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Charlotte and Mecklenburg County has a peculiar amount of book-related public art

 By Mark I. West

January 22, 2020

The printed, physical book is such a common object that one can easily overlook what a wondrous thing it really is. More than any other object, the book is associated with knowledge. For an everyday item, it possesses almost magical qualities. It is a repository of words and stories and ideas. It functions as a portal to other worlds. One feels drawn to interact with a book on both tactile and cerebral levels. A book by itself is amazing enough, but when joined together, they morph into the building blocks of culture. It is no wonder, then, that the book often serves as a source of inspiration for visual artists. Fortunately for those of us who live in the Queen City, we are graced numerous public art examples that celebrate this illustrious commodity.

Grand Entry Book Columns created in 2003 by Jim Gallucci at the entrance to The Green. Photo: Gavin West

The most prominent book sculptures in Charlotte are the Grand Entry Book Columns created in 2003 by Jim Gallucci, a sculptor from Greensboro, North Carolina. These two bronze columns of feature Goliath-sized books, stacked on top of each other in a willy-nilly fashion. The titles of the books are visible, and each column has different titles represented. One of the columns, for example, features Alex Haley’s Roots and Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. The tallest column is thirty-three feet high while the smaller is twenty-eight feet high. Scattered around the columns are oversized pages also made of bronze. In the words of Gallucci, these pages “are designed to appear as if the top book in the totem was left open and the wind scattered the pages from its spine.” The two book columns stand directly across College Street from the Charlotte Convention Center, so they can easily be seen by the thousands of visitors who attend events there. As their name suggests, the Grand Entry Book Columns are located at the entrance to The Green, a pocket park built on top of a large underground parking facility owned by Wells Fargo.

Life Is an Open Book by Brad Spencer on South Tryon across from the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art. Photo: Gavin West

At the opposite end of The Green from Gallucci’s columns is another book sculpture called Life Is an Open Book. Created out of sculpted brick by Brad Spencer, this sculpture stands about six feet high. It features a large open book with four children climbing over it. Young viewers of the sculpture can squeeze into the brick book themselves while grown-ups can at least reach into the open space between the book’s covers. Commissioned by the Brick Association of the Carolinas, the sculpture was dedicated in 2002. This sculpture faces South Tryon and is near the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art.

The Writer’s Desk: A Tribute to Rolfe Neill by Larry Kirkland created  in 2005 located on 7th Street in front of ImaginOn. Photo: Gavin West

Several blocks north of The Green stands a playful cluster of book-related sculptures created primarily from marble and granite by Larry Kirkland in 2005. This work is located on 7th Street in front of ImaginOn, which houses both the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte and the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library’s largest children’s library. Given that so many children visit ImaginOn, it seems fitting that kids constantly swarm over this set of sculptures. The work features a thirty-foot tower of books capped off with a gold quill pen swirling around in a giant inkwell. It also includes an abstract version of a manual typewriter with keys that are plenty large enough for children to stand on. This set of sculptures is titled The Writer’s Desk: A Tribute to Rolfe Neill. Neill served as the publisher of The Charlotte Observer before his retirement in 1997, and the sculptures include many inscribed quotations from columns that he wrote during his years with the paper.

Pages 1-913 by Lydia Musco at Davidson Public Library. Photo: Gavin West

ImaginOn is not the only branch of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library to feature book-related public art. On the northern end of Mecklenburg County in the town of Davidson, the town’s public library includes a sheltered area called the Book Garden. At the center of this space stand three sister sculptures created by Lydia Musco. Known collectively as Pages 1-913, these sculptures take the form of haphazard stacks of manuscript pages. Each stack is made of concrete and each emphasizes a different color– one is blue, one is red, and the third is yellow. All are about six feet in height and appear to be on the verge of tumbling down. By representing the pages that eventually result in a published manuscript, Musco captures all the effort that goes into the creation of a book.

Book Mural by Buzz Bizzell at the Matthews branch of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. Photo: Cynthia McDonald 

Outside the Matthews branch of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library is a public art installation called the Book Mural. Created in 2012 by Buzz Bizzell of Bizzell Design, this mural represents a shelf of books. In the words of Bizzell: “We created a concept for an outdoor mural showing classic leather-bound books standing four feet tall and stretching thirty feet wide. The library staff chose the book titles, and we custom designed the books’ spines.” For the viewers of the Book Mural, there is a temptation to take a book off the shelf and start reading it. This urge can easily be satisfied by simply going inside the library and checking out the desired title.  

All of these book-related works of public art highlight the magic and power of reading. Each has an interactive quality that parallels the nature of handling physical books. While other cities might be known for their war-related statues, Charlotte can take pride in its impressive array of public art that celebrates the mighty book.  

Learn more about the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.

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