Your favorite book could be featured around town as part of the new Book Benches public art exhibit.
The 37 fiberglass benches feature artistic renderings of books by Kentucky authors, created by Kentucky artists, and will be unveiled as a group in Gratz Park Friday evening before being stationed in public spaces around next week. They will remain on display through November.
The project is a collaboration between Arts Connect, LexArts, and the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning, headed by Kate Savage of Arts Connect. The benches are all sponsored, but the project was initially funded by VisitLex, the Downtown Lexington Management District, and the Corridors Commission.
It was inspired by a similar project Savage encountered in London, which inspired her to bring the celebration of homegrown literature and art back to Kentucky.
There were 92 proposals for projects, and the selected artists had six weeks to paint their benches, which are fully functional in addition to being pieces of art. Books of all genres are represented: fiction, nonfiction, children’s books, and even a book with almost no words.
"It’s brought together two groups of people who don’t normally mix and mingle," Savage said, both because the project forces people who normally focus on visuals to interpret literature, and because when the benches were brought to a centralized location, artists gathered together while touching up their work, forming new relationships.
In some cases, the artists and authors are the same person.
Ellen Skidmore's bench represents her 2015 book "Ellen: The Little Girl Who Found Her Voice," which she wrote and illustrated about her childhood with a severe speech impediment and how to focus on positives in life rather than imperfections.
Some benches involved the community. Five benches were decorated by Lexington schools, including benches by Henry Clay High School, The Lexington School, Frederick Douglass High School, Head Start with the Community Action Council, and Sayre School.
Sayre's bench depicts "All Rise: A History of Sayre School" by William T. Williams, supervised by Anne Allen, an art teacher at the school.
"Sayre’s been going through a lot of transitions," she said, which inspired fifth-through-eighth-grade students to incorporate elements of old and new into the bench's design. Students were inspired by the artwork of Kentucky artist Henry Faulkner, who was known for his bright, expressive oil paintings. The design includes elements of the old Sayre building, downtown Lexington, and ginkgo trees to symbolize the legacy of the Civil War in the city.
Some artists had personal ties to the authors they represented.
Kiptoo Tarus covered his bench with the nameless stick figure protagonist of Audrey Robinson's "Foibles," a series of cartoons about embracing everyday weaknesses and mistakes in life, and how one person can change their circumstances. Robinson was a sculptor before cancer forced her to turn to illustration, eventually creating the book that inspired Tarus before her 2016 death.
When Tarus' signed copy of "Foibles" was destroyed in a house fire, Robinson's husband came through with two more copies of the book, which is represented on the bench in wordless comic strips following the life of the stick figure, and sometimes a similarly minimalist dog.
"The fact that she made this character so mobile really blows my mind," said Tarus.
Several benches include subtle personal touches. Two life-size cats peer out of the shadows under one bench, as an homage to the artist's real pets, and two small dogs join the garden party festivities on another.