By Tara Mae
The chaos of creation yields the quietude of reflection.
Newly installed at the Long Island Museum of Art, History, & Carriages (LIM), the Little Free Library came from just such a process. It was assembled by Brownie Troop 1343, which consists of fourteen local 3rd graders from the Three Village School District and horticultural art therapist/mediations instructor Fred Ellman, with troop co-leaders Lisa Unander, Kaethe Cuomo, and Christine Colavito offering practical support.
Cultivated from a sort magical mayhem on a series of manic Mondays as the girls painted their projects and maybe themselves, the Little Free Library is the result of artistic exuberance and pragmatic craftsmanship. Ellman previously worked with Unander on LIM’s In the Moment programs, which are garden activities designed for people with memory loss.
“To my pure delight, he volunteered to help us design and build the project! It was Fred’s idea to use the popcorn wagon [design], inspired by the Popcorn Wagon, 1907, C. Cretors & Company, Chicago, which is prominently featured in our carriage museum collection,” Unander, who is also LIM’s Director of Education, said.
Ellman donated his time, talents, and materials, functioning as artistic advisor, serene supervisor, and pragmatic visionary. He created a digital template and used that as the blueprint for the actual pieces of wood.
“Lisa told me about this incredible project, and I really enjoy working with her. I wanted this library to be very playful and encourage children to come use books and connect to the collection. With this installation, we are using a fresh way of looking at a free library, inviting and enticing patrons with its welcoming appearance,” Ellman said.
This 22”x24” box, made of birch and cedar, is a blend of functional fun, with its bright colors and and unique shape. Installed adjacent to LIM”s aromatic herb garden, visitors will be able to take a book and immerse themselves in the stories as they settle in the tranquility of nature.
This visage belies the Brownies determined diligence in creating and maintaining the free library. A requirement for being formally recognized as an officially chartered member of the nonprofit Little Free Library network is that the girls are stewards of this installation. Each Brownie will be assigned certain weeks of the year to check on the library, including cleaning, maintaining, and restocking it as well as reporting any needs to Troop 1343.
“To have a long term project that [the troop] could get excited about and work on collaboratively created responsibility and pride in what they accomplished,” Unander said. “Since all the girls live in the Three Village area, we know they will grow up helping keep the library well maintained and bring friends and family to see what they helped create.”
For the Brownies, its motivations for the Little Free Library are multifaceted. Starting when the girls were Daisies, the Girl Scouts program for kindergarten-first grade, their meetings frequently commenced with a co-leader reading them a story that related to a project on which they were working.
“They always responded in a positive way to each book that was read to them and we felt it created a strong bond between the girls and the badges that they were about to take on,” said Unander.
Then last year, the group began working on its World of Journey badges, a four part certification that focuses on “girls around the world and how stories can give you ideas for helping others,” according to Girl Scouts USA’s website.
Inspired by a pamphlet that depicted girls traveling the world in a flying bookmobile to learn about different cultures, and having recently read a book about Little Free Libraries’ founder Todd Bol, Troop 1343 decided to create a Little Free Library of its own in pursuit of the badges.
“Many troops do a simpler project to complete this journey, but we felt the girls in our troop were willing and ready to make a true and lasting impact,” Unander added.
They were not the only ones embarking on a new adventure; it was Ellman’s first time constructing a free library too, though he anticipates it will not be his last. “I definitely want to build another one,” he said.
As reading invites the imagination to explore, facilitating LIM’s free library has alerted everyone involved in this endeavor to other possibilities: Troop 1343 and its co-leaders are discussing developing a book about this process.
“Fred had the idea of the girls creating a book that would tell visitors a little bit about them and some of their favorite books; I loved it,” Unander said. “Next year the girls will be Junior level Girl Scouts, and we plan to incorporate this project into our meetings. Ideally, this book would be attached to the Little Free Library onsite for all to read.”
In the meantime, the girls collected and donated their own books to launch the library. Given its location, Unander believes that as the library continues to expand its collection, visitors will be particularly inclined to leave books about art and history; its public accessibility binds the library to the community and encourages any visitor to the museum to indulge in the exchange of ideas.
“We are grateful to our Co-Executive Directors Sarah Abruzzi and Joshua Ruff for enthusiastically giving us the green light to use this magnificent space to host our Little Free Library. We all feel this small structure will bring a large amount of joy to all who see it,” said Unander.
To take a book, leave a book, visit the Long Island Museum, 1200 Route 25A, Stony Brook Thursdays to Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. To learn more about the museum’s exhibits and other programs, visit www.longislandmuseum.org.