The public schools are now back in full swing in Iredell County and the library staff is once again busy helping local students with their research papers.
We sometimes wonder if the teachers are giving the assignments to the kids or to us.
One homework assignment we receive each year comes from Puerto Rico. That’s right, Puerto Rico. Each year we receive requests from children in Puerto Rico for information about a children’s writer that was born in Iredell County.
Doris Troutman Plenn was born on Christmas Day Dec. 25th, 1909 in Iredell County. She was the daughter of Chalmers Eugene Troutman, Sr., and Freda Hyams Troutman O’Neal.
Mrs. Plenn grew up in Troutman and after finishing school here she moved away and lived in New York City and Puerto Rico for many years. She became a poet, songwriter, editor, publisher, and children’s author writing “The Violet Tree” and “The Green Song.”
Later, she and her husband established the Troutman Press at their home in Sharon, Connecticut. She died in Sharon in November of 1994 and is buried with her husband Abel in the Troutman Family cemetery here in Iredell County.
Since then her books have become children’s classics in Puerto Rico. The book “The Green Song” or “La Cancion verde” published in 1954 with black and white illustrations by Paul Galdone is a fantasy of the adventures of a “coqui” in New York.
The “coqui” whose name means “little frog” is a tiny, singing frog that is only found in Puerto Rico. The coqui is a symbol of the island and a favorite with Puerto Rican children. Its scientific name “Eleutherodactylus” is often longer than the frog itself.
The coqui is basically a green, brown, or yellowish tree frog that has disks or pads on the tips of its toes to help it adhere to leaves and branches. The coquies begin to sing when the sun goes down at dusk and it is there unique sound of “ko-kee” from which it gets its name.
“The Violet Tree” or “El arbol de la violeta” was published in 1962, with drawings by Johannes Troyer. It is about a mysterious tree that grows in the western part of Puerto Rico and a lizard who can feel what is happening in the Mona Passage, a strait or section of water between Puerto Rico and the island of Mona.
Both books were translated into Spanish by Antonio J. Colorado and are read in classrooms of Puerto Rican school children each year. Often the teachers assign the students to find out about the author and her works and each year we receive E-mails and letters from students needing information about Mrs. Plenn for their reports.
Children’s books are usually fantasies in which frogs, lizards, animals, chairs and just about everything else you can think of has a personality and the ability to talk and think just like a person.
Such books help develop a child’s mind by allowing their imagination to grow and their thought processes to be stimulated. It is the ability to dream and think in the abstract, such as when we think ahead and plan for the future that is a uniquely human capability separating us from all other life on earth.
Looking at art can also give an adult what a children’s book does for a child. It allows us to look at something and not only identify what we are seeing, but also to have our thoughts and feelings stimulated so that our imagination allows us to see more than what our eyes show us.
This is basically what abstract art does. It is visual stimulation for the human mind put into physical form. When we look at a statue of a famous man we see basically a life like rendering of the person in art form. We see it and identify it as to whom it depicts and then decide if we think the artist created a good likeness of his subject.
In abstract art there is often nothing recognizable in the various shapes and colors before our eyes. Instead of identifying what we see we are challenged to interpret what our eyes show us.
Often what one viewer sees will be different than what another may see. Instead of a faithful rendering the artist presents the beholder with an art work meant to stimulate the imagination and feelings of each person that views the work.
On Sunday October 30, 2005 the library had the unveiling of an original steel sculpture by artist Steve Cote. The work features thirteen metallic children, adult, and animal figures each posed to create a theme of sharing the importance of reading.
Cote designs and fabricates unique and often humorous figurative and architectural metal works of art. The sculpture is nine feet tall, seven feet deep and weighs nearly 2,000 lbs. Each figure has a unique look on its face as they communicate with one another.
It is how they communicate with the viewer that is interesting though. Patrons and staff have each made up their own story around their interpretation of the art work and what the characters are doing and trying to say.
The sculpture which is located in the main entrance was presented to the library by Martha Drum Hazelton and the Iredell Friends of the Library. Martha Hazelton donated the funds for the sculpture in honor of her parents J.D. and Marion Drum.
Joel Reese, Local History Librarian
Iredell County Public Library
This article appeared in the Statesville Record and Landmark as “Art provides the stimulation we all need” on Nov. 2, 2005