by Bradley Butler,
Executive Director and Gallery Curator, Main Street Arts
It was at some point during the middle of our renovation that I was struck by what we were doing. I turned to my wife Sarah – operations and financial director at Main Street Arts in Clifton Springs – and said, “This really looks legitimate.” We both laughed because we realized that we were so focused on the minute details of the project that we were overlooking what was really happening. Two 200-square-foot rooms on the second floor of Main Street Arts were turning into a library right before our eyes. What began as a vague idea two years ago was now taking shape and becoming an important part of our programming.
“My idea of heaven would be to sit in that beautifully lit room and just turn pages,” Francie Marx said when I spoke with her recently about our plans for the library’s grand opening. “One of the first things that you’re aware of when you walk into the library is the sunlight coming through the windows. It’s like being on a beach. That’s the place to spend a day, especially if you are looking for inspiration.”
Some of the first books to be donated to the library were the hundreds that came from Francie and her late husband, Robert. The Robert and Francie Marx Art Resource Library was named for them, two people who are very near and dear to us at Main Street Arts. Robert was a prolific artist who remained devoted to his life’s work throughout his seven-decade career as a painter, printmaker and sculptor. He passed away last September – less than two months from the opening of what would have been his 95th birthday exhibition at Main Street Arts.
“Robert was a voracious reader,” Francie explained. “He read biographies and fiction, and enjoyed well-written science fiction, but he loved reading biographies of artists. He believed that getting ideas from artists he admired and looked up to could assist him in his own innovation as an artist.”
The library contains a collection of 1,500 books – and counting – on a wide variety of art subjects, including individual artists, art movements, architecture, craft, design, art instruction, art philosophy and more. As a whole, the collection ranges from historical to contemporary and collectively illuminates the impact of the arts on culture, society and the human experience.
Our goal was to create a comfortable, approachable and inviting space. Whether you’re conducting research for your master’s thesis, reading up on painting techniques for beginners or just like taking in the beauty of printed images, we want to be sure the library felt accessible.
The library will also have a tie-in to other programming at Main Street Arts. During exhibitions, artists will select books that relate to their unique artistic practice or artists who have inspired them. You will be able to see an exhibition and then go up to the library to dig deeper and see the broader context of how artwork in the gallery relates to the continuum of art making. The collection will also be an asset for workshops.
The library wouldn’t exist without the community that has formed around Main Street Arts since the organization opened in 2013. All of the books were donated by people we’ve gotten to know through our operations over the last eight years. We’ve also had volunteers help in the building, painting, organizing and finishing stages. It’s amazing to see people so interested in what we’re doing, and we’re humbled by their willingness to help out.
One of our biggest volunteers has been Charlotte Cooper, member of the Main Street Arts board of directors. As a retired librarian, her expertise has been invaluable. “My husband and I have been coming to Main Street Arts since its opening in 2013, and I was honored to be asked to join the board in 2020,” she says.
When Charlotte asked us how we planned to organize the books in the library, she found her role as a volunteer. “I could immediately see how the creation of an art resource library at Main Street Arts would benefit visitors to the gallery, students and the community at large,” she says. “These books will be an enriching addition.”
Main Street Arts has always embraced a natural evolution, with new programs or events developing as ideas strike. Over the course of our history, we’ve held well over 100 exhibitions; hosted numerous workshops, film screenings, artist talks and other art events; and developed youth programming. From June 2016 through March 2020, we welcomed 75 resident artists from 19 states and two Canadian provinces through our artist residency program. The art resource library represents a sharper focus on arts education, which is integral to our mission as a nonprofit.
The space will also be a venue to continue showing the works of Robert Marx, whose estate is represented by Main Street Arts. Small rotating exhibitions of his work in the library will preserve his legacy as an artist. Pairing Robert’s work with this collection of books – many of which came from his studio – visually ties the written word together with the visual image and underscores the important connection between the two.
You never know what will catch your eye walking through this space. That’s one of the great things about the library – I’m still finding books that I didn’t know were a part of our collection. You can also access and search the entire catalog online to know what books we have. The library will be available during open hours, and you are encouraged to come and spend as much time as you’d like. We look forward to your visit.
The Robert & Francie Marx
Art Resource Library
Address: 20 West Main Street, Clifton Springs, NY 14432
Hours: Tuesday–Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Thursday–Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.