Caldecott award-winning author will design $200,000 art installation for new Lenexa library branch

A rendering of the installation that will go in the new library in Lenexa.
A rendering of the installation that will go in the new library in Lenexa.

By Roxie Hammill

A three-panel mosaic by Lawrence artist and Caldecott award-winning children’s book author Stephen T. Johnson will become part of the new Johnson County library Lenexa branch.

The Johnson County Commission on Thursday approved $205,000 for Johnson to complete the three five-and-a-half by 24-foot panels that he bills as a celebration of language and letters. The pieces will be embedded in concrete and installed in a public commons area of the library. Once up, they will be visible through large glass windows from the outside of the building as well inside.

Johnson said the panels will be made from handmade glass mosaic pieces crafted in Germany and will consist of shapes and typography suggesting the letters. He also planned to weave some art from his children’s books into the mix.

Johnson’s Alphabet City features New York City scenes in which letters of the alphabet can be seen in such things as a “Z” fire escape and an “A” sawhorse. It won the 1996 Caldecott medal, plus some other awards. He’s also written numerous other children’s books.

Money comes from the 1 percent for public art set aside for capital improvement projects. Johnson’s proposal won over five other artists’.

The contract with Johnson was approved 6-1. Commissioner Michael Ashcraft, who frequently questions the use of public money for art, was the “no” vote.

The Library is expected to be completed and open in the fall of 2019.