Volunteer Spotlight: Bill Barnes


New art at the library is always a wonderful sight. Last year, an ocean-themed piece went up at the East Side Library, and earlier this year, a manga mural was created at the Forest Avenue Library. Local artist Bill Barnes is the mind behind those great new pieces.

Barnes is the brother of Theresa Weeks, a longtime library staff member. His work with the library started a few years ago, when the North Side Library was preparing a new float for the Iowa State Fair Parade. Weeks asked Barnes if he could create large scale versions of children’s book characters, like Clifford, Dora the Explorer, and Pete the Cat. He went to work, despite the fact it was quite different from his normal art, which feature relatively small, realistic landscape and still-life work.

DMPL State Fair
A group of DMPL employees and volunteers get ready for the Iowa State Fair Parade

The result was an amazing success. Vibrant, recognizable characters paraded down Grand Avenue, with families pointing and smiling as the float passed. Later, the library decided to open Rosie-themed spaces in the children's areas at each of our branches. Each branch came up with a theme having to do with their neighborhood, and the East Side Library chose "Rosie's Ocean" to celebrate the aquatic center next door. Barnes helped to create parts of Rosie’s Ocean, including the stylized, cartoony fish along the back wall. He sketched out what he wanted that wall to look like, but it became a team effort. After getting the fish, starfish, and other elements of the piece cut out, children of library employees helped paint and decorate the fish. 

FishiesThe finished fish, before installation.

Rosie's Ocean
Ocean-themed created by Barnes helps liven up the children's area at the East Side Library.

Earlier this year, he worked with the Forest Avenue Library to create a new manga mural, highlighting the large, popular manga collection there. The manga piece features several characters familiar to active manga readers. Barnes worked with library staff at Forest to pick characters that were popular and recognizable. Forest Avenue Library Assistant Jen Thomas says that Barnes went home with a stack of manga books to find the right panels. "He had to find panels that would be visually striking, but also resonate emotionally with visitors in only a few words," says Thomas. Those that have seen the mural at the Forest Avenue Library will tell you he succeeded!

The manga mural at the Forest Avenue Library stretches over part of one wall.

For Barnes, volunteering gives him fresh eyes on the world. “If I’m not volunteering somewhere, I’m not living,” says Barnes. “It’s fun. It keeps me nimble and lets me see what kids are into these days.” The library is lucky to have someone like Barnes to help us beautify our spaces and make things more exciting for our patrons. If you would like to see Barnes’ professional work, you can check it out at the Olson-Larson Gallery in Des Moines.