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Out & About: West Lebanon library gives teens a say in the teen room mural

  • Sam Paolini puts the finishing touches on a mural the artist painted in the teen room at the Kilton Public Library in West Lebanon. (Valley News — Liz Sauchelli) Valley News — Liz Sauchelli

  • Sam Paolini used ideas from Lebanon youth in a mural the artist painted on a wall in the teen room in the Kilton Public Library in downtown West Lebanon. (Valley News — Liz Sauchelli) Valley News — Liz Sauchelli

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/17/2021 6:06:17 AM
Modified: 10/17/2021 6:06:18 AM

Teenagers need their own spaces. And more importantly, they need spaces they feel like they own.

But sometimes those teen-designated spaces ring hollow, like when parents try to relate to their kids with slang. How many times as a teen did you walk into a space, maybe it was a classroom in an after-school program or a gathering spot set up by a school, and it felt like more of a place adults thought teens would like?

Prior to this month, the teen room at the Kilton Public Library had plain white walls. There was sun streaming through the windows, giving the downtown West Lebanon library natural light. There was no art.

Now, a mural by Sam Paolini, a Dover, N.H.-based artist, takes up an entire wall, roughly 20 feet wide and 6 feet tall. And while Paolini, who uses they/them pronouns, painted it, the idea was not theirs alone: It stemmed from contributions of youths who regularly spend time at the library.

Funded by the library’s Board of Trustees, The workshops and mural itself cost $4,900.

Eleven-year-old Stella Swan loves the library — and art. She loves to paint portraits of people and animals, not so much landscapes. Her walls are covered with pictures she’s created, and she relished the opportunity to participate in a public art project.

“If there’s anything about art, I’m there,” Stella said. “My input was to put the houses and cities in trees, make the tree villages. I’ve always been big on treehouses.”

Paolini led a workshop where they talked to youths about ideas. They posed questions to the participants such as: What objects today do you imagine being obsolete in the future and repurposed for another use? The participants talked about furnaces being cut in half to create planters and cars being put in trees to make homes for birds. Mushrooms became a theme because of their ability to break down trash, providing a place for a new city to grow.

“All these things I took and tried to do a version of their ideas in this mural,” Paolini said during an interview in the teen room, just as a child stopped at the doorway and pointed to a tree on the wall.

Last week, Paolini was putting the finishing touches on the solarpunk-themed mural, which they described as “the renewable energy version of steampunk.” It uses 30 colors of latex house paint with a satin shine. It poses the question, “What if we did everything right to restore the Earth and society as one harmonious community?”

Paolini has also painted murals at Lucky’s Coffee Garage and Lalo’s Taqueria in Lebanon. The mural at Kilton is Paolini’s first mural for a library, and they found it fulfilling.

“Hanging out with the kids and brainstorming was super-inspiring,” Paolini said. “It got me really fired up to paint.”

There are mushrooms, trees and what look like stone platforms. There’s a blue river that snakes throughout and there are golden creatures that Stella described as wolves, but are intentionally ambiguous, Paolini said.

“I think the main idea is they’re some sort of protector of the community,” they said.

The creatures provide the water as well as protect it. It is the part of the mural Stella is most excited about.

“I like how they’re creating the entire thing,” Stella said, noting how the water flows through the creatures’ mouths and their paws seem to hold the community in place. “I like how they’re golden because it shows a golden aura around them. It makes them look magical and powerful. They can do anything.”

Since the library has reopened to the public, it has become a hub for younger people, which is a new role for the Kilton library, said Celeste Pfeiffer, outreach and programming librarian. It has long been a goal of the library staff to update the teen room to make it a space they feel they have ownership of. A mural seemed like a good place to start.

“We also wanted to have them included in the creation process,” Pfeiffer said. She helped lead the brainstorming sessions and a youth photo contest, which yielded 15 submissions.

“It was so amazing to see these teens blossom during the process,” Pfeiffer said. “They were so proud to be listened to by an artist.”

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at or 603-727-3221.

Valley News

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