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To the editors:

As a docent at the Harold Washington Library Center, I was happy to see your recent article about the library's Chicago Authors Room--until I actually read the article [Cityscape, September 25].

Krohe's idea of memorializing Chicago writers by carving their names in a frieze seems outdated for the year 1900, much less the year 2000. If you try to think of an art idea for the library that would be more stale and tired than Krohe's, the main one that springs to mind is a row of black-and-white portrait photographs of famous Chicago authors. Or is that too avant-garde for him? And if we're going to subscribe to that cliche, why not a string of portraits of former Chicago mayors or Illinois governors?

Children and teenagers who visit the library know the difference between artwork and vandalizing books, even if Krohe pretends that they do not. On hearing the story behind the Kids of Survival artwork (which Krohe criticizes as an invitation to writing graffiti), most kids are impressed by the fact that the library commissioned art by young people to celebrate creativity.

Architect Thomas Beebe chose a classical design for the building to emphasize that it's a serious public building and to link it with older buildings nearby--especially the Rookery--that are masterful examples of the Chicago School of Architecture.

While the building itself anchors the library in history, the art collection refers primarily to contemporary ideas about culture and community (with the notable exception of some Civil War pieces, including a cannon, that were familiar friends when the library was located in what is now the Cultural Center). Minority artists are richly represented; see, for example, Jacob Lawrence's mosaic Events in the Life of Harold Washington in the main lobby. Black folk artist William Dawson is represented by several fine works on the fourth floor, and Native American artist Edgar Heap of Birds meditates on the topic What Makes a Man a Tribal Warrior in his art hung on the landing between the first and second floors.

Most visitors who are interested in art are pleased with the paintings hung on the mezzanine outside the Thomas Hughes Children's Library. All are the work of Chicago artists (including Ed Paschke, Calvin Jones, Roger Brown, Paul Sierra, and Christina Ramberg), and the works were chosen on the basis of their striking use of color. Kids and families going to the children's library can appreciate these bright, appealing works whether they have an art background or not.

There are many ways of celebrating Chicago and Chicagoans; Mayor Richard M. Daley directed that the Harold Washington Library Center be an appropriate memorial to the late Mayor Washington, Chicago's first African American mayor. As a biased observer, I think the art collection works brilliantly as part of that memorial and also as an invitation to Chicagoans and out-of-towners alike to visit and feel a part of this hall of knowledge.

To return to the Chicago Authors Room, it is a living tribute to literature, in that it is the site of many well-attended programs in which authors talk about their books and ideas. Many of the authors who have offered programs in this room are from Chicago, but others are not. Perhaps this will be troubling to Krohe as a member of the self-styled Chicago-correctness police.

What's next?--Chicago-only art at Orchestra Hall or the Art Institute of Chicago? No, that would be cultural yahooism. No matter how deftly Krohe includes a snide reference to the 15 people in Chicago who might know about literature, he is a yahoo and his criticism of the library should be understood in that context.

Patricia Dragisic

N. DeWitt

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Agenda Teaser

Performing Arts
The Great Leap Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Upstairs Theatre
September 05
Music
Tegan and Sara Cahn Auditorium, Northwestern University
October 15

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