If you walk by quickly you might not notice anything different about Christopher’s Books. It’s still a gem of a neighborhood bookstore, that’s graced the 18th and Missouri streets corner for more than 25 years. Stop and look closely, however, and you’ll see two new paintings in the windows.
After thinking for a long time about adding art to the window displays, Tee Minot, Christopher’s Books’ owner, enlisted the services of neighborhood artist, Brenda Cole Seymour, co-owner of Mural Arts, to paint two shelves filled with books.
“You’d be surprised at how fast books are damaged when hit by the sun,” said Minot, “so I’ve always wanted something in the display that would hold up against sunlight. At the same time, I wanted to bring the display to life and make it more interesting and fun to look at.”
Minot sought to include a range of titles by authors who represent different perspectives and cultures in the artwork. She picked literary classics like Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury; Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison; and Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley, as well as books by local authors and longtime friends of the store, including Lost Cat, by Caroline Paul; Meanwhile in San Francisco, by Wendy MacNaughton; and La Maravilla, by Alfredo Veá.
Some of Minot’s personal favorites are featured, including The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, by Haruki Murakami; Angle of Repose, by Wallace Stegner; and The Last Report on the Miracle at Little No Horse, by Louise Erdich. As part of the design process, Minot invited Christopher’s Books’ staff to provide input into the books they’d like to see in the paintings.
Once the list was finalized Minot left it to Seymour to create the art. In addition to depicting interesting book jackets in the paintings, Seymour highlighted a handful of additional items. She included a photograph of Jack London, because she once painted a faux bookshelf filled with his books for a coffeeshop in Berkeley, and loved his books when growing up. She also created a portrait of Mary Ann Evans, known more famously by her pen name, George Eliot.
While working on the project Seymour was reading The Invention of Nature: Alexander Von Humboldt’s New World, by historian Andrea Wulf, about an influential scientist and naturalist who warned about climate change in the 18th century. She included a grasshopper and butterfly in the painting in honor of Von Humboldt.
Adept at working in different styles, Seymour was inspired during the creation of the paintings by 19th-century trompe l’oeil master, William Harnett. “I’ve always admired his art,” said Seymour, “and sought inspiration from his work while painting the bookshelves.”
Alongside her husband and artistic partner, Les Seymour, Seymour has created art for hundreds of homes and commercial spaces around the world, including massive artworks for places like Caesars Palace and Shanghai Disneyland. She takes satisfaction in seeing her painting on display near her Potrero Hill home.
“Living and working here for more than 30 years, it’s nice to paint something special in our neighborhood,” said Seymour. “I’m also thankful for this project because it introduced me to many new books. I now have an amazing reading list from Christopher’s Books that will keep me busy for years!”
Minot looks forward to having conversations with fellow book lovers about the paintings. She knows the art will spark conversations about the volumes depicted in the window displays, as well as titles that were omitted.
“I love the paintings,” she said. “I should have done this twenty-five years ago.”
Greg Roensch is a writer and Potrero Hill resident who owns an editorial services business. He recently published “Breakfast with the Alien and Other Short, Short Stories,” available at Christopher’s Books.