LITTLE FREE LIBRARIES TO CLASSIC OLD ONES
6/26/12 – We spent one of the most interesting hours of this trip with Todd Boi and the Little Free Library project in Hudson, WI. This project has spread throughout the country in a short time. The idea was to have free libraries placed in the crate-sized structures that looked like little houses or small libraries. People put them in their front yard or other public spaces. Readers could borrow books and return them when they are done. They can add their own books to the collection as well. It is a way of building community through Little Free Libraries. Todd and his wife are delightful. They charm Walker with their adorable puppies. They give me a cup of coffee in a Little Free Library mug and tell me to keep the mug. We left feeling like we had met kindred souls. The Sparta, WI library was a stunning Carnegie. Because we were traveling far today I only photographed the beautiful exterior. Oshkosh, WI was a surprise with its faded charm and large Carnegie library. As usual, I walked through the library first with my digital camera sizing up the interior and deciding if I wanted to speak with the librarians. If the interior is interesting I then come back with my film camera and tripod. Because we were in a hurry I didn’t expect to stay long. Unfortunately for our timing, the interior was really good. The librarian was patiently talking on the phone with an abusive library user about a book fine. After she finished that frustrating call she graciously gave me a wonderful tour of the library. Talk about being flexible. This is one reason why I have so much respect for librarians. We ended our long drive in Milwaukee, WI. Neither Walker nor I had any idea that this city would be so great. We drove straight to the Central Library to catch the remaining light of dusk. The lighting on the old building was spectacular. The streets were deserted but I felt very comfortable in this big city on Lake Michigan. We ended the day over dinner wondering why a city of this size and character existed so close to Chicago.
MILWAUKEE AND MADISON – TALES OF TWO CITIES
6/27/12 – Our day began talking on the phone with Ellen while sipping great coffee in the sun on the shores of Lake Michigan. We were delighted to experience this part of the city. We went back to the Central Library in Milwaukee and I spent two hours photographing the massive interior of this great library. In every library I try to photograph things that are unique to the local culture. Here I made images of model trains and Lake-going ships that reflect the commercial background of this city. I also photographed the grand architecture that fortunately had been preserved. Although we enjoyed the pleasant parts of Milwaukee we also knew that it was more complex. The city is one of the most segregated in the country and one of the poorest. As we left Milwaukee we wanted to see other parts of the city. We found it in a large area of poverty in a mostly African-American part of town. Like Duluth, the economic collapse of manufacturing in our country hit this city especially hard. The L.D. Fargo Public Library in Lake Mills, WI was next. It too was a unique place that looked like a Tudor-castle fantasy that was actually beautiful. The pace of this year’s Library Road Trip has been intense and unrelenting. At this point we realized that we needed to eliminate some of the libraries on our list that we had hoped to visit. Goodbye Sheboygan, Kenosha, Lake Geneva, Janesville Jefferson and Mazomaine. We wished we had the time and energy to visit them all. We ended our drive in Madison, WI meeting Richard Brooks, co-director of the Little Free Libraries project. Like his partner Todd Boi, Rick was a wonderful character and a fascinating person. He showed us little libraries for sale and a few in place on the streets of Madison. Later, we walked over to the house of a wood worker named Eric who showed us a modular design for Little Free Libraries that could be easily shipped. Eric’s wife gave us ice-cold lemonade that was greatly appreciated on this warm evening. We ended the evening having dinner with Greg Conniff, his wife and a neighbor named Andy Adams. Greg was one of the original Water in the West project members. He is whip-smart and one of the best photographers that I know. He spent his Guggenheim Fellowship time photographing in Mississippi and we see some of this stunning work on his walls. Andy was a 32 year-old blogger who had an interest in photography, landscape and the internet. The topics of our high-octane conversation included the recent recall-Governor Walker election, Mississippi, Water in the West, music and life-in-general. The margaritas and the home cooked food were excellent.
IOWA SURPRISE – CORNBELT BEAUTY AND NEW WAYS OF THINKING
6/28/12 – After a quick stop to photograph the unusual library in Fennimore, WI we entered Iowa at Dubuque. The Carnegie-Stout Library there was one of the last that Carnegie built in the US. Greek classical ideas were all over the exterior of this beautiful building. The interior had been nicely renovated and the friendly librarians were delighted to show me around. While I photographed, Walker scoped out Dubuque. The130 year-old vertical tramway traversed the steep hills of this Mississippi River town. The beautiful old brick architecture and the verticality of the city reminded us a little of Duluth. As I packed up my camera I noticed a parked car with many anti-abortion bumper stickers reminding us of another part of this otherwise delightful town. We spent the rest of the day driving through the rolling hills of the beautiful Iowa corn belt. As we listened to the radio we alternated between NPR and Rush Limbaugh. The surprising Supreme Court decision on the Health Care Reform Law had the radio station all abuzz with the news. The tone of the coverage was fascinating. The NPR commentators sounded calm and rational while Fox Radio’s Rush Limbaugh was hyperventilating on air about what a disaster this was. It was especially interesting to hear him target the Supremes Chief Justice John Roberts as a traitor to the cause. This divide that we heard on the radio reflected the divide in our country that was being played out in this battleground state of Iowa. The small farming communities of Coggin, Garwin and Chelsea all forced me to rethink my approach to photographing libraries in rural Iowa. These mostly stripped-down, no-nonsense buildings reflected the communities in which they existed. The proximity to large silos and grain elevators added a new element to my photos. Chelsea was the nicest looking of the three and I spent some time photographing in the sunset light. Before Chelsea we had driven down a dirt road through the Mesquake Indian Settlement , the only significant Indian community left in Iowa. This area is almost a secret and we only found it because of our map. We guessed that the large Casino on the highway helped make this Settlement seem relatively well off. After Chelsea we made a beeline to Iowa City. This area has the highest number of PhDs per capita in the country. It is designated a “Literary City” by UNESCO because of its excellent University and the Iowa Writers Workshop. We had dinner at a great hipster, organic, locally sourced restaurant. My beer came from the nearby Amana Colony. Iowa was a delightful surprise!