From Idea to Production:

A Public Book Timeline



Columbus announces Quincentennial projects

The Public Book

idea is born


Idea to Reality: Shifting concepts

The Public Book

 identity found:





Board convened


Laying  more



Finding sponsors

Writing grants


Columbus Libraries as Co-Sponsors Official Project Status

The Public Book

goes public:


brochures, posters

Compiling lists and mass mailing


Media  PR  



Book submissions



made possible

Photography Grant

Late in 1987 a special Commission established by the City of Columbus, Ohio, to plan a celebration of the quincentenary of Christopher Columbus’ landing in the New World announced its plans:  Ameriflora ’92, a nine-month horticultural extravaganza to be staged on 160 acres encompassing the city’s Franklin, Wolfe, and Academy Parks; a full-scale reconstruction of the explorer’s flagship, Santa Maria, to be berthed on the Scioto River in downtown Columbus; and local beautification projects submitted by individual neighborhoods. That none of these invited all residents to participate actively in some larger, lasting effort seemed to at least one citizen an omission, an omission that provided the impetus for the idea of a book that might allow everyone a voice, for what became The Public Book: Letters to Our Great, Great Grandchildren.

Our initial concept of a book consisting of paper pages soon proved impractical and fatal to the goal that the book last 500 years. The general public was not yet well educated about acid-free papers or archival materials, nor were such papers widely sold, and the glues then available raised all sorts of preservation nightmares.  Virtually all of these issues were resolved with the decision to have  pages made of fabric. Similarly, early efforts at attracting funding with the project still under the aegis of the Calligraphy Guild of Columbus and using its letterhead failed to give the project the direct recognition it needed and may have even confused potential donors.  Designing project-specific letterhead changed all that:  overnight, the idea of the Book began to take hold in the community.  With both monetary and in-kind support beginning to be pledged, work began on framing broad themes for participants, on setting specifications for page construction, and on identifying upcoming needs.  Good ideas, advice and wisdom came over the next several years from as far away as The AIDS Quilt and as near as a remarkable working committee of Greater Columbus arts, business, and conservation professionals, who generously gave their time and expertise to identify and resolve needs at critical phases of the project’s development.

In April, 1989, Governor Ted Celeste and U.S. Senator John Glenn broke ground at Franklin Park for Ameriflora ’92, officially opening the Ohio and Columbus commemoration of the Quincentenary.  That same month, a rough layout of the official brochure for the Public Book was ready to begin sharing.  Raising financial and in-kind support continued through the year, along with writing and submitting three grant proposals, since it had become apparent that commercial and private donations to the Book had to be limited (at $250 it was decided) to preclude any attempt at influencing what participants might want to say in their pages.  It also became clear that the Project needed more minds and a variety of points of view to begin looking ahead to future issues and needs: The Public Book Committee convened in December, 1989, its first tasks to brainstorm both an expanded list of potential donors and a massive mailing list of as many communities of interest in the Greater Columbus/Franklin County area as possible for participation. 

We hadn’t known what to expect over the first three years of building the Book’s infrastructure.  My personal forebodings were that no one would respond or we’d get just a handful of  pages, or that we’d be inundated with advertising or uninteresting work. Others apparently had a more optimistic vision. Early in 1990 the Columbus Metropolitan Libraries asked to be co-sponsors of The Public Book--truly a win-win arrangement for both.  The project instantly gained a distribution network to the reading public; the Library became involved in the Quincentenary as an intermediary in getting the public involved--through a “book-like” project, no less. Meanwhile, while we still had our noses to the grind, the Public Book won formal recognition as an Official Project of the Quincentenary, first by the local Quincentennial Commission and soon  by the National Commission on the Quincentenary.

In April, 1990, the Greater Columbus Arts Council funded the first Public Book grant. Graphic artist Ruth Leonard was immediately enlisted to design the official poster and brochure, and early one morning in Hilliard, she and I watched as the first posters rolled off the presses at West-Camp Printing.  By early fall, it became possible to print the official brochure as well with the funding of two more grants: from the Barbara A. Coons Fund of The Columbus Foundation, and a second from the Greater Columbus Arts Council.

