A community legacy: Take a look at how artists honor city at Olathe Downtown Library

It’s a gallery like no other. After all, it’s a place for books.

And there is perhaps no better place for a colorful, soaring art piece that celebrates the late Mayor Michael Copeland than in front of the new Downtown Olathe Library.

“Mayor Copeland was a champion, not only for the city of Olathe, but of public art, the Olathe Public Library, and education and literacy,” said Olathe City Manager Michael Wilkes of the city’s longest serving mayor, who died in August 2020. “To see his legacy celebrated with vibrant, colorful art at the beautiful downtown library is a fitting celebration of his impact to our city.”

A blown glass and stainless steel sculpture titled “Prairie Paintbrush” is among several pieces of commissioned art designed and created for the library, located at 260 E. Santa Fe St.

The piece’s artist, Tyler Kimball of Monarch Glass Studio, adores public art.

“We don’t want everything utilitarian and no stimulation,” Kimball said.

Public art gives a place personality, Kimball said. “It’s almost like being in a museum.”

Kimball said “Prairie Paintbrush” not only fits the area as a gateway to the prairie, but its vibrant color is important in emulating Copeland.

“When he came into the room, he was a big burst of energy,” Kimball said.

The piece itself, at 18 feet high and 7 feet in diameter, is impressive.

“The glass alone is three-quarters of a ton,” Kimball said. “That’s a lot of glass.”

But it’s not fragile.

“It’s appropriate for outdoors,” Kimball said. “When made correctly, glass is a very stable and sturdy material and can take on a lot.”

Other pieces of art at the library:

“To the Stars” (mobiles): Oil paint on steel by Lyman Whitaker.

“Skyline”: Mixed media, found objects from Olathe Chamber of Commerce members, acrylic paint by William Lobdell. This is in the board room of the chamber, which shares the same building.

“Olathe 1890, 1960, 2020”: Acrylic paint on plexiglass panels by MJ Rigby.

“Reading Bear”: Acrylic paint on canvas by Richard Raney.

“Walk Through the Enchanted Forest,” 110- foot mural, oil paint, by Isaac Tapia and Rico Alvarez. This work is in progress.

These panels, acrylic paint on plexiglass, by MJ Rigbyd epict the city of Olathe  in 1890, 1960 and 2020.
These panels, acrylic paint on plexiglass, by MJ Rigbyd epict the city of Olathe in 1890, 1960 and 2020.

It is a library, which meant the design and installation required creativity and intent.

“There is not a lot of wall space, so we needed to utilize (it) the best we could,” said Paul Dorrell, president of Leopold Gallery + Art Consulting. He co-designed the works and coordinated the installation.

For example, “To The Stars” uses primary colors as a connection to children.

The animals in Raney’s “Reading Bear” have slightly wild expressions reflecting the influence of Chris Van Allsburg’s Jumanji books.

“Olathe 1890, 1960, 2020” are translucent abstracts of maps of Olathe in 1890, 1960 and 2020.

“I wanted bright colors to be visible in that auditorium,” Dorrell said of the Olathe maps. “There is so much light bouncing around.”

The state of public art is healthy, Dorrell said. Now when a large building is constructed, there is usually an art program.

“Now we have not just a great number of mature artists doing their work but young artists coming up and giving it a go.”

And, of course, the Olathe library features regional artists, Dorrell said.

“Keep the talent here and honor the talent here.”