For a few hours in the middle of the day Friday, visitors to the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts stopped to admire — and sit on — two brightly painted, unusually shaped benches in front of the State College Municipal Building.
Or was it works of art they were checking out, large sculptures of books or ornate, detailed paintings?
They were actually looking at all three. The “book benches” making their debut Friday were the first fruits of a $100,000 grant from the Centre Foundation to produce the pieces as a celebration of art, culture and community.
“The whole concept of this is to have something inspirational and functional to bring the community together,” said Ann Walker, executive administrator of the Child Development and Family Council. “They’re pieces of art, but you can sit on them and try to figure out the story painted on them.”
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The project that produced the benches, called “Book Benches of Centre County,” is a partnership between the council, SPE Federal Credit Union and local artist Elody Gyekis. In all, 25 benches will be placed throughout the county. Walker said they hope all will be completed and placed by late fall.
The benches themselves are made of fiberglass and produced by an artist in Maine, but the artwork on the benches has a much more local flavor, Gyekis said.
One of the benches unveiled Friday had an art theme. Painted by Lewistown-based artist Amber Elessor, it featured both general art themes — like musical notes and comedy and drama masks associated with theater — and also local spots like the Palmer Museum of Art at Penn State and the Boal Barn.
The other, produced by Sean Bodley, of Lemont, had a seasonal theme and depicted a scene from each time of year, like winter snow and autumn leaves.
Themes for each bench are generated from a series of town meetings throughout the county where Gyekis meets with local residents to discuss things that make each area special, like cultural and natural landmarks. She then comes up with a theme based upon the meetings and contacts artists through local art organizations. Artists are selected after submitting portfolios and sketches of their plans for the benches.
Meetings were already held in Philipsburg and State College, Gyekis said. Future community meetings are planned for Bellefonte, Penns Valley and Bald Eagle areas.
“We’re facilitating a collaboration between the community and the artists,” Gyekis said.