September 27, 2018 4:22 pm

A beloved longtime library staff member.

More than 300 used teabags, each telling a different story.

A celebration of the Pierce College community.

Each of these elements is reflected in “Threads of Connection,” a unique art piece unveiled at a special reception on Sept. 26 at the Pierce College Ft. Steilacoom Library.

Created by artist Susan Russell Hall, the large-scale piece was commissioned by the Pierce College Foundation in honor of former Pierce College Library staff member Cheryl Kneale, who worked in the Circulation Department for nearly 20 years. She passed away in Aug. 2014.

The impetus came from Kneale’s former colleague, adjunct librarian Mary Hammond (now retired), who wished to honor her friend and coworker’s memory with a lasting donation to the library.

“Cheryl was intelligent, clever and knowledgeable, having worked in many libraries around the world,” said Hammond.  “She greeted library patrons with a smile and surrounded her work space with her own creations – beautiful needlework and quilting projects. She loved art, education and libraries.”

In the fall of 2014, shortly after Kneale died, Hammond approached Library Director Christie Flynn about potential ways to honor Cheryl Kneale. The Fort Steilacoom Library had been extensively remodeled after Kneale and Hammond retired in 2007. Flynn suggested that a significant piece of art could be an appropriate memorial.

Along with Hammond’s initial grant, the Pierce College Foundation provided additional funds, as did a few other individual donors. In 2017, a committee including two Pierce College students, an art faculty member, a library staff member and a community representative issued a Request for Proposal from interested artists. More than 30 artists responded. The committee selected prominent Lakewood, Wash. artist Susan Russell Hall.

“I was deeply honored to be chosen by Pierce College,” said Hall. “I’ve always been grateful to the community college system. I attended Seattle Central Community College and that’s where I learned to have a life in art and make a living out of art. I also live in Lakewood so this is my community.”

Hall’s piece, called “Threads of Connection,” is constructed from more than 300 actual teabags that were used by students, staff and faculty at the Library’s longstanding monthly T3 hours (Third Thursday Teas), informal gatherings encouraging employees to take a break and get to know their colleagues from around the college. 

More than 300 teabags were collected throughout 2017 and labeled with each tea drinker’s name and date. Hall painstakingly emptied, dried and ironed each teabag, and arranged them on two large wooden panels (4 ft. x 4 ft. and 4ft. x 8 ft.) that when hung together, form one piece.  The final effect is like a watercolor image of individual inkblots and is also “reminiscent of quilting,” said Hall.  

“This piece reflects the interconnections of our lives, rich conversations and Kneale’s love of quilting,” said Hall. “To me, the ‘Threads of Connection’ are the story we all get to create together.”

As an extra touch, Hall photographed each teabag and identified its location on the piece. The photos were given to the original tea drinkers so they can locate their bag on the artwork.

“I am so glad to see this artwork come to fruition,” said Kneale’s friend, Hammond. “It will be wonderful to have it hanging in the library.”

For more information on Hall’s art, visit her website.