The small art gallery transformed into a free library in Costa Mesa allows visitors to take a canvas, leave one

In Costa Mesa, it won’t take you long to find a small, free library – facade structures built by bibliophiles where people can browse, pick up or leave titles – but of the 25 registered in town, one holds a special distinction. .

In a quiet cul-de-sac of Montana Avenue is an old wine cellar turned into a library, where passers-by can not only browse books intended for all reading levels, but can also select tiny paintings from a tall gallery. range.

Unlike a typical museum, the works inside the Costa Mesa cabinet are created by locals, according to owner Charlene Ashendorf.

Charlene Ashendorf’s little free library recently evolved to include a small art gallery of canvases that people took from the cabinet, painted, and returned.

(Scott Smeltzer / Personal Photographer)

“I was reading an article about free little art galleries and thought, ‘I’ll give it a try,’ said Ashendorf, who chairs the city’s Cultural Arts Committee.

She leaves tiny blank canvases inside the cabinet that people can take home, paint and return for others to enjoy. Among the easels are miniature notepads for authors or poets.

The small, free “Friends of Montana Avenue” library has been running since neighbors surprised the couple in the early 2000s by setting up a painted box on a nearby wall and filling it with books, years before the national movement took off.

A door from this box still hangs from the back of the existing structure as a tribute to the four neighbors who helped create the first iteration.

The door of the first free book box, installed at the Ashendorf's in Costa Mesa, is affixed to a more recent cabinet.

The door of the first free book box, installed at the Ashendorf’s in Costa Mesa in the early 2000s, is affixed to the back of the current Little Free Library.

(Scott Smeltzer / Personal Photographer)

“I don’t know if it was a toolbox or what it was. But we did it in our backyard as a surprise to Char, ”neighbor Helen Miller recalled Monday. “The neighbors’ children would pick out their books and just drop onto the lawn and read them. “

The library’s offering has grown over time, requiring upgrades that have changed its form but never its function. Since adding art canvases last month, Ashendorf estimates that around three dozen paintings have been created.

“Nobody signs them, so I don’t know where they’re from,” she said. “[But] nothing is judged in the show.

Other hyper-local landmarks near the practice have become equally popular with those in the immediate vicinity of the Ashendorfs. A metal figurine, made of balustrades and found objects and fashioned into a human form, is decorated each month by a neighbor according to the season.

Charlene Ashendorf reads a note on the Free Little Art Gallery at her home in Costa Mesa.

Charlene Ashendorf reads a note on the Free Little Art Gallery at her home in Costa Mesa.

(Scott Smeltzer / Personal Photographer)

Under the sculpture – named Francine, in honor of her personal stylist – small stones with edifying messages were painted by the inhabitants and left to future passers-by. The rock garden came into being during the pandemic, when locked out neighbors began to take more walks, and is still a place to find easy inspiration.

“I think it made more sense during the pandemic because it’s a place you can come to,” Miller said of the area.

Behind the Little Free Library are raised planters that have since become the plant version of a lending library. Dennis Ashendorf said several neighbors have stepped up to make improvements to the space over the years.

“A neighbor built a blanket for [the library] it would therefore be protected from heavy rains, ”he said. “It has become a kind of project where everyone is involved.

For Charlene Ashendorf, the business is about building community.

“We really live in a great neighborhood,” she said. “And it’s a community space.”

Charlene Ashendorf looks at several books left in her little free library at her home in Costa Mesa.

Charlene Ashendorf looks at several books left in her little free library at her home in Costa Mesa.

(Scott Smeltzer / Personal Photographer)

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