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Rosenblum: Small library, part of LoLa Art Crawl, honors a large spirit

  • Article by: GAIL ROSENBLUM
  • Star Tribune
  • August 22, 2012 - 10:44 PM

It's a bold art show that willingly competes against the first weekend of the Great Minnesota Get-Together. But the LoLa Art Crawl, Aug. 25 and 26, across the Greater Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis, is nothing if not bold, billing itself as the biggest little art show in the state:

Two days, 69 sites, 115 artists.

And, this year, one very special Little Free Library.

The little library's books are yours to peruse and take, and Anita White, who co-founded LoLa with painter Bob Schmitt, hopes that you will. Located on the crawl's route in front of White's home at 4524 Minnehaha Ave. S., the small wooden shrine is a loving tribute to White's eccentric, brilliant, literature-loving father, James Charles White, who died Aug. 14 of many health complications, including dementia. He was 88.

"Dementia be damned," said Anita, a watercolorist and art teacher. "He could still quote poetry."

And write it.

"A Lion Rampant -- that's how my library

Has resisted me. Even so,

I've torn the heart out of a few books;

Thrown down some in disgust;

Hugged others and called them 'My Beloved!'

But I am getting older --

My evening descends and memory dims.

I'll dig deeper and hide out in footnotes,

Learn more about less,

And be a foxy scholar

Attacking and evading that old library lion,

Still stalwart on his dusty battlements."

James, the 6-foot-2 son of a Baptist preacher, grew up in East Texas picking cotton and, quietly, developing a ravenous appetite for books. The poetry of Auden and Yeats, joke books, history.

Enchanting and handsome, White wooed wife Emily, who was raised in upper-crust Vienna, by reciting poetry to her, as well as tales of his military service in Japan. They moved to Minneapolis in 1952, where he worked for the railroad and taught English, and Emily, a writer and painter, stayed home with their four children.

Seven months after Emily died in 2011, James moved in with Anita and her husband, Joshuwa Bialik. He became "frailer and frailer," said Anita, an art teacher at the Talmud Torah Day School of St. Paul, "but was still quipping and quoting and giving me advice."

"Gossip," James told her. "It is the empty gold and silver that people spin but never collect."

And this: "I think of myself as a turnip underground, turning slowly each 24 hours, bringing a new face to the world."

As Anita began to clean out her parents' home, she realized the magnitude of her father's collection.

"There were thousands of books," she said. He didn't just read them. He wrestled with them. Most were dog-eared, ripped or stained, with his quirky commentary scribbled down their spines and up their margins:

"If you think you feel good, wait til you feel me," he wrote in one, borrowing from a country song.

He stuffed letters, newspaper clippings and Hershey wrappers between the pages. "He read his books hard," Anita said. "They never were the same after he handled them."

Noticing Little Free Libraries popping up, she decided to start her own "home-style little library, dedicated to who he is." Many books carry a bookplate with Anita's sketch of her father sitting in his favorite chair.

The library's been up since May, inspiring a variety of responses from passersby, mostly on foot or bike. "We're off to Morocco," wrote one visitor in a notebook Anita left out. "Not really, but we very much enjoy the adventure that your small library brings. Be back this way soon."

Some tuck in a dollar. Children leave drawings. One left a card for downloading music, another an orange sucker and a Vitamin C packet. Still another a full can of beer.

"I now have a relationship with the anonymous public," Anita said with an amused smile.

She keeps putting books out "and they keep going," she said, although she looks down nervously at one title. "'The Destruction of Dresden.' Not sure who is going to take that one."

Sally Lieberman, a family friend and LoLa fiber artist, called James "a magical person, so oddly brilliant that he might have appeared among us from another dimension."

A big part of him remains grounded on two little shelves, which is a comfort to Anita. The library, she said, "will just keep evolving, honoring an amazing life of reading."

LoLa runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, featuring clay, fiber, glass, jewelry, photography, sculpture and more.

The James C. White Little Library is on the tour at 4524 Minnehaha Ave. S. For more information, go to www.lolaartcrawl.com.

"My Library," by James C. White, originally appeared in Identity Magazine, a publication of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Minneapolis.

gail.rosenblum@startribune.com 612-673-7350

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