NEWTON — These are the final days of a house built of books, but the structure won’t disappear without a party – a disco-themed house party, in fact, with a mirror ball, lights, music, the whole shebang.
That’s the plan late Sunday afternoon (Dec. 6) at “Encyclopedia House,” the art installation created by Don Li-Leger and others amid a stand of trees – dubbed “The Grove” – outside Newton Recreation Centre.
The log cabin-like structure is built of thousands of used, discarded and otherwise unwanted reference books, assembled and affixed with screws over the course of a few days in early October.
The original plan was for “Encyclopedia House” to stand for about a month, but November came and went without its demolition.
“When we found it out we were going to leave it here a little longer, we did have to spray around the bottom to keep the water out, and the roof, too, a bit,” Li-Leger said.
“It was made to be temporary, after all. I think it’s at its time now, to move along.”
For several weeks, “Encyclopedia House” has become a go-to gathering spot for Friends of The Grove, the unofficial caretakers of the public space, and the greater community. Author readings, a series of tea parties, drawing lessons, a Remembrance Day ceremony, a vigil for those killed by bombs in Paris and Lebanon – these events and others gave the community of Newton something to embrace.
“It’s gone better than we’d hoped, I think, in both a physical sense and an imaginative sense,” David Dalley, a founder of Friends of the Grove.
“We thought it’d be probably a pile of mush at the end of October, when we agreed with the city to take it down. But it wasn’t, and there’s been no vandalism. It’s been positively received, and the city was OK with it staying awhile longer. Here we are in December and it’s still standing. It’s been wonderful.”
At first, city officials were reluctant to approve construction of “Encyclopedia House,” fearing liability issues.
The project materialized, however, in part through the lobbying efforts of Li-Leger and his wife, Cora Li-Leger, also an artist and fellow Surrey Civic Treasure awardee.
“It was met with a lot of skepticism – you know, ‘what are you doing?’ and that kind of thing,” Cora recalled. “We had to build up to a level of trust with the city, too, that we’d be good to our word and that we had good intentions. That’s been a trust-building exercise and I hope that carries on, because if the city wants cultural development, then it has to trust that process and then artists, in turn, can learn to trust the bureaucratic processes as well.”
Perry Fulop, manager of community and recreation services in Newton for the City of Surrey, calls “Encyclopedia House” a real success story.
“It’s been interesting to have this as a focal point, people gathering around it,” Fulop said. “At the beginning I wasn’t sure how it’d all work, but it’s worked very well, this well-made house of books in the middle of a grove of trees.
Staff at the nearby rec centre and arena have fielded “a ton of questions about it” over the past couple of months, he added, and a lot of people will be sad to see it go.
“People were intrigued by it and wanted to know all about it,” Fulop explained.
“We heard at the beginning that there would be vandalism, people would just tear it down,” he added, “but David (Dalley) encouraged everyone to believe, and it’s been untouched, which is wonderful. This area has such a rough reputation, but it’s not really true. It’s changing, transforming. It makes you believe that the next thing you put in here won’t be vandalized, either, and people will embrace it, too. People respect it. It’s been satisfying to see that.”
This Sunday from 3 to 5 p.m., immediately before the planned dance party, a Christmas carolling event will include a “free items market,” to which people are encouraged to bring gently-used items to give to those in need. The carolling will be led by “music therapists for peace,” Sue Bains and Steve Cottrill, and song sheets will be provided. From 5 to 6 p.m., when “the house lights go up,” dancing inside “Encyclopedia House” will be limited to four people at a time.
“The next day it all comes down,” Don Li-Leger said. “But it’s not finished at all, because the idea lives on. It’s become a meeting place, and the activities that have occurred around here, it kind of suggests the area needs something a little different, a casual meeting place where someone can pin something on the wall if they want to, a less formal environment.… Maybe it’s built out of books again, but the idea is there. We could do this again, perhaps in a more permanent way.”