Fayette County

Giant books are coming to the streets of Lexington. Who’s behind this plot twist?

This Curious George bench was part of an installation in Naperville, Ill., last summer.
This Curious George bench was part of an installation in Naperville, Ill., last summer. Chicago Fiberglass Works

Lexington has had public art projects featuring horses, bourbon barrels, wildcats and doors. Next, we’ll get book-shaped benches painted to represent works by Kentucky authors.

Book Benches will go on display throughout town next summer.

“We’re always trying to find ways to let the public know that there are great writers in their midst,” said Neil Chethik, executive director of the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning, which is partnering with Art Connects and LexArts on the project. “It gives a chance for the people of Lexington to feel some pride for its literary heritage.”

Kate Savage of Art Connects said she got the idea during a visit to the Tower of London, where she saw a painted bench shaped like an open book that was part of the city’s 2014 Books about Town public art display.

She decided a similar project would be a fresh way to honor Kentucky’s rich literary heritage while encouraging reading and an appreciation for art.

“The more we met, the more we thought, ‘We’re onto something,’” Savage said.

“One of the reasons it appealed to us this time was it is a collaboration,” said LexArts President ant CEO Nan Plummer. “We have the technical expertise for how to get these things done.”

LexArts’ previous experience with public art includes Horse Mania in 2000 and 2010, The Bourbon Barrel Project in 2013 and Dynamic Doors in 2003. The now-defunct UK Basketball Museum did the Wildcat Madness project in 2001.

“I’m still surprised where I will find a bourbon barrel or a Horse Mania horse,” Plummer said. “They become part of the community.”

A couple snapped photos of each other next to the Horse Mania horse “Stonewall” on July 27, 2000, at Main and Mill streets in Lexington. The popular public arts project featured 79 horses on display throughout Lexington. Sponsors paid $1,200 for each horse frame and $2,500 for an artist to design the horse. They were then put out for display from July through November 2000. In December, they were auctioned off, generating $750,000 for Lexington Arts and Cultural Council and other causes. “Stonewall” sold for the highest bid: $53,000. Another Horse Mania was launched in 2010 because of the success in 2000. Photo by | staff Jahi Chikwendiu Staff file photo

The benches will be unveiled at an event at Gratz Park on June 1 and will be displayed as a group for a few days. Afterward, they’ll be placed outside in public locations throughout town until Nov. 18, 2018, when they’ll be auctioned off at The Livery.

Savage said organizers hope to work with Lextran to put some of the benches at city bus stops where there is currently no seating.

A call for artists to paint benches went out in November.

Artists may submit up to five designs for consideration between now and Jan. 31. A list of 125 suggested books has been provided, but other books can be featured. They must be pre-approved before designs are submitted, though.

“Any Kentucky author can be included,” Savage said. “The artists are driving the selections of the authors.”

Bench sponsors will choose the designs that are featured on the benches.

“We’re really looking forward to seeing how artists interpret the suggested books,” Plummer said.

Savage said there will only be one bench per author, and artists won’t be permitted to decorate more than one bench.

Each artist will receive a $1,500 honorarium, as well as 10 percent of the proceeds from the sale of their bench. The remainder of the proceeds will be be used to support the missions of Arts Connect, LexArts and the Carnegie Center.

The project is making some sponsorships available to the Fayette County Schools for $2,500 each, with the idea that the sponsoring school will take the bench on as a school art project, Savage said. Half of the proceeds from the sale of those benches will be returned to the sponsoring school to be split between the school’s library and art program.

The benches are made by Chicago Fiberglass Works, which specializes in manufacturing large fiberglass sculptures.

Last summer, book benches were used in an installation in Naperville, Ill., said Paul Albarran, one of the owners of the company.

“I haven’t even promoted it,” he said of the benches. “It’s a project that has its own momentum.”

A prototype bench was taken to the Kentucky Book Fair in November and signed by many of the authors there.

Savage said the goal is for Lexington to have at least 35 benches on display.

But, she added that if more sponsors than that come forward, “we’ll keep going.”

For more information about sponsorships and how to submit designs for benches, visit Bookbencheslex.org.