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ELKHART -- A little garage cleaning by the Elkhart Public Library has yielded a bonanza of mid-century modern furniture for the auction block.
Desks, chairs and tables manufactured at the Herman Miller furniture factory in Zeeland, Mich., as well as other desks and chairs designed by Jens Risom and Charles Eames will be sold to the highest bidder next week as the library gets rid of surplus items it no longer uses. Proceeds from the online auction will go into the library's general operating fund.
On Friday afternoon the library held its first open house at the garage on Westwood Street, allowing potential buyers to examine the pieces for sale. Walking through the rows of furniture, one woman exclaimed, "Oh my gosh, it's just so cool."
Among the notable items are the molded fiberglass Herman Miller chairs that were created by Charles Eames. According to materials from a Library of Congress exhibit, the furniture designer turned to fiberglass to make a seat from a single body-fitting shell that would be comfortable and could be mass-produced.
The Elkhart library has a several different designs of the Eames chairs, some with arms on a swivel base and others with no arms on a standard base. Also available are 178 stackable versions of the chairs that were often used in auditoriums.
For library director Connie Jo Ozinga, the furniture stirs memories of her childhood, growing up in Zeeland, near the Herman Miller factory. Until the time she was 8 years old, she lived next door to one the company's woodworkers who made her toys from teak and walnut.
In Elkhart, the institutional furniture was bought in 1963 especially for what was then the new downtown library building and most of it was probably used in the administrative offices and staff lounge, Ozinga said. Eventually the items were overlooked when newer chairs and desks came to replace the old.
Although the furniture is now labeled surplus, it is very valuable, Ozinga said, and stuff that collectors want. She noted other mustard-color Eames-designed chairs have been sold at different auctions for $300 each. Already bidders are placing offers on a Herman Miller blue couch with a wooden frame and covered in blue Naugahyde.
The auction will probably put the furnishings into private homes and offices and out of public view. Fortunately before the bidding started, the library saved part of its history by donating two chairs and one table to the collection at the Midwest Museum of American Art in Elkhart.
ONLINE AUCTION INFORMATION
Elkhart Public Library's online auction for its surplus furniture will start posting bids Monday and continue until 5 p.m. Friday at http://myepl.org/sale.
Interested buyers can examine the furniture from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. today at the library's garage, 27669 Westwood St.