Art has a way of transcending barriers, connecting people, and instilling hope and joy even in the most difficult times. As we end a year that has been deeply difficult for our library and our community, we would like to pay tribute to an artist who has been deeply involved with Westbank and Laura Libraries, and who has put her creative expertise to the service of our community. to get through the pandemic. : Barbara Attwell.
Attwell was instrumental in bringing art to our library, where Laura’s library commons regularly served as gallery space for local artists. She has also been running popular craft workshops for adults and children at the library for the past six years.
âIt all started with a little tantrum on a trip back to Houston, where I had just set up an art exhibit,â she said. âI was pulled over at the traffic lights in Cuernavaca and Bee Cave Road, feeling frustrated that Austin has so few art venues and not a single one on the west side of town. It’s pretty dark for a city of this size. During this time, artists often had to travel to other cities to see good art or have their own exhibitions.
It was during this moment of frustration that inspiration struck.
âI was facing Laura’s beautiful new library and thought: I could ask the library if it wanted to become a gallery. “
She, along with several other artists from Cuernavaca, installed a gallery hanging system in the library’s commons.
âThe inclusion of art flourished from there. The gallery started in 2010 and in 2015, (former head of programs) Kristi Floyd invited me to share some of my felting skills in a workshop. I was regularly welcomed there.
Over the years, his craft workshops have given hundreds of people the opportunity for both creative advice and artistic exploration.
âWe are a culture that places a high value on intellectual talent,â she explained, âwhich, while quite important, causes us to reject many other ways of knowing. Art taps into this area of ââmystery, and I’m delighted to see children and adults totally immerse themselves in something that can be truly transformative in ways that we don’t intellectually understand. It’s like finding another dimension, and I think we’re hungry. “
Public Service and Programs Coordinator Roxanna Macaraeg has worked closely with Attwell for three years and is one of her biggest fans.
âBarbara inspires me with her dedication to art and the environment. With her, I learned to work with a wide range of materials and methods, from wool felting to eco-printing.
While Attwell’s workshops have helped clients and library staff develop their artistic abilities, it turns out that is only part of the equation. In addition to giving people the time, space and resources to learn new creative skills, these classes also helped library patrons connect with each other, which is invaluable to many during the pandemic.
âHumans become deeply distressed when they are isolated,â Attwell said. For her, the goal of creating a sense of community was “almost more important than imparting a skill”.
Macaraeg was unequivocal in his praise.
âBarbara’s classes and projects have helped us survive the pandemic. “
In the new year, Attwell will change focus. Although she can still lead intermittent workshops at the library, she will devote more time to her own creative projects. Currently, she has two art exhibitions at the airport.
“One is made up of felted sculptures called ‘travel companions’ located near the escalators up to the baggage claim.”
The other is a series of large portraits of threatened Austin cave species.
Austin has many caves, which have allowed some insects and salamanders to evolve over millions of years into strange and wonderful creatures. Unfortunately, these caves are regularly filled for development. This project is sponsored by the Balcones Canyonlands Preserves and Austin Water, and they hope that by using the arts we can introduce these creatures to the Austinites.
The fate of endangered species in particular motivates her to enter the studio to work. Through her art, she hopes to contribute to conservation efforts.
“I found a way to combine my art with an even deeper passion – that of the environment.” She hopes her work can “help in any way we can get us back on the path to knowing that we share this planet with other amazing and equally important creatures.”
Although at the library we miss Attwell’s monthly classes, we’re excited to see what she does next.
Maureen Turner Carey is the Public Service and Public Relations Librarian in the Westbank Community Library District.