One day last month, I retrieved my 8-year-old from a chess game at the library. She was sitting with a friend under the blue stained glass window near the fireplace. I have admired that glass wave since my own childhood, and standing there, I grew curious about the story behind the artist who created it, and marveled at how certain pieces of art add meaning to our lives across a lifetime.
I found the artist, Adele Hiles, in an old 1978 Homer News. The summer of ‘78 was full of anticipation for the “new” library to be built on Pioneer Ave. One of the premier features of the new library was, in fact, the window she designed, made, and donated. I called her, and she spoke fondly of selecting the glass, “A friend in Anchorage helped me pick out the best glass for the project and donated it.” She continued, “The concept was knowledge, like the curl of the wave, grows ever larger, then springs forth with new information, in search of truth. The surrounding waters are always a part of life.”
She also described what it was like moving to Homer in the 1970s, “Chuck Ryan, the dogcatcher, was one of the first people we met. He told us we would get along well in Homer because we were artistic, and art was such a vital part of the community. He put us in touch with Wild Berry Products, who rented us the remnants of the old post office and we sold arts & crafts out of that. Homer felt like it made a place for us.”
The library is not the only public space you can find her art. She taught a class with Sara Allison in which they made the stained glass in the foyer of the current post office.
A shop fire, the loss of her studio, and shifting family dynamics, precipitated her move from Homer. In Arizona, maxed out on stained glass, she got back into painting, and eventually came to love creating murals. She became a part of a women’s gallery collective in Oregon and enjoyed a good living between painting and in-home caregiving. “Artwork has always sucked me in from one medium to another. Color always had to be a part of it”, she says.
On making art across a lifetime, she says, “Follow your heart. Enjoy the passion. I stopped making art for a living, but never stopped making art in one form or another. I enjoyed painting whether or not people bought it. You’re going to persist with whatever calls to you.”
We don’t always get to know the far-flung impact of our efforts, or even if what we create will matter in the long term. Adele Hiles couldn’t have known in 1978 that nearly thirty years later the town would outgrow the Pioneer Ave library, and “Wave” would get moved to another “new” library on Hazel Ave, or that it would remain an iconic piece of the community’s identity. The face of Homer has certainly changed in 40+ years, however, important values have remained the same: our library is a beloved institution, art is fundamental, and there’s a prevailing sense that we are in this—the making of a community—together.
February is National Love Your Library Month, and you can show your love by stopping by the library to check out a book, attend a program, or leave a note. To show their appreciation and love, the Friends of the Homer Library is sponsoring weekly drawings for coffee cards through the month for patrons.
Mercedes O’Leary Harness is a library afficionado, mother, freelance writer, and long-time Homer resident.