget

The nautilus-shaped lightening whelk shell was commonly used to create gorget artwork. I was inspired by the skill, patience and technique these native artisans employed to make this art and how the carvings, like the spiraled frieze carving running up a roman column, depicted the history and ceremonies of their culture.

Since Native Americans did not have libraries to contain their history and heritage, they imbued it on the items of everyday life. They celebrated, worshiped and recalled their culture by the paintings on pottery and the carvings on seashells. I envisioned the cultural story carved into the spiral of the gorget seashell. This brought back an earlier memory of visiting Trajan’s Forum in Rome and seeing the 98-foot marble column that had been spiraled with a 611-foot-long frieze depicting the story of Roman Emperor Trajan’s victory over the Dacian empire in 85 AD.

Trajan’s Column

The metal books that line the curved seating area of the bench continue to curve and spiral upward on the left serve two purposes. They honor the heritage of the library site by mirroring the spiral form of a whelk shell used to create Native American Gorget artwork like the artifact discovered on the library site. As well the design and title of the sculpture “Read and Unwind” evoke an image of the library as an endlessly winding cornucopia of knowledge or a spiraled road that takes you as far as your curiosity, willingness and wherewithal permit. The more you read, the more you know; the more you know, the higher you spiral up the column of intellectual growth; and the higher you are on that column the farther you can see into the world of dreams and possibilities. A library enables that intellectual pursuit.

The fact that this is artwork you can approach touch and sit upon is not incidental to the design.   I relish in creating sculptures that integrate thoughtfully into public spaces and invite closeness and intellectual involvement. I believe all beautiful artwork invites a connection with its onlooker however far too often that connection is restricted by velvet ropes, fences and watchful museum guards. If there is a common theme between any of my artwork it is the want, warmth and willingness for the viewing audience’s participation. In this case the curve of the bench has been designed to mimic the inviting feel of a cushioned banquette. In contrast to the straight-across design of traditional park benches, the curved bench allows groups of patrons to sit and converse without having to lean forward to see each other’s faces. As an artist, it has been my challenge to create something worthy of the grounds of the magnificent institution it will inhabit, a sculpture that reflects value libraries have in our communities as well as the communities’ libraries create. I have created this sculpture with that intention. Over time, I would hope that this artwork continues to turn eyes and provoke the imaginations of the library patrons. Still just as much, I would hope that the sculpture grows a nostalgic patina of recollection as a place where ideas occurred, thoughts were shared and great books were read.   This is the same patina that runs deep in the brick and mortar of the Brentwood Library. As a Brentwood resident and library patron, I have seen this institution grow and evolve to best serve the changing needs of its community. This sculpture is among many things my way of saying thank you that it has existed and will continue to exist.

– Valentine Adams