A COLOURFUL HISTORY
Artist hopes his ode to city libraries will help Torontonians relieve their stress,
Artist Daniel Rotsztain, who grew up in Toronto, has fond memories of his home library branch, the Forest Hill Library.
The sculpture of “sleepy polar bears” on the wall sticks in his memory years later.
But Rotsztain, 26, collected many more recollections and anecdotes about Toronto’s libraries — all 100 of them — over a few months in late 2014. He also created a sketch of each branch.
Those drawings, 102 in total including two bookmobiles, form a new adult colouring book set to be released by Toronto’s Dundurn Press on Oct. 31.
“In this oversaturated media world, the antidote is the colouring book,” Rotsztain said of the low-stress, low-tech trend.
Rotsztain said he was drawn to libraries because they’re “such phenomenal public spaces” that are accessible to everyone. He used the system’s many branches as a springboard for exploring the nooks and crannies of the city, travelling by foot, bike and public transit through busy streets, ravines and river valleys.
“(The libraries) are a really good way of gauging what a neighbourhood is like,” he said. They reflect the city’s “rich, complicated history.”
Rotsztain said he often hears about the divide between the downtown and the suburbs, but he realized, while exploring the city for the project, that it’s not that simple.
The Albion branch in Etobicoke, for example, would qualify as a suburban library and is in a “carcentric neighbourhood.”
“But everyone walks to the library,” Rotsztain said. “There’s a disconnect between the landscape and the way people are using it, but the library is there to remedy that.”
Rotsztain was also surprised by the number of libraries found in malls.
“It just shows how adaptable the library is as a concept,” he said. “It can really just be fit into any archi- tectural space, depending on where the people are.”
Although Rotsztain took on the drawings as a personal project, the libraries are excited to have him as an ambassador, said Yvonne Hunter, manager of cultural and special event programming at Toronto Public Library.
“He has single-handedly created a lot of love for the library,” Hunter said.
“Adult colouring books are currently all the rage,” she added. “It’s great to have this because it really engages people in a fun way.”
Rotsztain said this library was once considered “Toronto’s version of the Oxford Circus,” because so many street car lines passed by.
This branch was built before “public libraries were enshrined as a municipal service,” Rotsztain said. It received funds from steel magnate Andrew Carnegie.
Rotsztain said this branch was built to look like an English storefront, to compete with nearby shopping.
Rotsztain describes this particular branch as “a humble beaux-arts branch flanked by two glass editions.”
Rotsztain said Scarborough’s Malvern is one of his personal favourite libraries. He describes it as “a Swiss ski lodge.”
The Runnymede branch, on Bloor St. W., was designed by Toronto architect John Lyle. Its unique Canadian motifs feature First Nations imagery.