Harpers Ferry artist Autumn Beckett’s mural for the children’s section at the Bolivar-Harpers Ferry Public Library is a sight to see
BOLIVAR – There’s a squirrel up on a wall at the public library here and a fox at the window.
But that’s not all. Elsewhere, two rabbits peek out from behind opened books while a white horse sits cross-legged on a tree stump enjoying a spot of tea with a yellow bird in a bowtie. The menagerie is all part of a whimsical, floor-to-ceiling mural in the storytime alcove of the library’s children’s section and is the work of Harpers Ferry artist Autumn Beckett.
The mural spans two walls in the small children’s room and also includes a small pixie huddled among some tall grasses on an opposite wall — a concession to one of the librarian’s with a soft spot for Tinkerbell, she said.
The project started with Beckett painting a few images on a window. Beckett said she got the green light to keep going after telling the library staff she thought she’d have a better time of it painting on a wall.
“They liked them so much, and I told them I’d do much better on walls and they said, well do it!” she said.
Beckett said she enjoys the playfulness of her characters, who remind her of the creatures that inhabit Finnish cartoonist Tove Jansson’s comic strip, “Moomin.” or the female flappers and bell-bottomed hoofers in illustrator John Held Jr.’s colorful images of the Jazz era.
She said she’s especially taken about how each of the characters inhabits his own little segment of the painting.
“They’re each in their own little worlds,” she said. “I’m very nookish like that, in general.”
And the library’s young patrons seem to enjoy that all of their characters dwell in his own corner of the landscape, she said.
The most popular character in the composition by a mile is the seated white horse, said children’s librarian Marha Kasmier.
“The children stand there transfixed at it,” she said. “They stand there and pet the horse’s nose. They love it. I love it too; it’s so whimsical.”
Beckett, 37, said the horse was inspired by one she owned as a girl but had to give up when her family could no longer afford to keep it. She said she thinks it’s no horse, of course, but one imbued with the memory of her onetime companion and it’s that long ago love that the young people respond to when they reach for it’s nose.
No stranger to the Harpers Ferry art scene, Beckett has also painted her wistful figures on some of the town’s kiosks and she will be participating in this year’s Community Art Walk, slated for April 27 and 28. Now that the mural is nearly complete, she said she is moving onto her next project, painted drinking mugs.
Beckett, who hails from Youngstown, Ohio by way of Washington D.C., said she has found a renewed interest in visual art since taking a hiatus from her band, Parlor Scouts, nearly two years ago. She said the band’s music is a mix of free-form jazz and cabaret.
“We call it library goth,” she said. “It’s timeless, swooning and nostalgic.”
The granddaughter of Lebanese immigrants, Beckett said her idiosyncratic upbringing left her with little choice but to pursue work in the arts. She said she writes poems as they come to her and is learning to play the ukelele. She’s just that way.
“I come from a long line of eccentrics where everyone was encouraged to be themselves, but we were not really encouraged to fit in the real world,” she said. “My mother never said to me, ‘Someone might think you’re strange for doing that.’”
Her painting, she said, reflects everything her mother said was important in life — reading, being in the woods, in nature and among friends with food and drink.
“She says, it isn’t worth having a soul to not feel inspired every day.”
The Bolivar-Harpers Ferry Public Library is open Monday and Tuesday and Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and on Wednesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.