Oregon City bookstore manager: New mural tells many stories
Many murals tell stories, but Oregon City's newly completed mural tells more than one. Framing the front door of the Friends of the Oregon City Library's bookstore, its title "Friends on a Shelf" hints at the story of companionship that books can bring us.
The mural depicts artist Lucas Nickerson's daughter, Quinn, sitting on a bookshelf, reading among fanciful friends — from a fairy and an owl to a furry raccoon digesting his written food-finding guide.
Many of the roughly 140 books shown in the mural share stories of their own, in the form of titles inspired by donating patrons. From the Singer Hill Cafe's "The Plate to Be" to "The Man, the Myth, The Legend," attributed to a Capt. SF Ford, individuals and businesses have donated their favorite titles, personal slogans and bits of humor to the fantasy collection on these shelves. It's good reading!
When you tilt your head to the side to read the many titles on these fun book spines, you can imagine the challenges that Lucas faced in painting this mural — especially during our historic spring rains. He tells us, "I opted to use a ladder because I wasn't sure about the weather holding back the rain long enough for a few days of work at a time. When I first climbed to the top to test it out, a sudden fear gripped me: "I can't possibly do the whole thing up here on a twiny ladder!"
But he managed, and his raindrop-dodging strategy resulted in a unique work partly "written" by the community. As he puts it, "I hope I have created a design that both captures the spirit of the responses from the community and also shows a personal connection to the world of books."
I climbed a tricky "ladder" of my own to put the mural concept in motion. I guess my ladder began with trying to get the Arts Commission restarted along with a workable mural code. That all started back in 2021. I was also the first to use the new mural application and helped work out a few bugs in it.
We asked the community for input on the mural and introduced Lucas at our yearly membership luncheon in December. The city was still working on the mural code and Arts Commission at that time.
I had the idea of community members purchasing book titles. I first approached the Optimist Club and picked up my very first title. After that I placed it in our newsletter and in the store. The community really embraced the idea, and we sold 61 sponsorships, according to our treasurer, including 55 titles on the bookcase. I also made sure a reserve was set aside for the mural's long-term preservation.
The many personal stories of the mural wouldn't be complete without again mentioning Lucas' young daughter, Quinn, who often accompanied him as he worked. Bookstore volunteers were delighted to see her. We all loved talking to Quinn and encouraging her to read as many books as she wanted while her dad worked.
Quinn's love of reading was a key inspiration for the mural design, too. As Lucas puts it, "The last few years have brought us more isolation than many of us are comfortable with, especially our children."
While books may not be a true substitution for constant contact with friends and other people in our lives, he said: "A little gentle escapism offered by a book carries us smoothly many miles over any rough road. I am thankful every day that our little one knows how to read and is able to open her world a bit more with the help of her friends on a shelf."
When you stand in front of the mural, you may find yourself "reading" it like a good book — enjoying the whimsical characters in the mural, reading the many spines on the books with their community connections, pondering the enormous energy needed to conceive and create the mural, and finally, reflecting on the meaning of the mural itself as a symbol of our civic landscape.
Lucas sums it up, saying, "No doubt, we've all overcome some personal barriers to get the job done. I'm honored to have helped create some beauty for the community I was raised in." He hopes the design of the mural gives the sense that not only is literature elevating our understanding of the world and ourselves, but that books can give us a friendly environment — as the mural's title says, "Friends on a Shelf."
Even while the mural and its many stories mark the bookstore's entry, it also invites viewers to come inside. On the store's bookshelves, there are many more stories to be told.
Please join us for a mural ribbon-cutting ceremony at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, July 23.
Lynda Orzen is the Friends of the Library Board chair and the bookstore manager.
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