MADISON — Wherever Morgan Beach traveled, her books were always close by.
She was a voracious reader often found reading on the beach under a large brimmed hat and generously shared her love of books with family and friends.
Morgan grew up in Bronxville, N.Y. and spent weekends and summers in Madison with her parents, Bruce and Dawn Beach and younger sister Kendall. She loved school, was an excellent skier, and a concert level classical pianist.
On March 1, 2019, Morgan passed away one week before her birthday at the age of 28. To honor her memory and love of reading, a mural, “Morgan’s Nook,” was created for the children’s room in the newly renovated E.C. Scranton Memorial Library in Madison.
The idea for the mural came to light during the planning phase of the library building. Laura Downes, Scranton Library’s Project Liaison, learned of Morgan through a library board member.
“She was a fabulous reader, she loved to read, and loved to tell other people about what she read.” said Downes.
According to Downes, over 90 people donated on Morgan’s behalf to the library.
“We were very, very fortunate. The library is very fortunate to be the recipient.” she shared.
Morgan’s mother shared this family memory of her daughter, “Morgan was very close to her cousins. Every time her cousin Elsa came to Madison, Morgan would go to R.J. Julia, her favorite place on earth, and buy her some of her favorite teen books. Morgan was very thoughtful, very generous, especially to her family.”
Downes said that while planning the layout of the children’s library, they were undecided about a small corner space near a large front window, but after hearing about Morgan, the next morning she woke up with a vision for a mural.
The children’s room and mural were part of the overall library renovation which passed a town referendum in 2017, a groundbreaking in February 2019, and due to the pandemic, opening by appointment only this past September. The library project cost a total of $15 million partly bonded by the town of Madison, state grants and private donations.
The Schumann Children’s Library, generously supported by the Robert F. Schumann Foundation, welcomes the youngest members of the shoreline community. The very large, open room invites children and families to spend time together exploring and reading. As visitors roam through the beach-themed space painted in a vibrant blue hue, they’ll joyfully discover “Morgan’s Nook” nestled in a quiet light-filled corner.
Commissioning a project of this magnitude required Downes to find just the right artist. Or in this case three local artists whom she found through the help of the Madison Art Society.
“The library has always partnered with the Madison Art Society. They’ve done shows in the library for years, and we certainly consider them one of our partners. I knew Hilary Griffin, the president of MAS, and I asked her, ‘How do we make this happen?’”
Griffin knew exactly who to ask. She reached out to fellow artists and MAS members Melissa Imossi and Linda S. Marino to work on the project who all brought different artistic styles and content elements to the mural.
Griffin shared, “It was interesting to see how we were going to blend three different artistic styles although we all have Florence, Italy in our roots! I knew that this would be the best opportunity for me personally and professionally to just learn from my artist friends.”
The women began the lengthy road to creating the mural by brainstorming ideas together. Imossi described, “We were told that Morgan was an avid reader, she was always recommending books to family members and any of the younger kids that she knew. She had a cat that she loved, and wherever she went she would find a little cozy area to read in.”
Their vision was to incorporate Morgan’s spirit into a piece that would also draw children to the space.
Imossi said, “We came up with four or five ideas, and then Linda did three beautiful watercolor sketches for the family to choose from. It was a very emotional process for us.”
Knowing that the mural was painted in memory of someone, Griffin reflected on the impact this project had on her and the other women.
“It just weighed on you more that you wanted to get it right. I had never done a painting like this, and we carried it with us.”
Once the Beach family decided on the final design, the artists set up an outdoor studio space in Griffins’ garage and driveway in Madison in order to safely work during the pandemic.
The trio painted on six masonite panels to create the playful scenery displayed in Morgan’s Nook taking two months to complete.
The artists first primed and marked out their design with pastels and charcoal so the mural scenes would evenly flow.
“Then we started to layer in the paints, working together and handing things off. When we got down to the details, we would each work on the separate panels.” shared Marino.
Imossi continued, “Then we all just worked on different things. One person might be working on the houses, and another would be working on the clouds or the rocks. It was good we were able to just take separate panels once we had the design in.”
To strengthen and secure each masonite panel, Imossi enlisted the help of her husband, Iacopo Pasquinelli, who created a wood frame attached to the back of each panel. Then, he used a nail gun to attach the panels to each other and the library walls at the same time.
Now hanging in the children’s library, “Morgan’s Nook” stands at 20-by-8 feet spanning three walls under which children can settle into an L-shaped couch to read. Its bright, bold colors whimsically capture a day at the beach as a mix of inspiring quotes swirl over the waves and sky. The centerpiece of the painting depicts Morgan sitting above the water reading one of her beloved books while her cat Kiki, her constant companion, sits by her side.
Thinking about who would view this mural inspired all three artists. “Some of the words are up high so probably the moms and dads will be holding their little ones while reading these quotes to them. Which is a nice thought, holding them close.” said Griffin.
Imossi shared how they were able to capture Morgan’s spirit in the painting, “We asked Laura to talk to the family about that. You see her in profile in the artwork. We wanted it to look a little like her, as well as embody her spirit.
“They told us where she would shop for her clothes, and what sort of dresses she wore, and she had a black floppy hat that she’d wear. Also portraying the cat, she always had her cat with her.”
Downes recalled when Morgan’s mother viewed the mural for the first time, “I stood on the other side and let her take it in, and she just turned away and said, ‘It’s fabulous, just fabulous.’ I think the library is a beautiful way to honor somebody’s memory.”
Dawn Beach shared that while many people collect different things, Morgan collected books.
“She always said she had twice as many books as she could read, but loved to be surrounded by her books. She owned hundreds of all types and genres. Today we have a room in our house filled with her books, and family and friends borrow them. That would have pleased her as she loved to share her passion.”
The E.C. Scranton Memorial Library is currently open by appointment only. For more information: www.scrantonlibrary.org or call 203-245-7365.
You can reach the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org