Native birds and small mammals now grace walls in the children’s department of the Waupaca Area Public Library.
Rebecca Hess spent the past two weeks painting the mural behind the early literacy area and circulation desk.
The project was in anticipation of the arrival of the cottonwood tree from Dragonwings Bookstore.
“It’s been over 20 years since the library opened at its current location on the city square. Doing some interior maintenance has been an ongoing discussion with the city at budget time,” said Children’s Librarian Sue Abrahamson.
When Ellen Davis, owner of Dragonwings Bookstore, approached library staff about providing a new home for her cottonwood tree, Abrahamson said they immediately began talking about creating an entirely new space in the children’s department.
“Our goal is to make something extraordinary,” she said.
Allyce Lees recommended Hess for the job.
Lees and her husband Tedd own The Paint Store in downtown Waupaca.
Hess, of West Bloomfield, began painting murals 10 years ago.
She is the owner of The Wooden Brush and works with Allyce Lees quite often.
“She immediately understood what we were looking for in the mural being a finishing touch for our new ‘tree,’ not overpowering it, but complementing it,” Abrahamson said of Hess.
Hess, who studied forestry at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, always had an interest in art.
During college, she entered her artwork in contests and won numerous awards.
“I started doing it as a hobby,” she said.
For her project at the library, Hess painted cottonwood leaves and added native birds and small mammals.
“Rebecca’s addition of birds and mammals that kids are familiar with is a great whimsical touch. As she was painting the sky and clouds, shapes miraculously appeared from her paintbrush,” Abrahamson said. “She included several hidden pictures in the clouds that kids can look for just as they would if they were cloud watching outdoors.”
Hess sought input from her daughter’s first-grade class at Fremont Elementary School when it came time to deciding which birds to incorporate into the mural.
Allyce Lees chose the color for the mural’s background.
As Hess worked on the project, youngsters often stopped to watch her work.
Some commented on it, including a boy who asked her what she was doing.
“I’m painting the walls. This is my job,” Hess said in recalling the conversation with him.
The boy said to her, “Well, you’re naughty.”
Then he ran off, leaving her smiling.
Hess loved working on the mural and said, “This is probably one of the best ones, because this is what I want to do – the wildlife.”
Abrahamson said a donation from the Waupaca Area Public Library Foundation funded the project.
She hopes the mural enhances the learning and investigating the tree will provide.
“Kids are keenly observant and interested in their surroundings,” Abrahamson said. “Children are among the few in society who look up in a building, so we’re giving them something at which to look.”
She also said libraries, when planning and creating spaces for children, are looking to become places where families can interact with their surroundings.
They want to be places that will grow with the children and provide enough complexity to engage children on more than one level.
“Being in the basement, this mural gives users the feeling of a natural environment,” Abrahamson said. “We are planning to do less decorating this year for our summer library programs so as to showcase Rebecca’s beautiful work and focus on families making connections with this great new space.”