A different shade of green: Readers Garden adorns Shaker Library lawn

On Friday, March 1, more than two dozen guests, members of LAND studio, artist Haemee Han, and Shaker Heights city officials gathered with five well-known authors with ties to Shaker Heights and the Cleveland area on the lawn outside Shaker Heights Public Library to celebrate a new public art installation, The Readers Garden. The installation

“We had a great celebration of the new public art installation, Reader’s Garden, at the Shaker Heights public library,” says Megan Jones, LAND studio director of marketing and special events. “Mayor David Weiss, LAND studio director Greg Peckham, funder Judy Rawson, and artist Haemee Han spoke to an audience of more than 40 people.”

Shaker Heights City Council member Judy Rawson - Reader’s Garden public art project dedicationShaker Heights City Council member Judy Rawson - Reader’s Garden public art project dedicationFormer Shaker Heights mayor. Shaker City Council member and LAND studio board member Judy Rawson, who funded the project with her husband, Bob Rawson, says she thinks the Readers Garden is the perfect representation of Shaker Heights as a community.

“[It represents] cohesive ideas about arts and culture a diverse community, in regard to race and economic background that embraces the same values,” she says. “It’s impressive to me how the community comes together across differences because we share foundational values.”

The project, commissioned by the Shaker Heights Public Art Department, celebrates the city’s diversity and rich culture of reading and writing, features a unique reading porch of five modular clusters of larger-than-life books written by 13 local authors—measuring about seven-feet-by-five-feet—painted with colorful jackets by Cleveland mural artist Mike Sobeck and organized for climbing, sitting, or relaxing.

“I'm super excited, I'm super thrilled about this,” says Han, a landscape architect and founder of Jersey City, New Jersey-based Jaemee Studio.

Guests can sit on the book clusters, climb on them, use the books as benches, or even use the entire installation as a playground. Han describes the entire operation as pop art that uses books to create a new sense of place, with the books stacked to function differently than their usual use.

“One of them is like a platform and some of them are like benches,” Han explains. “It was a lot of creating function-related artwork that related to the library. The whole concept of it is about a playful environment—something that could be enjoyable not only for adults, but also for children all the ages.”

The five local authors who attended the celebration were Mary Doria Russell, author of “The Sparrow;” Lauren Cecile, author of “Eyes Like Mine;” Bill Cotter, author of “Don't Push the Button!”; Justin Reynolds, author of “Opposite of Always;” and Tricia Springstubb, author of “What Happened on Fox Street.”

Book authors Doria Russell, Lauren Cecile; Tricia Springstubb, Justin Reynolds and Bill CotterBook authors Doria Russell, Lauren Cecile; Tricia Springstubb, Justin Reynolds and Bill CotterThe remaining eight authors represented in the Readers Garden are Derf Backderf, Clothilde Ewing, Ylleya Fields, Terri Libenson, Wes Lowery, Celeste Ng, Susan Orlean, and Megan Whalen Turner.

Han says it’s tough to pick a favorite book from the 13 authors represented in her installation. “I cannot choose which one is my favorite because I haven't read everything yet,” she admits. “But this is becoming my reading list—I'm starting to read them one by one.”

She adds that the Shaker librarians presented a list of about 25 authors to choose from and the task of narrowing the list down was a challenge.

Creating a work of public art from oversized books presents a classic differentiation between what landscape architects and artists using other media deem as art.

“Landscape architecture isn't necessarily considered art to a lot of people,” she explains. “But I think of it as a kind of very fine line because I know what landscape architecture is. It’s very artistic, and usually it's functional too.”

She says that most landscape architects think in terms of “form follows the function,” instead of “function follows the form,” so landscape architects tend to become more practical.

Artist Haemee Han of Jaemee Studio - Reader’s Garden public art project at Shaker Heights Public LibraryArtist Haemee Han of Jaemee Studio - Reader’s Garden public art project at Shaker Heights Public Library“For me, I think there is a duality between art and landscape architecture,” Han argues. “Landscape architects look at me more like an artist. Artists look at me more like a landscape architect. I'm going to take it all as a compliment.”

Rawson says she wants community members to find inspiration in the installation.

“I hope that when people see this public art project, they will say, right, that’s what I love about this community,’ and perhaps it will impel people to walk through this park and get reinspired about what brought them here in the first place,” she says. “My hope is other people will say, ‘I’d like to initiate another public art project to celebrate the community I love.’”

LAND studio’s Jones says that any way viewers look at Readers Garden, it’s a great collaboration of expression.

“This new public art is colorful, meaningful, and meant to be engaging,” she says. “Visitors are encouraged to sit, read, and play on and around the Reader’s Garden.  This project is possible because of a great community of artists, authors, partners, and generous donors. LAND loves being part of these collaborations and brining new art to the public!”

Karin Connelly Rice
Karin Connelly Rice

About the Author: Karin Connelly Rice

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.