2012.11.21 Showing up naked for the dress rehearsal

Written by David Green.

By COLLEEN LEDDY

Did you see last week’s back page photo of Jane Brasher-Garrow and Kym Ries looking at the manga in the Japanese Art Show at Stair Public Library?

That photo first made me think, “Look at that: two great teachers who make such a difference in the lives of kids every single day.”

And then, “Boy, anybody who moved here after 2004 or anybody who’s never been in the library annex or who hasn’t been a regular Observer reader must have looked at that photo and wondered, “What’s up with the barn siding?”

It’s been hanging so long at the library I don’t even see it anymore—until someone new visits and asks, “Is there a reason for the barn wood?”

It was meant to be a temporary thing—an idea conceived by former director Liz Stella to protect the walls of the recently renovated library annex from the Community Art Show Kym was organizing in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institution “Barn Again! Celebrating an American Icon” exhibit in the fall of 2004.

The wood came from the Stellas’ farm and Liz’s husband and sons hung it from ropes. The wood was only meant to hang during the six weeks of the “Barn Again!” exhibit—and the Genevieve Siegel barn paintings exhibit that preceded “Barn Again!” 

But soon after the Smithsonian exhibit shipped off to another location, we had another exhibit and then another and another, and we realized how handy it was, protecting the walls from nails and destruction. So it stayed and stayed. And we came to appreciate how well it worked to hang art on both the barn wood and the spaces between the boards.

Appreciating that barn wood as I looked at the photo of Jane and Kym, brought to mind Nancy Mathews from the Michigan Humanities Council. She’s the person responsible for our library being awarded the Smithsonian exhibit—and our foray into offering a wide variety of programs. 

At a meeting Liz and I attended with Michigan Humanities Council and representatives from the other locations in the state hosting the traveling exhibit, Nancy asked us all to think about how hosting the “Barn Again!” exhibit could leave a lasting legacy for our library.

My thoughts went immediately to the physical—stained glass—and figuring out some way to incorporate that art form into our library. We did eventually do that with Rosine Downing’s eight beautiful stained glass scenes above the front windows, but Nancy seemed to be hinting at something that would have more of a lasting impact on the lives of the members of our community.

I know now that her idea of a lasting legacy is really embodied, not just in Rosine’s beautiful stained glass art, but in the number and variety of programs we continue to offer after learning how to make that happen during the “Barn Again!” exhibit.

Besides Liz’s efforts to mobilize the community to raise funds to build the now 15-year-old “new” library, the “Barn Again!” exhibit—and all the events and activities we planned in association with it—had the most impact on what we now do as a library.

I don’t know what Nancy’s doing now, but her influence on our library is just another example of how one life makes a big difference in ways you may never know.

For some reason, as I gazed at that photo of Jane and Kym, the Rose Tremain quote, “Life is not a dress rehearsal,” popped into my head. You’ve got to get it right the first time because this life you’re living is the real thing, not just a practice session. 

What a heavy burden! 

It’s a good thing there are people like Nancy Mathews and Liz Stella and Jane Brasher Garrow and Kym Ries; people who are getting it right the first time. It leaves space for people like me—people who are bumbling through, making it up as we go along—living life more like an improv comedy show.

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