Library castoffs become art

Artist Mel Kolstad is interested in ephemera – stuff like stickers and tickets that aren’t meant to last a long time – because they’re often beautiful pieces of history that people overlook. She’s also a big library fan, so when she came across a new movement – The Library as Incubator Project – something went click.

The Library as Incubator Project was created by three UW-Madison library and information studies students to promote collaboration between libraries and artists.

Kolstad already had a history of collaborating with the Fond du Lac Public Library. As a founding member of Fond du Lac Visual Arts, Kolstad has been involved with the management of the library gallery and she helped create a donor piece for the new branch, FDLPL Express.

When she happened upon Library as Incubator online in January, Kolstad thought it might be fascinating to turn the ephemera of her local library into art. She approached Support Services Coordinator Lori Burgess with an unusual request: could the library collect all the stuff that people leave in returned books? They did, and Kolstad “had enough in just one week. There were maps, notes, pictures, drawings, tickets … you name it.”

Kolstad finished the piece, “The Detritus Project: Fond du Lac Public Library,” and donated it to the library in June. It’s a collage of the library castoffs framing an original mixed media painting of the library building. Kolstad documented her project on Library as Incubator’s blog, with a final installment on June 5. 

“We are delighted to accept this wonderful piece of art by Mel,” said Director Ken Hall. “We’re very grateful to her for involving us in the Library as Incubator movement, and we hope to continue and strengthen our association with the local arts community.”

For her part, Kolstad is so pleased that she has plans to expand the Detritus Project into community collaboration next year.

“This whole process has been a tremendous success,” said Kolstad. “I can’t thank the library staff enough. I’m honored to create this piece for a place that has brought me and others so much joy. I’m also grateful to the wonderful women at The Library as Incubator Project, especially Laura Damon-Moore, for allowing me to document my progress of the piece.”

Kolstad is a self-taught full-time artist who says her career began with a stamp collection at age 7. She is author of the blog Ephemeraology at and will be featured in a one-woman show, “My Downtown,” at the library gallery in November. More information about her and her work can be found at

Photo info: Mel Kolstad presents her piece, "The Detritus Project: Fond du Lac Public Library" to Director Ken Hall. Kolstad created the work in collaboration with the Library as Incubator Project out of UW-Madison. The piece will be installed in the public area at the library. Photo by Brian Kolstad.


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