Saturday, November 15, 2008

Lynne Rutter
Centennial Children’s Mural
Burlingame Main Library

Entering the 100-year-old Burlingame Main Library is like entering a church. Big, solid, majestic, and quiet. Except the defibrillator is where the holy water should be, and the confessionals have been converted to drop boxes for returned books and videos. Unlike most libraries, the entrance is large, clean and neat, due to the brilliant idea of locating the free flyers, magazines and school catalogues to the interior. Another unique touch is honoring the major donors of the building restoration by printing their names on the drawer tags of old library card file drawers, mounted on a wall. Additional donors are displayed on the leaves of bronze vines wrapped around two columns flanking the drawer wall.

The high beamed ceilings and textured plaster walls of the picture book room in the Duncan Children’s wing were the perfect location for the murals of artist Lynne Rutter. On entering, you realize you’ve left the staid old adult world and arrived in “storybook land.” Commissioned by The Burlingame Library Foundation, the murals harken back to the great storybooks of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the founding of the Library during the “Golden Age of Illustration.” Rutter and her team painted the murals on canvas in her studio, and then glued them to the walls, with additional painting done on site. The smooth canvas against the textured walls adds depth and dimension to the characters in the murals.

The characters may bring particular stories to mind for some viewers. Rutter used generalized characters so they can be illustrations for different stories rather than specific to one. This allows viewers to imagine whichever story fits the scene in their head.

Above the entrance to the storybook room is a mural of what looks like a Russian Prince on a magic carpet.

To the right, a boy dressed in costume, possibly from Kazakhstan or The Great Steppe region, looks up at a castle in the clouds. He could be travelling on an incredible journey, part of a fantasy world, or carried away in a dream--just like the children scattered around the room, absorbed in large colorful books.

Rutter designed the murals to incorporate the architecture, grates, doors, and arches of the room as part of the work.

On the largest wall is a girl with very long red hair, looking out a painted window. She is patterned after Melisande, a story first published by English author E. Nesbit in 1909. Looking up at her is an Aladdin-like Prince wearing a turban. Near an archway at the corner of the room are two girls looking on, one similar to Snow White. At the base of the wall is a rough stone entry to an 18-inch deep alcove leading to a doorway, where children often congregate. A boy sits atop the doorway, reading. Rutter’s “stonework” is so realistic you are not sure if you are inside or outside.

The three-sided end of the room features windows to the street and several mission style sofas. A large old bench and angled reading table is perfect for storybooks. The table is flanked by medieval theatre flags, also murals, creating a theatrical setting around the spot, and announcing "story-time,” a popular event at the library. There is plenty of floor space for kids to sit around, listening and squirming, on the story-like green vine patterned carpet. To one side are several child-size round tables and chairs.

Rutter says, “The room is the book and the wall murals are the pages. The murals inspire the imagination of what is in the books.”

If children could enter the room through a “Chronicles of Narnia” wardrobe, that would complete the experience.

By Phil Gravitt


Nancy Ewart said...

What beautiful images. They remind me of the books of my childhood with their images by Dulac, Parrish, Szck and other fabulous illustrators of the day - images that nourished the mind and the soul.

Anonymous said...

Phil, I really enjoy reading your writing. From how you've described it the library deserves a visit even if just to enjoy the murals. Cheers and keep up the great posts!

Lynne Rutter said...

thanks, phil, for your fine words! and thanks all for the comments!