Braddock library project lends paintings to patrons

| Friday, Jan. 3, 2014, 8:57 p.m.

A program at the Braddock Carnegie Library is helping community members connect with artwork in ways they might never have imagined.

The Art Lending Collection, a project of the library, the Carnegie International and artist collaborative Transformazium, lets library-card holders chose from more than 100 pieces to check out the same way they would books, movies or music.

“It's been super humbling to see how it's been used by the neighborhood,” says Dana Bishop-Root, a member of Transformazium, along with Ruthie Stringer and Leslie Stem. The group partners with the library to develop programs such as the Neighborhood Print Shop, where locals learn to make prints for creative or entrepreneurial purposes, as well as an artist-in-residence program.

“Art is a way of people engaging with the world,” says Bishop-Root. “It's about the relationship between the artwork and the artist and the world and back.”

The lending project launched with the opening of the Carnegie International in October. The exhibit at the Carnegie Museum of Art showcases works from artists around the world.

Since its start, the program has resulted in at least 140 instances of card-holders taking home art, which is available in a range of sizes and media, Bishop-Root says. Though the International closes in March, the lending program will run indefinitely.

“It's really meaningful, this idea that a work can circulate in the public,” Bishop-Root says.

The collection is made up of donations from private collections and original works of local artists, as well as framed posters featuring the work of Claude Monet, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Vincent van Gogh and more.

Regis Welsh, a library patron and scholar of literature and Impressionism, donated a selection of posters of his favorite paintings. Longtime Braddock resident Jim Kidd submitted pieces from his personal collection, as well as his original works. Another group of works is from the collection of library board member Ray Henderson, who owned and ran an art gallery in Braddock.

“Additionally, we are working with Paul Ramirez Jonas to develop a collection that reflects his interest in (public art), and we envision several programs over the next 18 months with groups of library patrons that will investigate choosing, collecting and curating, producing discourse about the existing collection while building new collections,” Bishop-Root says.

Nearly all artists featured in the Carnegie International also contributed to the collection. They include Zoe Strauss, Pierre Leguillon, Wade Guyton, Rodney Graham, Pedro Reyes and many others.

The art is displayed in a designated space on the first floor of the library, a historic landmark that's nearing its 125th anniversary. Carnegie Museums funded repairs, including new flooring, lighting and walls, to update the space in anticipation of the art lending program.

Library-card holders check out art with the only added step of filling out a short form with basic contact information. They can keep the art up to three weeks and renew the rental if it's not been requested by another user. Those who are drawn to a piece but don't want to take it home can add it to a rotating display at the Carnegie International. There also are two passes to the International available for checkout.

Each artwork is insured for $100, and the library provides padded bags for easy transport. Bishop-Root reports there has been no major damage or loss of any of the pieces — just a few necessary frame repairs, which they can do in-house.

One of the three trained art-lending facilitators — Mary Carey, Deavron Dailey and Jonathan Reyes — are always on hand during library hours to answer questions. While she works, Carey carries a journal labeled “This is Art.” She encourages visitors to fill it up with whatever that means to them — a signature, a poem, a drawing, anything. Some simply offer their autographs. Others take up page upon page with their writing or sketches.

“People are amazed when they know they can check out artwork,” says Carey, of Braddock. “Some joke and say, ‘I'm not going to bring this back!' ”

Paula Levin of Bloomfield admits to feeling that way about a few of the pieces she's checked out. The art lover has taken home pieces by International artist Sarah Lucas and Kidd.

“I felt like a total bandit,” she says with a laugh. “It's not something you're used to being able to carry out of the library.”

Levin used the art as a catalyst to start decorating her home and host more get-togethers so friends can see the work, as well.

“Art really can change the mood and the feeling in a home,” she says.

Tenesha Johnson of Braddock was surprised to learn of the program during a recent library visit. Yet, she was immediately drawn to several pieces.

“I would love to take them home, but I don't know where I'd put them,” she says.

Instead, she opted to send them to the Carnegie, where they'll be displayed with a note telling the world she chose them.

Rachel Weaver is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7948 or

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