Like doors opening onto new vistas, a library has many avenues for exploring. In Benicia, library patrons get an additional avenue, one loaded with artistic expression. The Marilyn Citron O’Rourke Art Gallery in the Benicia Public Library reflects the city’s commitment to public art, plus the community’s broad interest in all things artistic. Library visitors can wander into the gallery, found to the right of the main entrance on East L Street, and find a treasure trove of art. Nine shows, lasting five weeks each, are held annually.
The gallery highlights a wide variety of art from talented artists working in diverse mediums, current library Art Gallery Committee chairwoman Susan Bonebakker said. Those include oil, acrylic and pastel painting, drawings, textile and sculpture, among other art forms. Many Benicia artists show their work, but the gallery also highlights artists from outside the city. Annual standing shows include the art of Benicia and Liberty High School students and Solano Community College students.
“We are so lucky. So many people exhibit at the library gallery, and I love the fact that our gallery stands by itself. You can go in there and it’s just you and the art. It’s a marvelous thing the library has,” said Gail Hengst, former Art Gallery Committee chairwoman.
A memorable 2011 show drew inspiration from the Beatles’ classic, “A Day in the Life,” namely the song’s opening lyrics, “I heard the news today, oh boy.” Poets and artists collaborated and created pieces in response to an issue in the news. In the gallery, newspapers hung from the ceiling and newsboy sculptures held newspapers.
Last year’s Circling Fiber by Benicia textile and fiber artist Marty Jonas drew big interest, too. She made circles and spheres from bamboo, wire, insect screening, O-rings and slide mounts, plus fabric, thread and yarn. By employing crochet, appliqué, embroidery, dyeing and felting, she created the objects.
Helaine Bowles, library administrative secretary and liaison to the gallery committee, said many patrons enjoy the art and are curious about how the gallery is run. Founding committee member Kathryn Weller Renfrow said the gallery has no funding and no staff other than the liaison and committee members, all volunteers, have worked hard over the years keeping it running smoothly.
A subcommittee of the Library Board of Trustees, the Art Gallery Committee issues a call for entries in June and chooses the exhibiting artists later in the year. Shows are planned a year in advance, and each committee member is assigned an artist to work with and to help with various details. The artists install and take down their shows, do their own receptions and publicity.
The gallery may never have come to pass if art advocates hadn’t stepped up during the library’s planning. Former Arts Benicia President Joe Garcia recalls that advocates met with the architect to create a gallery in a spot originally designated as a storage area.
The gallery’s first show consisted of Heidi Desuyo’s photos documenting the library’s construction, a show recreated in 2013, the library’s 20th anniversary. The gallery’s namesake is former Benicia Mayor Marilyn Citron O’Rourke, who served 1984-1992, and championed both the library and the arts.
Bonebakker said the gallery provides many benefits to all. “Since we are located in the library right outside the meeting rooms, we have the opportunity as an art gallery to expose numerous youth and children to wonderful art as they come and go from their various gatherings. We hope that such exposure will inspire, if not a pursuit of the arts, then at least an interest in art and its appreciation.”
The Marilyn Citron O’Rourke Art Gallery is free and open during the library’s regular hours. The current show, running through Jan. 9, consists of work by members of Threads of Change, a fiber art collective. Following that is an annual exhibit of art by Benicia and Liberty High School art students. For more details go to www.benicialibrary.org/gallery.