Public Art

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640 Orange Ave
Coronado, CA, 92118

Wizard of Oz by Brenda Smith

Public Art

About the artist: The Coronado Public Library is a crown jewel of the Emerald City as its shelves overflow with a unique collection of books, periodicals and videos, and beautiful art adorns its walls. The entry portal to the Children's Library features the "Wizard of Oz" suspended glass panels. Each large panel has a scene from the Oz story illustrated by artist Brenda Smith. "The story of the Wizard of Oz Children's Library Portal began during the architectural planning of the major expansion and renovation project of the Coronado Public Library. One of the many goals of this project was to double the size of the Children's Library. "The Children's Library area would be located near the new lobby where a whimsical feature was envisioned with a connection to children's literature", says Coronado Public Library Director Christian Esquevin. The library was able to do just this as they commissioned Brenda Smith, a children's book illustrator, to create this unique and exquisite mural. The project did not come without its challenges. "The amount of detailed brushwork and the need to avoid any mistakes that would be magnified through enlargement meant that Brenda Smith would spend most of one year producing the art", says Esquevin. In addition, the library had to carefully select glass and installation companies to ensure the artworks longevity and attractiveness. As a result of a long evaluation of ideas reviewed by the Library Board of Trustees, Library staff, architects, and City Engineering Department staff, a project was planned to fabricate and suspend a series of glass panels with commissioned art illustrating scenes for the Wizard of Oz. This story was both well-known and well-loved, and it had a special connection to Coronado since its author and his family had spent several winters in Coronado, beginning in 1904. L. Frank Baum wrote several of this Oz books here, including "The Marvelous Land of Oz," "Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz," and "The Emerald City of Oz." The art for the Portal's glass panels was considered to be a crucial part of its success. Artist Brenda Smith came immediately to mind since Head Children's Librarian Ellenjoy Weber and Library Director Christian Esquevin had both worked with her in developing Children's Summer Reading Program themed art for the Coronado Public Library and other Serra Library System members. Brenda Smith, working with Gary Bell Design, had very successfully illustrated a variety of human and animal characters. A series of exploratory and later developmental meetings fleshed out which characters and scenes to illustrate, creating a new interpretation of the "Wizard of Ozl" This version combined elements of both the original Baum book and the film classic of 1939. While the Children's Library Portal was considered part of the larger Coronado Public Library Expansion Project, private funding would be necessary. Since the total cost for the Portal was unknown, fundraising would be one of the many challenges facing the project. Transferring the artwork to glass panels and engineering their suspension would two other challenges. Steele Group architects developed plans for a series of nine panels. The glass panels would slightly overlap and be suspended from floor to ceiling on steel cables. The panels would form an archway through which one would walk while entering the children's Library. The glass panels would display the art from either side of the panels and allow light to filter through from natural and/or artificial sources. This latter consideration was an important factor, entailing a long review to determine how much color saturation would be needed for the art, how translucent the surrounding glass should be, and which glass fabricator would be used. After extensive evaluation, Visualution Inc. was selected to produce the glass panels. Visualution Inc. had just created a process for printing high-resolution art directly onto glass. Glass samples and proposed techniques were reviewed and approved. The Library Board then invited potential donors and members of the Coronado Public Art Subcommittee into the review process. The various stages of Brenda Smith's artwork, from conceptual layout to character studies to finished art for each panel, were also reviewed. Brenda's layout also followed scenes along the famous "yellow brick road." The amount of detailed brushwork and the need to avoid any mistakes that would be magnified through enlargement meant that Brenda Smith would spend most of one year producing the art. It became clear that even with a substantial delay in completing the Library Expansion and Renovation Project, the Portal would not be ready for the June 2005 Library Grand Opening. Indeed, a variety of engineering issues continued to crop up, which further delayed the Portal project. The specific locations for the Portal had been sited and a steel i-beam had been welded to structural steel columns in order to hold the glass panels and cabling. The City's Capital Projects Coordinator, Steve Easterday, searched for the right system and hardware. A custom-designed system was needed, one in which the structural cabling or supports would not interfere with the aesthetics of the work, yet be strong enough to hold large glass panels suspended in air and withstand seismic shaking. The engineering fir of TriPyramid Structures in Westford, Massachusetts, was found to have the expertise to design the structural system and was hired to design and fabricate parts. Its system of rods and connectors was functional and attractive, but an engineering review determined that the Library's concrete slab floor, now covered with travertine tile, might crack from the amount of tension needed to properly anchor the rods. The solution chosen among several alternatives was to trench-cut the concrete, lay in a steel I-beam, weld it to the base of the steel column s, pour new concrete, and cover it up with matching stone tile. Engineering and building plans were drawn accordingly. By the time, the newly expanded and renovated Coronado Public Library had been open for over a year and the patience of the Library planners was thin. The projected costs for the Portal kep increasing, requiring more fundraising, more donors, and the support of the Friends.of the Library. Encouragement came when the full beauty of the completed art was seen. When a full glass-panel sample arrived, it provided an exciting preview of things to come. Finally, a contract was awarded to Healey Construction of Coronado for the installation of the glass and to retrofit the floor. Not all was trouble-free, however, as a high plywood construction wall was erected to enclose the work area, which obstructed a major part of the entry into the Children's Library. To minimize noise and disturbance during regular Library open hours, certain work, including concrete cutting, steel grinding, and welding, was conducted before the Library opened to the public. Meanwhile, the glass arrived in crates, consisting of nine panels with a total size of 185 square feet. Each panel was composed of two 3/16-inch sheets of tempered and polished starphire glass. Holes had been drilled to mount the bushings and fixtures. Visualution Inc. contracted with Primary Color Systems in Irvine, California, to print each panel, which was treated to filter ut ultraviolet light and make the images scratch resistant. The largest panel, which displays the Emerald City scene, measures 92 inches by 60 inches. After the structural retrofit was completed, the installation of the glass panels with anchors and steel rods was quickly accomplished. An unveiling ceremony was held on November 3, 2006. Donors, architects, Library Board members, the Mayor and Council Members, City and Library Staff, Friends of the Library Board members and others, finally viewed the beautiful accomplishment. Artist Brenda Smith was overwhelmed. Since the day of the unveiling, the Wizard of OZ Portal had been enthusiastically received by children and adults. The color images on glass seem to float, and its translucency gives the entire portal a light and ethereal presence. It was completed in 2006 the 150th year of L. Frank Baum's birth. This beautiful masterpiece is perfectly juxtaposed with the library lobby so that all who visit are able to bask in its glory and masterful detail.