The Main Detroit Public Library

The Main Detroit Public Library, on Woodward in the Cultural Center



The Main Detroit Public Library, on Woodward in the Cultural Center, is exactly such a place. Designed by Cass Gilbert in 1921, the coolly elegant Italian Renaissance exterior is composed of limestone and white Vermont marble. But the interior is equally magnificent. In Adam Strohm Hall on the third floor, for instance, there’s a triptych of murals on the west wall by John Stephens Coppin called Man’s Mobility (above), a homage to the progression of transportation, completed in 1964. The middle panel depicts transportation in the present time, as a man, his eyes lifted heavenward, gazes transfixed as rockets ascend. Although born in Mitchell, Ontario, in 1904, Coppin was trained in Detroit and lived in the area for many decades. He died in 1986. Known primarily as a portrait artist, Coppin nevertheless considered the library murals to be among his favorite personal works. Directly across from the triptych are three murals centering on early Detroit history, painted in 1921 by Detroit-born artist Gari Melchers. Still more murals, by American artist Edwin Howland Blashfield, are to be found on the third-floor stairwell. His five panels, completed in 1922, are devoted to the arts. In addition, throughout Adam Strohm Hall are stained-glass windows depicting the signs of the Zodiac and the Muses, executed by Frederick J. Wiley, in 1921. These artists must have instinctively known that inspiration and learning, the presumed goal of libraries, go hand in hand.

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