Visions of Michigan - Describes artwork in the Michigan Library and Historical Center

Contemporary yet classical at the same time...

Such accolades describe the Michigan Library and Historical Center, a place where scholars and artists come together to express their own unique visions of Michigan.

Michigan Library and Historical Center

An ingenious combination of classical and modern architectural elements, the Center is the state's first public building expressly designed to accommodate commissioned artworks.

In true renaissance tradition, each Michigan artist chosen by the Commission on Art in Public Places worked with architect William Kessler to become familiar with the Center's innovative design. Individual works were chosen for their representation of the state, ability to involve the viewer and effectiveness in eliciting the viewer's thoughtful response.

This outstanding collection of artwork illustrates the magnificent natural beauty and diversity of lifestyles found in Michigan through a distinctive array of art forms — from an outdoor geostructurist sculpture constructed of steel columns and five-ton boulders to an impressionistic oil painting of a Michigan forest.

Each piece reveals a different chapter in the story of our state and its people. Time seems to stand still as we celebrate the past, contemplate the present and look forward to the future through these visions of Michigan.

Built to last centuries, the building is home to the Library of Michigan, Michigan Historical Museum and the Archives of Michigan. Located just two blocks southwest of the state Capitol, this five-story, 312,000-square-foot facility is a striking addition to Lansing's Capitol Complex.

Architect William Kessler incorporated materials native to Michigan throughout the Center. Literally built around a Michigan white pine tree, the facility features a copper-clad outdoor courtyard, white oak doors, furniture and trim, limestone exterior and polished granite walls. Spectacular glass atriums up to 93 feet tall add sunlight and a feeling of spaciousness to the Library and Museum. A classical forum/auditorium can seat 240 people.

Groups of 10 or more may schedule a tour of the Library, Museum or Archives through the Capitol Tour Guide and Information Service by calling (517) 373-2353.

Unique artistic features of the building include:

Great Lakes Pool by sculptor Glen Michaels
1. Great Lakes Pool by sculptor Glen Michaels

A generous contribution from the Kresge Foundation gave sculptor Glen Michaels the opportunity to design a unique pool for the Center's first floor rotunda. Surrounding the base of the Michigan white pine, it symbolizes the crucial role nature played in shaping Michigan's history.

Michaels created an elaborate mosaic made of hundreds of pieces of fused colored glass. A dazzling display of blues, violets and greens swirl across the floor of the pool, replicating realistic aspects of water movement.

"Herringbone patterns cast on shoals by sunlight passing through surface eddies, ripples created by sudden upsurges and the sweep and flow of cross currents have been incorporated in stylized form in this glass surface." says Michaels. Architect William Kessler added granite silhouettes of land forms in the Mackinac Straits area to complement the design. Islands "float" on steel dowels to provide space for dramatic lighting.

"The pool is emblematic of the beauty and power of the Great Lakes," says Michaels. "As such, it takes its location at the very center of this building."

'Michigan Landscapes by sculptor Sergio Degiusti in the Michigan Library and Historical Center Rotunda
2. Michigan Landscapes by sculptor Sergio Degiusti

Sculptor Sergio Degiusti combined his interpretations of Michigan’s natural beauty with a commentary on modern American life in his 20 -panel bas relief Michigan Landscapes.

”This work is an expression of what I see in our state and our society,“ Degiusti says. ”Like a Rorschach inkblot test, the work intends to allow viewers free association in deciding what they see.“

Displayed in four recessed seating areas around the Center’s rotunda, some of the panels depict Michigan’s topography through three dimensional forms and shapes that suggest an aerial view of barns, farm fields, lakes and sand dunes, Others communicate the artist’s view of the turmoil inherent in contemporary society. Victims of violence are portrayed a shrouded figures symbolizing psychological death.

