Children's Library Mural Marks 20th Birthday
The mural was dedicated 20 years ago today.
Twenty years ago when the Berlin Wall was coming down, a different kind of wall was going up in the children’s room of the Millburn Public Library.
On Nov. 18, 1989, the library dedicated the mural that is a part of the children's section. Up until then the children’s room had been decorated with paper posters, which kept falling down because they wouldn’t stick to the cinder block walls.
Marilyn White, the mural's creator, said she received a phone call from the Friends of the Library asking if she knew any muralists. The friends wanted to give a gift to the children’s room. Then Children’s Librarian Miriam Bein had suggested that they call White.
White did know of a muralist: Herself. She had created murals for private homes as well as for doctors offices and hospitals and was a recipient of a Maryland Arts Council grant.
White is a long-time Short Hills resident who lives on Glen Avenue right down the street from the library on the fringe of the South Mountain Reservation. Her husband Larry is a sculptor, who is also no stranger to public arts works. He created The Courtyard’s arch. The Whites have two grown daughters, Sarah and Gabrielle.
How did she come up with a list of characters to portray? “I started out with my own favorite books,” she said. “And then I had list of those most checked out. From there, I added some of my own. Then, as I was working, children who were watching the progress suggested others. For example, that’s how 'Harold and the Purple Crayon' wound up in the mural.”
In all, White adapted more than 85 different children’s book characters on the library walls.
The pictures are not stylized representations of famous characters, but accurate reproductions done in traditional mural style. Bein contacted each character’s publisher to secure inclusion rights. Maurice Sendak was a holdout, but eventually he agreed and permitted his characters to be included.
An important requirement was the characters be reproduced in their exact poses and in a style as close to the book as possible. This was a huge task. The characters were large and small. Some were black and white line drawings, such as "Charlotte’s Web." Some were in watercolor washes, like "Madeline." Sendak’s characters, like "Where The Wild Things Are," were essentially monochromatic and others were in full color. White used her talents to keep the "quality of the line" and filled in with color respectfully.
She unified the mural by keeping the perspective, the "vanishing point," in the same place on all the walls. To keep things interesting White shifted the sky from day to night and added constellations and comets to the night sky.
When asked whether she’d do it all again, exactly the same way, White said, “I wouldn’t do a thing differently. It would be nice to do a small update with characters that didn’t exist when the mural was painted, but it’s good the way it is.”
Patt Kent, senior librarian for the children’s collection, said, “Marilyn made an excellent choice of characters. Kids are still reading many of the same books and playing the ‘Can you find it?' game. Library visitors still want to know who’s on the wall. They’ll look around and pick out favorite characters. We’re even into the second generation. Moms and dads come in and say that they remember the scaffolding, and stopping in after school to watch the work. For me, the best thing was seeing Marilyn’s painting progress as it happened."