On October 12th, after two and a half years of planning and preparation, the Public Book went “live.”  A preview of the workshops that would be given all over the city followed the official launching at the Ohio Historical Society in Columbus. Posters and brochures had just been placed at all libraries, in city facilities where possible and at sponsors’ stores, among them several area bookstores, fabric and craft stores, CORD Camera stores, and Majestic Paint stores. A massive mailing based on a recipient list of around 10,000 went out with the help of Ohio State Life. The opening also brought media attention, with numerous print articles over the next years including, in 1992, a front-page spread in the Accent section of the Columbus Dispatch, and radio and TV appearances.

From October, 1990 to October, 1991, the book was open for page submissions, as workshops continued throughout the city and surrounding localities. Kinko’s agreed to help participants copy photographs onto fabric transfers on their copiers, but only if we could find photo transfers that Gordon Flesch Co., with whom they contracted for machine maintenance and repair, would sign off on.  It took six months of research, but we found them--in Canada.

Completed pages, that had begun coming in by early December, 1990, kept coming in steadily through 1991, and beyond demonstrating my early fears unfounded, Columbians had proven my earliest instincts right--there was talent and feeling aplenty out there that was inspired by the idea of the Book.  In the end, over 140 pages came in.

Fabric artist Vicki Shaffer backed each with canvas, so that Joanne Welsh could hand sew the final closures and I could letter each page with the name of its creator. The project booked many hundreds of hours as well as miles that year among the three of us, and many more for the workshops I gave all over the greater Columbus area.  It could have become a daily grind, but those who worked on it found it so inspiring, it spurred us on.

A grant from the Leo Yassenoff Foundation, finally funded early in the fall, made it possible to photograph groups and individual participants still working on pages, an effort that CORD Camera helped with as well. The Vision Center of Central Ohio (affiliated with the American Federation for the Blind) generously provided mylar overlays and Janice Danley to produce Braille versions for the labels accompanying the pages.  Closing off entries at Columbus Day, 1991, left us just four months--over the holiday season--to complete all the binding and lettering of the pages, and more.  Some pages that we learned participants had given up on had to be rescued.  That became Joanne Welsh’s favorite job, and she excelled.  The Grand Opening had to be planned and publicized, exhibition sites identified and visited, and what seemed endless arrangements finalized on paper.  Days flew by as we worked long hours to be ready in time.

1992 on

Exhibits continue

County recognition

Grant funded:


Oral History


Grand Opening

March, 1992


March -October

The Grand Opening of The Public Book, at the main branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Libraries in downtown Columbus in March, 1992, gave the completed project to the public.  Over 40 of the pages were on display throughout the facility.  Over the following nine months, pages were exhibited throughout the library system, at several branches at a time, everywhere in Franklin County.  The number shown at any one branch depended on its available display space but, in all cases, pages made in the community served by that branch were exhibited there. Three or four exhibits went up every month until Columbus Day, 1992, when the Book was finally, for the first time, shown in its entirety--in the Shot Tower Gallery at Fort Hayes Metropolitan Education Center.  Everywhere it went, the Public Book brought enthusiastic response from the public, though some people--despite our Herculean efforts to get brochures and information everywhere--expressed disappointment that they hadn’t learned about the project in time to take part.  I wished there had been more time, too, so that others whom I’d personally approached to make pages might have been able to come through. 

After all the hoopla of 1992 it didn’t seem possible yet, over time, other important issues emerged. One was coming up with a truly archival and still portable system to both store and transport the nearly 150 pages.  What the Public Book Committee learned by expanding its ranks to include the technical assistance of more members provided the basis of another grant proposal. Still another arose when it became apparent that an oral history archive that would give participants who wished a chance to record something about their lives and their motives in taking part in the project was needed, an effort still in progress. Both grant proposals were funded by The Columbus Foundation, in 2001 and 2002, respectively, with the fiduciary assistance of Friends of Art for Community Enrichment (F.A.C.E.).

In July, 2003, The Public Book received a double honor:  a facility-wide showing throughout the Franklin County Courthouse, and a formal Resolution presented to the Director by the County Commissioners in Chambers.

Though less frequently, exhibits continued through 2004, when The Public Book was shown at the Franklin County Fairgrounds for the bicentennial celebrations of  both Ohio and  Franklin County.

The Project now looks forward to 2012, when the City of Columbus celebrates its own bicentenary.  With the creation of this website come efforts to expand knowledge and appreciation of this one-of-a-kind Book beyond Ohio’s borders to audiences around the country and perhaps even abroad.

© 1991 The Public Book