”I tried to convey a baroque romanticism, a play of shape representative of what I do as an artist without being obvious about it,“ he says. ”I didn’t show much detail because of the interpretation has to be a personal one.“

'North Woods' painting by Richard Kozlow near the Library of Michigan Grand Staircase
3. North Woods by Richard Kozlow

When approaching the Grand Staircase in the Library of Michigan, visitors have the sensation of walking into a large Michigan forest. The effect was created by Richard Kozlow in his 10 x 20 foot oil painting, "North Woods".

"I was born and raised in Michigan and have a great love for this state, especially the north country," he says."I wanted to paint something that reflected my strong, emotional feelings about the land."

Kozlow's impressionistic painting is based on sketches he made during walks in wooded areas near East Jordan in northern Michigan. Pigments that match the Library's color scheme were used throughout. Dark blues represent the Great Lakes, with greens an browns portraying the state's woodlands and beaches.

"The painting had a wonderful continuity with other parts of the Library," Kozlow feels. "It's an artist's wish to be a part of this magnificent building."

Michigan Tapestries by artist Gerhardt Knodel
4. Michigan Tapestries by artist Gerhardt Knodel

Through the expressive possibilities of woven fabric, artist Gerhardt Knodel conveyed his impression of Michigan's natural beauty in two eight by 14 foot tapestries that accentuate the north and south walls of the Board Room.

”I wanted to use the end walls so participants can feel themselves extended as far as possible in space.“ Knodel explained. ”The sensation attempts to lead the viewer through sequences in space — like standing on the crest of a hill and seeing the panorama of water below.“

Images of rolling hills and tumbling waves are developed when fabric is woven into the warp. Both light and atmosphere are brought to the subject as the work progresses.

”The figurative elements change radically during the weaving, like dappling with light and shadow,“ he says. ”My intent with this project was to incorporate specific patternal or textural references that are connected to the land and water.“

Knodel’s work integrates many elements, figurative and formal. His tapestries were a gift from Hudson's Department Stores.

Urban Landscape-Rural Landscape by Alfred Hinton
5. Urban Landscape-Rural Landscape by Alfred Hinton

"My idea was to show through abstract forms the vitality of urban industrial Michigan as well as the quiet peacefulness of its rural life," says Alfred Hinton of his metal mural wall. "It's a marriage of Michigan's natural beauty and industrial might."

Twelve interlocking panels made of aluminum, copper, steel and iron curve to form a convex/concave surface designed to fit the Archives of Michigan reading room. Hard materials contrasted against soft, subtle illusion create intensity, and automobile enamels add rich color while representing the industry's contribution to the state.

As the viewer moves through the room, the mural seems to change, creating a symbolic migration from the energy of an urban center to the slower pace of a rural setting. "I made it in sections to simulate the effect of driving down the highway," he says. "Different segments of the landscape appear as you drive by. The concept is to the enhance the quiet attitude and activity of the reading room."

Polaris Ring by David Barr
6. Polaris Ring by David Barr

From Easter Island to Africa, from Greenland to New Guinea — David Barr's work is displayed worldwide. Specializing in project that employ geographic, geometric and geological elements, his Polaris Ring outside the Center’s main entrance often reminds visitors of a modern-day Stonehenge.

Fifty steel columns encircle a five ton kona dolomite boulder. Smaller stones spinout in a spiral pattern on either side.

”The combination of stone and steel represents the interface of prehistoric imagery with man’s technological imagery and strengths,“ Barr notes. The result is a mystical progression of space and volume that draws people toward the facility.

Based on a universal symbol — Polaris, the North Star — viewers are able to stand behind the sculpture’s center stone and look between the two tallest columns to see the star.

”Instead of having to look at the overall sculpture from the outside, I want people to be able to experience if from inside as well,“ he says.

Location Map of Artwork
Location Map of Artwork

Each piece reveals a different chapter in the story of our state and its people. Time seems to stand still as we celebrate the past, contemplate the present and look forward to the future through these visions of Michigan.

Updated 07/26/2011