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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Library As Canvas: The Extraordinary Art of Elisha Cooper

The box came covered in cats:

The cats, one should note, are familiar ones. Anyone who has seen the Caldecott Honor winner Big Cat, Little Cat by Elisha Cooper would instantly recognize their winnowy curves. But these cats were different. They decorated a box. A box for my library. A box full of wonderful things.

To go back a bit in time, I’m going to direct you to a blog post I did in 2012 called Art in the Children’s Room: Elisha Cooper Style. In it, I explained that Cooper is a resident of Greenwich Village. As an artist, he has a tendency to find blank spaces irresistible (my example: what he did to Lisa Von Drasek’s Birkenstocks). At the Jefferson Market Branch of New York Public Library, the administration wouldn’t let him paint the walls of the children’s room, so he did the next best thing. He created enormous paintings in the auditorium and they were hung about the space. Big, glorious, gorgeous pieces of art. Do not worry about his original plan being stifled, though. Just this past August he painted a mural in the new South Street Seaport location of the McNally Jackson Bookstore.

But I am not in New York anymore. I do not have the luxury of hoping that Elisha will drop by and offer to paint so much as a stick figure in my library. That is why I was so thrilled when he came to me with an offer. How would my library like beautiful, handmade signs for the different sections of the library that also happened to be Evanston-themed?

Hence, the box.

The box, for the record, was shockingly light. I had no difficulty lifting it and carrying it down to the children’s room. There, fellow librarian and children’s literature expert Brian Wilson helped me unpack and unwrap every last sign that Elisha had created. No joke, I was half afraid I’d miss one of them hidden in the bottom of the packing material. I spent an inordinate amount of time digging about, just to make sure. When you’ve as beautiful a gift as these, you don’t want to chuck any by mistake.

Each one was removed with meticulous care. They had no backing. Nothing but their little wooden selves, and I found myself living in terror of accidentally scuffing them or mucking them up. I felt a sudden pang of sympathy for those early 20th century children with their hands covered in coal dust, entering libraries for the first time.

Here then is a rundown of each sign, with an explanation of how it pertains to Evanston:

The symbol of Evanston is the lighthouse. It’s all over the city’s website. That building in front is, I believe, Harley Clarke Mansion. I can’t believe he worked that in.
Lots of Northwestern students canoe our canal.
That would be Northwestern’s WildCat. Note that it is purple.
A hat tip to the CTA.
I’m a little embarrassed to admit that this one took me a second to figure out. But what are two of the biggest sports teams in Chicago? The Bears and the Cubs. Yup.
Did you know that the state fish of Illinois is the Bluegill? You do now.
Since we’re right alongside Lake Michigan, another book seems apropos.
And, of course, a peregrine falcon with its fuzzy white chick.

Were you to enter the children’s room of Evanston Public Library today, you would not yet see these signs. We’re attempting to find a more permanent way of mounting them around the space. Your patience is appreciated.

And if you’re wondering why two seaworthy vessels made the cut, allow me to direct your attention to Mr. Cooper’s latest picture book for children River. Kirkus called it, “Expansive content impressively and beautifully presented.” The man justifiably has boats on the brain.

A million thanks to Elisha for the beautiful art. Our room is now that much more gorgeous, thanks to you.

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. Wow.

  2. Laura Schlitz says:

    I seethe with envy. Of course you deserve them. But all the same…

  3. Oh, I love these!! and will come see them in person, after they’re mounted, when I visit my Wildcat (who can see the lighthouse from his dorm).