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Learning the ABCs on the light rail

An exhibit that highlights various sights along the Central Corridor light rail line and promotes literacy at the same time opened this month at the St. Anthony Park Branch Library in St. Paul.

The interactive exhibit, called the Alphabet Place, which first appeared at the Rondo Community Outreach Library this past summer, includes photos of letters that artist Amy Unger took while exploring the area around the light rail line. She used some of the “found” letters to create board games and a treasure hunt.

Some people might recognize certain letters she shot at local stores, offices, construction sites and elsewhere, along the light rail line.

Many of the letters are visible from Metro Transit’s number 6 bus route. In the library, children can search for the letters, which have been hidden here and there, throughout the children’s section.

“I can probably look at most of the letters and tell you where they’re from,” she says, adding that she almost got arrested a couple of times, snapping shots of letters from the street.

Unger, who is also a licensed elementary school teacher and a skilled typographer, has collected thousands of images of letters. Q’s and Z’s were among the most challenging letters to find.

Some letters are more whimsical or dynamic than others or new or old. “Some have a center like a face,” she says. “You get excited about the beauty and lines and shape of each letter.”  

It takes a lot of visual discernment to find the letters, which she says can help children strengthen eyesight and learn about the alphabet. “I find it lovely and fun,” she says. “I think letters and the alphabet should be endlessly charming and entertaining.”  

She also used nails and wires she found along the way, to form letters. The project has turned out to be an interesting way to see the area on foot, something she’d never done before. “I found the whole experience extremely moving,” she says.

Unger landed a $1,000 Irrigate grant to pursue the project, which she started in March.

The fact that the Irrigate grant was about placemaking and collaboration seems especially apropos given that, “I’m in love with University Avenue,” she says. “It was like an urban safari adventure. I have a great sense of place from doing it.”

Source: Amy Unger, artist
Writer: Anna Pratt

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