“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”Thomas Merton
I can think of no other quote that better sums up the creative process, or experience, than that of Thomas Merton’s. Painting, weaving, carving, music, dancing, singing, writing… It doesn’t matter if one is participating in the creative process, or observing it from the outside; the arts are gateways to self-discovery and escapism. Perhaps no institution explores these gateways more completely than a public library.
We are all aware of the personal benefits gained through reading, both intellectually and holistically. Recently, the Oak Ridge Public Library, in conjunction with the Foothills Craft Guild and the Oak Ridge Art Center, added fine art and craft to that equation. The public response has been exceptional, for both the library community and the participating artists.
With the addition of three display cabinets in the main lobby, the library now boasts four wall niche displays, four large cabinets, and open wall space for two-dimensional artwork. The displays are rotated out on a monthly basis. Artists who have participated are very grateful for the opportunity to get their work in front of the public, in a setting far different from the bustle of a show or festival.
One Foothills member, who teaches weaving at the Art Center, recently added some new students because they had seen her display. Another Foothills member, a painter, was contacted by a library patron who told her he was “halted by her exhibition”…that… “All of your work captures a sense of a lifeforce.” Upon visiting her website, he fell in love with a painting of a piglet. They met and he purchased a painting. This, he revealed, was the first painting he had ever bought in all his 75 years! From the onset of this project, the word most often referenced was ‘community’ and this is exactly the kind of connection we hoped to encourage through this program.
This community project highlights the Foothills Craft Guild and the artists they foster, the Art Center whose purpose is to bring the art experience to people of various skill levels and interests, and our community library, an entertainment, research, and educational facility for all ages.
Most importantly, we envisioned how all of these entities could come together to benefit and inspire the Oak Ridge community. Makers have a place to showcase their skills and talents and the public has a local access to some of the finest handmade art and fine crafts in the industry. Emerging artists have a platform for that first bit of public exposure, while gift seekers can buy local and see these handmade items up close. Children can be inspired by real objects of creativity rather than those generated on a screen. Adults can be inspired to lower their guard and finally take an art class for themselves.
Now artists share space with the library’s many children’s programs, Teen Space for after school activities and studies, adult learning and discussion opportunities on a wide range of topics, historical reference archives, genealogy research materials, and of course, BOOKS for every interest! All surrounded by a beautiful park, walking trails, pool, Recreation Center, Senior Center, performance amphitheater, shopping, food and entertainment… It’s easy to see how this area is a cultural center for the Oak Ridge community.
The Foothills Craft Guild was founded right here in Oak Ridge in 1968. “The Oakridginals” as the founding 25 members called themselves, saw a need for an organization that celebrated the artistic side of fine craft, and not be limited to the more traditional model of simply preserving functional craft. It is the oldest nonprofit craft guild in Tennessee. The Guild always has promoted, and continues to promote, the development of fine craft and the artists who make it. Through educational programs, demonstrations, artists development, and two signature annual shows in the region, the Foothills Craft Guild looks to continue building a strong foundation for the arts in Tennessee.
The Oak Ridge Art Center, located only yards away from the library, has been serving Oak Ridge and its surrounding communities since 1952 and now has three dedicated galleries. These exhibit spaces continually host a rotation of shows, including the annual Open Show; one of the Southeast’s finest. The Art Center is widely known as a first-rate education facility, offering a renown pottery/clay program, as well as year-round classes and workshops in jewelry, painting, drawing, and mixed media. Attendees range from first time dabblers to working professional artists.
For more information on the Foothills Craft Guild or the Oak Ridge Art Center, visit:
On a personal note, I would like to extend a heartfelt ‘Thank You’ to Oak Ridge Library Director Julie Forkner, Patron Services Librarian GiGi Bayne, and all of the wonderful staff at the library for their enthusiasm and continued support in making this all happen. As the motto goes: Stronger Together.
R. W. Redd