Central Library’s outdoor sculptures in Indianapolis, IN

The Central Library against a bright blue sky
It's difficult to remember what the library looked like without these flanking pieces. | Photo by INDYtoday team

The sculptures outside Central Library are definitely “keeping Indy weird.” They’re not your usual historical statues + they come with a few less than usual stories.

📖 The background

The Central Library was built in 1917 by architect Paul Cret, who incorporated two outdoor pedestals intended for his own work. However, those plans were never fulfilled due to lack of funding, leaving an impression that the building was unfinished. Fast forward 92 years, when they were finally put to use by artist Peter Shelton’s bronze work in 2009. 

Over 60 artists were reviewed for the project from across the world, but the decision to choose Peter was unanimous. The art costed $750,000 and was privately funded by arts advocates Ann + Chris Stack the library foundation.

A spindly figure against the Central Library
“Thinman” is true to its name. | Photo by INDYtoday team

🐦 🍩 The pieces

Chris Stack described Peter Shelton’s other work as “totally impractical but beautiful,” and we’d have to say the same for “thinmanlittlebird.” “Thinman” stands at 40 ft tall, and yes, it’s headless. The trailing limbs remind us a little of a Tim Burton movie, but for a passerby during the piece’s installation, they said “it could be in a Stephen King movie. The guy gets up and walks around Indianapolis.”

Littlebird” — aka “the donut,” or bagel, if you like — is 3,500 pounds + includes a little bird perching upon it (which I’ve never actually noticed). That’s probably because it’s tiny compared to the scale of the piece, mimicking the size of a real bird, which the artist knew it would attract. He said the bird is a metaphor for “our delicacy on the edge of that universe.”

A donut-looking sculpture attached to the Central Library
Can you see the bird? | Photo by INDYtoday team

🏗️ The logistics

Both pieces look a bit physically improbable, so you can bet that they were a challenge to install. To anchor the work to the building, a steel shaft had to be installed from the roof down into the ground. A lot of details had to be accounted for in order to keep the pieces stable, including wind + seismic waves.

The next time you’re strolling up those Central Library steps, you’ll be sure to impress your company with these artsy tidbits.