The Art of the Little Free Library: Its Always The Season To Read

This is a Little Free Library that I was delighted to have the opportunity to cover with paintings of some of my favorite images of Wisconsin flora and fungi. My library, entitled  It Is Always the Season To Read,  will join those of nine other artists whose work painting Little Free Libraries will be on exhibit at Story Pottery in Mineral Point in December.

The exhibit opening is 7-9pm, Saturday, Dec. 3; Gallery Night in Mineral Point. Story Pottery is at the corner of Commerce and Fountain Streets.   Music from the Krause family and the works of many other local artists will be presented.  Little Libraries made from recycled Eatmore Cranberry crates will also be on display, as will a Library decorated entirely in birch bark totems from the Mille Lacs reservation and the products of Amish craftsmen.

Proceeds from my Library sale will go to the Grassroots Leadership College (GLC).  I serve on the board of the GLC.  It is a wonderful Wisconsin organization offering trainings and activities that support community engagement related to their mission “Everyone is a Learner, Everyone is a Teacher, Everyone if a Leader.”  It offers an organizing semester for aspiring leaders, community forums and other workshops, including the ‘Prepared and Peaceful’ non-violence trainings that were so effective at the Madison Capitol during the protest gatherings last spring.  (You can donate to continuing the work of  Grassroots Leadership College, or become a sustaining member, on their website here:

The very first Little Library was built in the memory of June A. Bol. It sits in the front yard of a home above the St. Croix River in Hudson, Wisconsin.

I have been following the little free library movement since first discovering one of the libraries while walking my dog in my near East-side Madison, WI neighborhood.  I learned that the little free libraries are an entrepreneurial approach to promoting literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide, as well as working to build a sense of community through share skills, creativity, and wisdom across generations.

There is a network of Little Libraries where I live in Madison, Wisconsin and the surrounding area now includes more than 40, hosted by families, neighborhood groups, coffee shops, businesses and schools.

Little Free Library Stewards (sponsors) may provide the books that stock the libraries, often with themes specific to their location or to the concerns of their sponsoring organizations.  The Little Free Library coordinators also have relationships with organizations, publishers, and other sources of books that can help establish a themed collection. Operating under the principle that ‘you cannot steal a free book’ the organizers have found that there are very few negative incidents.

The organizers hope to endow more than 2,500 libraries around the world, with the goal of topping their inspiration, Andrew Carnegie who funded 2,509 full-sized free community libraries between 1888 and 1929.  Each of these Little Free Libraries will offer books free to the general public. Their collections  change as more people give and borrow books.

I was inspired to paint a one-of-a-kind Little Free Library (LFL)  after meeting Richard Brooks  at a yard sale fundraiser  I was coordinating to support the ongoing work of the Grassroots Leadership College (GLC).   (Rick Brooks is a co-founder of the project along with Todd Bol ).  Rick dropped off donations for a yard sale and chatted with me just long enough to convince me I  wanted to contribute my creativity to support both the Little Free Library movement and the Grassroots Leadership College.  Rick left the yard sale with one less library in his vehicle and I had added a new project to my plate.

Yellow Lady Slippers, watercolor, 24x22, ©2011 Helen Klebesadel

I decided that in painting my first little free library I would paint the fours seasons with environmental and nature themes I have explored in my watercolors.  I love painting the wild orchids of Wisconsin, and the spring plenty of the wild morel mushrooms.  I’ve included many of my favorite watercolor subjects in nature from each season.  The spring lady slippers, trillium, and morel mushrooms, give way to summer sunflowers, lilies, cone flowers and iris as you move around the library.

By the time I move into fall and winter I painted asters, sumac, daisies, more cone flowers, with a background of  bare winter branches.  Most of these subjects have occurred in my paintings before, including one of my favorite topics of the lace of winter branches.

Winter Lace, watercolor, 30x22, ©2010 Helen Klebesadel

The non-profit Little Libraries project promotes reading for children, literacy for adults and libraries around the world.  As they the project participants build Libraries for their neighbors, they also raise funds to build similar book exchanges in other communities in need, especially in developing countries.  They do that through their Wisconsin Partners “Pay it Forward Fund,’ with contributions from the Madison Community Foundation and Capital Times Kids Fund and individual donations, have made it possible for many communities to participate.

Individuals and organizations can purchase a library or you can get the plans to build your own and register for a small fee donated to the ‘Pay it Forward Fund.’

Soon, as volunteer labor allows, each Little Free Library will have their  Global Positioning Coordinates marked on a Google Map so they can be visited.

Many communities organize the purchase of a library with fundraising or marketing campaigns around an issue or an organization they want to bring attention to, much like I am using my library to bring more support to the Grassroots Leadership College.  Local nonprofits, businesses and institutions have expressed an interest in supporting 5, 10, 20 or more Little Libraries as part of their outreach efforts.

There are a number of ways you can join the Free little Library movement, help provide free, good books for people, and promote a love of reading and literacy.  You can volunteer to be a builder, a sponsor, or a steward, or a contributor to the Pay it Forward Fund that ensures every place that wants a Little Free Library can have one.

Oh yes, and you can contribute your creativity to painting, decorating, or creating new styles and creative construction of the one-of-a-kind libraries.  Take it from me, its a lot of fun!


About Helen R. Klebesadel

I am an artist.
This entry was posted in Activist Art, art collaboration, Creative Play, donating art, Fundraising, This and That and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The Art of the Little Free Library: Its Always The Season To Read

  1. Pingback: Little Free Libraries: A Wisconsin Idea « Portal Wisconsin blog

  2. Dear Helen,
    Thanks for that, We morel mushroom hunters are anxiously awaiting for the season. I?ll come back to catch up with your webpage again. Awesome Article on mushrooms.
    Keep up the posts!

  3. Hi Helen,
    I’m a French teacher who’s recently purchased a LFL and would like to paint it with French scenes. Can you tell me what materials you used (sanding? paint?)
    Merci! -Sage

    • Hello Sage,
      What a wonderful idea. I did a light sanding of the primed surface of the library (having taken off the doors) and then I re-primed it with a acrylic gesso. Once the gesso was dry I painted it with the same type of acrylic paints I would use if I were painting on canvas. Once it was competed I painted several layers of clear acrylic gloss medium over the whole thing to seal it and protect it. I did the same with the doors. Once it was dry I put the doors back on.

      Mine is not intended to be displayed outside. I would do everything the same but then add yet another layer or two of a clear water and UV resistant finish if I were planning for it to live outside.

      Please send a picture of your once its completed! I’d love to see it.


  4. Hey Helen,
    Speaking of which, I ask the many students of the combat arts if they are really practicing or training in a martial art or are they playing with the “school children’s art”.
    Great Job!
    All of us morel mushroom seekers can hardly wait for the season. I?ll come back to catch up with your website again. Fab Info on mushrooms.

  5. Pingback: Little Free Library | ReCamp

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