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Past, future shine through library's new window

By: Cheri March
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Colfax’s newly restored library hasn’t forgotten its roots, figuratively or literally. Along with a replaced tin ceiling and restored tile flooring that honor the 93-year-old building’s original architecture, the Colfax branch was recently fitted with a six-by-seven-foot stained glass window featuring an oak tree with arching limbs and roots spread in the shape of an open book. Dubbed “The Tree of Knowledge,” the original piece was created by Alta artist and Legacy Glassworks owner Thaddeus Little as a commission for the Colfax Friends of the Library. It will be available for public view when the library reopens Tuesday. “This remodel would have been beautiful even without the window,” Little said. “But the fact that Friends of the Library saw the value in a piece of artwork of this caliber means so much. I hope this window will be here long after I’m gone.” The tree could just as well be homage to the artist’s own roots. Little was raised in his parents’ custom stained glass and wood sign shop and still bounces ideas off his father, who helped with the tedious task of installing the large library glass. “He’s kind of my rock. He’s the guy I count on to keep me on track,” Little said. Over the years Little has become a well-respected craftsman in his own right, earning a living with his art since he opened his first business in Colfax’s historic Fruit Exchange building in 1999. Today he creates hand-drawn, one-of-a-kind glass in a 400-square-foot outbuilding on his girlfriend’s Alta property. Legacy Glassworks is well known around the Colfax community, where Little’s windows hang in the Depot and Camp 20 buildings downtown as well as in numerous private residences. “I’ve done literally hundreds of windows in the surrounding area, from entryway doors to skylights,” he said. “My specialty is working with customers to come up with something that fits the things they appreciate and takes into account the environment (where we’re putting the glass).” His latest project combined aspects of the city’s past and future. A rambling train near the top of the window represents Colfax history, while primary colors and bold lines near the tree’s base fit in with the nearby children’s section and the clean look of the updated building. In keeping with the library’s Mission style, the stylized oak and a blazing sun echo traditional Tiffany-influenced glass designs. It’s a colorful contrast that mirrors the building’s blend of historic elements with new additions like modern furniture and computers. “While this isn’t a historic building, it’s historic to the community, and this library really brings together the traditional with the new,” said Mark Parker, director of library services for Placer County. “And the window speaks for itself. It’s beautiful.” While Little has a knack for making the organic, flowing lines of his landscape-oriented work look effortless, they’re not. Construction of the window took probably 200 hours, he said, though he prefers not to count. In short, each hand-drawn piece of the design is transferred to poster board, then cut out and used as patterns to cut the glass pieces, which are wrapped with copper tape and soldered together. Though it’s more expensive, Little prefers to use hand-rolled glass. “It has a texture and way of reflecting light that you don’t get with machine-rolled glass,” he said. To frame the window, Little recycled old oak furniture into a custom molding – much like the library was able to recycle shelves from the Galleria at Roseville’s Borders bookstore, which closed in 2008. Library officials hope the updated space – and window– will make a splash with locals, old and new. “Colfax is the fastest growing city in the state (according to a 2009 California Department of Finance report) and we’re hoping to get some of those extra people in the library,” said Mary George, assistant director of library services. As a Colfax resident herself, George has already been won over. “I can’t stop looking at it,” she said of the sun-illuminated glass. “We’re so excited.” Placer County will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Colfax branch library at 2 p.m. on June 30. The Colfax Friends of the Library are planning a grand opening celebration later this summer. For more information about Legacy Glassworks, call (530) 401-6441 or email Little at thaad@sbcglobal.net.