More than15 years ago, Texas artist Robert Jessup painted a 90 foot mural for the second floor of the library. Like all of the library's art, it was funded by generous donations from Des Plaines residents. The mural called on children's stories from around the globe - Rapunzel, Aladdin, John Henry, Sinbad, and many more. Colorful and durable, it covered the entire south wall, surrounding the fish tank and the Storytime Room. Then in 2014, we expanded the Storytime Room (now called the Program Room) to meet the greatly increased demand for children's programming. But this project changed the shape of the wall, and the mural had to go into storage while we decided on a new home for it.
Luckily, the renovation revealed the perfect spot for it - the long hallway by Room A on the ground floor.
The various cutouts and spaces in the mural (the fish tank, the doorways and arches) meant that it had to be reworked for it's new home, so Robert Jessup and his wife Faith, also a painter, traveled to Des Plaines for a week at the beginning of 2016. Working with professional installers, they altered some panels to fit, and painted new characters to make the panel's new seams meet flawlessly.
Much like the library, an artist's work is always evolving, but Robert found he really enjoyed revisiting his style from 2000. As he and Faith worked, he shared stories about the original design. Here is a brief video interview, with closeups of some of the mural characters. The mural is all about stories; classic stories, the stories we make up for our children, and the stories we discovered as children ourselves. Over 36 characters and stories are featured in the mural, purposefully representing a world of tales as diverse as the Des Plaines community.
Who are some of the characters? Here, the young Arthur pulls the sword from the stone as Merlin looks on:
Robert told me a few characters came from stories he told his own children, this one featuring their dog, Jack (who looks a little embarrassed):
Faith's nephew helped to install the original mural back in 2000 when he was a high school senior, so Robert gave him a "credit" as Harry Potter. That's one of the three bears looming over his shoulder:
Robert's children Molly and Christopher, lost in their own story world, conclude the mural. You can also see Puss in Boots and Tarzan up in the tree:
What is new? One of the partial panels in the mural showed an enormous genie, but only a slice. Robert painted over this section, adding a little genie, floating in mid-air with a cat and a mouse floating over his head:
This two-faced "creature" is a reference to Robert's current work:
How did moving the mural change the artwork?
- Viewing the mural becomes a closeup instead of a distance experience. Patrons say it is like being inside a storybook world. Ask any of the kids running their hands over it!
- New lighting makes the work much more brilliant in color and detail. You can really see the subtle shading in the faces, for example.
- Having Robert Jessup do hands-on work on the piece and add new figures bridges a 15 year period of growth and change in his work.
We hope you'll visit the mural, and spend some time in Robert's incredibly rich imagination. If you want to read these stories yourself, we'll help you find them in the library, too. Here is the complete list of characters and stories in the Jessup mural - can you find them all?