Significant library mobile on the move

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published July 1, 2015

 Professionals from Artpack Services carefully take down sections of the Calder mobile June 18 so that the mobile can be transported to New York City for evaluation by the Calder Foundation. The mobile is expected to be reinstalled later this year, pending the results of that evaluation.

Professionals from Artpack Services carefully take down sections of the Calder mobile June 18 so that the mobile can be transported to New York City for evaluation by the Calder Foundation. The mobile is expected to be reinstalled later this year, pending the results of that evaluation.

Photo provided by Jennifer Bingaman, Grosse Pointe Library Foundation

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GROSSE POINTE FARMS — Dozens of visitors pass through the main room of the Grosse Pointe Public Library’s Central Branch each day, but unless they happened to glance at the ceiling, they might never have realized that they were standing beneath a modern art masterpiece.


Since the library opened in 1953, a large, colorful mobile by famed artist and engineer Alexander Calder has been suspended from the ceiling. Commissioned for the library, the mobile has long been free to move and alter its shape according to the airflow patterns created by library traffic.


But if visitors look above them today, they’ll see an empty space where the mobile once hung. On June 18, the artwork was removed temporarily so that it could be evaluated by the New York City-based Calder Foundation, which is expected to tell library officials what, if anything, needs to be done to maintain this significant artwork.


The mobile, recently valued at $10 million, was last taken down in 1981, when it was cleaned and restored by Detroit Institute of Arts professionals based on “Calder’s handwritten recommendations at the time,” said Jennifer Bingaman, executive director of the Grosse Pointe Library Foundation.


“It might just need to be cleaned,” she said of the mobile today.


To prepare the work for transit, the library brought in Farmington Hills-based Artpack Services.


“It’s one of the largest Calder mobiles I’ve ever seen,” said Artpack Chief Creative Officer Doyle Horning, who has packed more than 100 Calder mobiles during his career. “This is easily the largest one I’ve ever packed. It’s amazing this is owned by a library. The collectibility of (Calder’s) mobiles over time is enormous.”


Over the course of several hours, Doyle and his team carefully took down and removed the mobile for transportation to their Farmington Hills warehouse. From there, he said it would be further stabilized for the longer journey to New York.


“This is exactly how Calder would have packed it,” Doyle said of the methodology being employed by his team.


The Calder mobile is one of four original artworks commissioned for the library by the Ferry family. Renowned Bauhaus architect Marcel Breuer, who designed the Central Branch, envisioned the library as a homelike space, and Dexter Ferry — who commissioned the Calder mobile and the Herbert Matter mural — shared that vision. Ferry’s grandson, W. Hawkins Ferry, would go on to donate two additional artworks to the Central Branch — a Wassily Kandinsky tapestry and the Lyman Kipp sculpture “Salute to Knowledge,” which sits outside the main entrance; the latter two artworks were added in 1981.


“They really had a vision of art and literature being combined in a comfortable space,” Bingaman said of Breuer and Dexter Ferry.


Other library officials concurred.


“The library is very fortunate to have had a generous family not only build us a library, but commission artwork for the library,” GPPL Director Vickey Bloom said by email. “We thank the Grosse Pointe Library Foundation for raising the funds to keep the artwork a treasure for the community to enjoy forever.” 


Bingaman said that when she started working for the foundation roughly three and a half years ago, “One of the first things I noticed was that we had this beautiful artwork here, and I wondered if we were doing everything we could to preserve it.”


With help from others, including Grosse Pointe Public Library Operations Manager Kim Hart, Bingaman dove into the files of information that the library had on its artworks to see what might be needed to make sure they were protected for future patrons.


“These pieces were given to the library, but the library belongs to the community,” Hart said by email. “It’s our responsibility to take care of them so that long after we’re gone, they will be here for generations to enjoy.”


In 2013, Grosse Pointe Questers No. 147 donated funds to have Kipp’s sculpture repainted, and the Grosse Pointe Public Library teamed with the Friends of the Grosse Pointe Public Library to have Matter’s mural, “The History of Writing” — located on a wall in the adult reading room — restored, Bingaman said. The Kandinsky tapestry is slated to be cleaned at the end of August, and she said they hope to have the Calder mobile back in time for another Grosse Pointe Library Foundation fundraiser at the Central Branch on Sept. 26. The Breuer Preservation Fund, which was created last year to preserve and maintain the art and architecture of the Central Branch, will continue to serve as a source of support for any future restoration efforts.


Bingaman said they raised more than $50,000 from grants and private donations last year, and donors can make additional contributions at any time. A reception for those who supported the restoration efforts will be held, as well, after the Calder mobile has been reinstalled, she said.


For more information about the artworks or to make a donation, visit www.gplf.org.

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