By Pamela Dozois

Contributing Writer

The Los Olivos Rotary Club recently held a get-together to thank student artists from the nonprofit Santa Ynez Valley Teen Arts for their contributions to the club’s “Little Free Library” project that has placed free book-exchange boxes throughout the Santa Ynez Valley and in Los Alamos.

The gathering was held at the Solvang Senior Center, which received the first library — installed on a post near the center’s parking lot and front door.

Contributed Photo
Retired carpenter Mogens Andersen cut all the pieces out of ¾-inch plywood from plans on the Little Free Library website.

A member of the Solvang Senior Center, retired carpenter Mogens Andersen, cut the pieces of the little libraries from ¾-inch plywood, and Los Olivos Rotarians assembled, painted and installed them.

The student artists painted the back panel of each library with a scene from literature, a local landscape, or a portrait of a great writer.

The club has installed 12 of the little libraries with two more ready to go.

“Judy Canby, last year’s president of the Los Olivos Rotary, came up with the idea. The concept of the Little Free Libraries is to encourage neighborhoods to read and share their books – ‘Leave one, take one’ is the concept,” said club member Dave Bemis, who helped organize the project.

The Little Free Library idea has spread all across the country since the first one was built in 2009 by the late Todd Bol in Hudson, Wisc.

Bol mounted a wooden container designed to look like a one-room schoolhouse on a post on his lawn and filled it with books as a tribute to his mother, who was a book lover and teacher and had recently died.

“I want to start by acknowledging our friends who helped us accomplish this project. Mogens Andersen, a retired carpenter and member of the Solvang Senior Center, who, in August 2018, cut all the pieces out of ¾-inch plywood from plans from the Little Free Library website,” Bemis told the assembled club members, student artists and guests. “Then that fall, we got Dr. Chris Elstner and the Santa Ynez Teen Arts involved. These student artists each took a back panel, before the libraries were assembled, and turned those panels into incredible art.

“Then when we were a little stuck as to how to make the roofs water-tight, All-Star Heating and Air Conditioning volunteered to make beautiful sheet-metal roofs – all for free, labor and materials.”

Photo Contributed
Rotarian John Mathews works on a prototype, the first Little Free Library built by the Los Olivos Rotary Club.

He also particularly thanked Rotarians John Mathews, who led the building and installation; Steve Berg, who designed the glass doors that “were a little tricky to fit,” and Kate Koslosky, who applied for a grant from the Rotary District to fund the effort.

“The project became much more than we ever expected,” Bemis continued. “We involved not only our entire club, but people who range in age from junior high up to a carpenter who’s a member of the Senior Center. Then we started to install them. We saw a lot of joy and gratitude on the faces of people at the sites all around the valley.”

A slide-show presentation of each of the paintings on the mini libraries was shown during the gathering, and the young artist responsible stood up to be acknowledged.

The participating artists in the project were Isaac Soto, Keddy Thompson, Christian Barte, Logan DeLeon, Kennah Shffer; Hannah Gechter; Rebecca Gechter, Samanth Garcia, Casandra Lopez, Brigitt Hernandez, Marina Vengel, Elizabeth Gomez, Diana Gomez, Pearl Gonzalez, Jasmine Enciso, Alyssa Mendoza, Quincy Valle, Lahela Gonzalez, and Carson Knight. A few college students who were recent Santa Ynez Valley High School graduates helped as well.

Dr. Elstner, a pediatrician, then spoke about how the Santa Ynez Teen Arts came into being. In 2013, with the help of student Samantha Garcia, he formed a small art club after seeing some art that Garcia had created while she sat waiting to see him for medical treatment. He complimented her work and then had the idea to form a club where teens could learn how to create art under the tutelage of a variety of professional artists.

Artists John Iwerks and Vidya Gauci, among others, volunteered to help out. Over the past six years, about 15 students have met six times a year at St. Mark’s Church in Los Olivos. The classes are designed for the students and by the students.

“Kids just want to be accepted and feel worthy, and art helps them to accomplish that,” said Elstner. “Kids want to find themselves and find themselves in the community. All of the paintings were done during a three-hour period over two days.”

Photo by Pamela Dozois
Ellen Albertoni, executive director of the Solvang Senior Center, receives a painting by student artist Samantha Garcia from Dave Bemis of Los Olivos Rotary.

Ellen Albertoni, the executive director of the Solvang Senior Center was given a painting from the Los Olivos Rotary titled “Windmill with Grapes” by artist Samantha Garcia.

Albertoni spoke about her hope to hang the artwork in a new Solvang Senior Center, which is intended to be built on the existing grounds if the funds can be raised.

Addressing the students, Bemis said, “You teen artists have brought a lot of joy to a lot of people, and they will continue to see your art every time they walk by.”