By Judy Wakefield
---- — Patrons inside might uncover Betty Smith’s “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.”
But outside, it’s more like a tree grows up the brick facade of Memorial Hall Library.
An elm to be more exact — like the towering ones that once occupied a prominent place in the historic center of Andover now known as Elm Square.
This latest elm takes the form of a photographic image of one of Andover’s beloved elms — depicted on a 20-by-27-foot mesh banner that’s now suspended from the back of the library on Essex Street.
It is the final piece of the transformation of the contemporary 1987 west end addition to the library. The spot is now home to a brick patio filled with colorful umbrellas, tables and chairs, container gardens and sculpture that together invite the public to stop and linger.
“That brick area space was a perfect art space ... it’s what we wanted to do and we are very pleased,” said Karen Herman, the president of the library trustees who also leads the Andover Preservation Committee. “The response has been very favorable.”
Herman said the tree is an ode to the library’s location in Elm Square. Elms once grew strong from the center of Andover, across the grounds of Phillips and Abbot academies and all across town until dutch elm disease destroyed a number of Andover trees during the 20th century. Spread by the elm bark beetle, the disease first invaded North America in 1928 and eventually killed most of Andover’s magnificent elms.
The concept for the banner came from Herman, who researched the historic tree photographs in the Andover Historical Society’s archives before settling on three. The library trustees then voted on the circa 1900 American elm now on display. While historians aren’t entirely sure the exact spot where the tree that’s depicted once grew, they along with Peter Retelle of Retelle Tree Corp. in Andover say they are certain it once graced the local landscape.
Andover resident Suzanne Korschun, a graphic designer and member of the town’s Design Review Board, took it from there, working with Herman to select and develop the image for large-scale production and installation.
Since a crane couldn’t maneuver in the tight area, library officials employed a 60-foot ladder to unfurl the majestic elm tree on the library’s facade on July 31. Crafted of breathable mesh, the banner is expected to last for many years.
“We are very pleased with how it looks ... it’s now an art space, not just a brick building wall,” Korschun said.
Assistant Library Director Susan Katzenstein said it has been exciting to watch as the cold, muddy hillside at the rear entrance of the library got made over into an inviting, comfortable outdoor patio space earlier this summer. The spot has become a popular public attraction, welcoming people who spend time reading, working on electronic devices or just relaxing.
The addition of the banner adds the final touch and is drawing nothing but praise, she said.
“I think it’s the icing on the cake because it compliments our new patio so well,” Katzenstein said. “It’s just perfect.”
While the recent loss of some unhealthy trees at Doherty Middle School that were removed as part of a $2.5 million pavement makeover may have forced some residents to shed green tears this summer, the now-permanent big elm displayed on Memorial Hall Library is sure to make any tree hugger in the Tree City of Andover very happy.
“This monumental artwork will remind residents of what Andover once looked like,” Herman said.