How Local Artists Transformed Wheeling’s Library Cards

Libraries are a powerful force for good in our communities. From promoting literacy and a love of reading to offering essential services and community programs, the library is much more than a place to borrow books. Here in Wheeling, the Ohio County Public Library is consistently raising the bar for how institutions like theirs can serve our communities in new and exciting ways. Their most recent endeavor added an artful touch to their library cards, which was met with overwhelming excitement from across the community.

On Tuesday, April 9, the OCPL announced that they had released a new line of library cards designed by local artists. This initiative was led by the library’s head of marketing, Ellery McGregor. She joined the library’s team in July 2023, just as her colleague Sean Duffy, OCPL’s head of adult programming and local history, was finishing up another successful art project. Duffy led the charge to commission local artist Vondel Bell to create a mural titled “Colors and Thoughts,” featuring Albert Einstein and Maya Angelou. After seeing how positively the mural was received by the community, McGregor and the rest of the OCPL team began preparing for the library’s next big artistic endeavor – redesigning their library cards!

Vondel Bell with his completed mural project, “Colors and Thoughts.” (photo by Wheeling Heritage Media).

McGregor believes that by incorporating local art into the library card design, more residents will visit the library to either update their cards or sign up for a new one. She explained that updating the design of their cards is just the first step to building a meaningful relationship with the library. “Once they sign up for the cards, I hope that they will look around at all of the incredible things that the library has introduced in recent months, such as the Library of Things, the tablet station, our expanding collection of video games, graphic novels, and young adult novels, along with the incredible programming for all ages,” said McGregor. “I think these cards will enhance the patron experience by showing that the library is a modern, progressive institution that is working hard to continue to be a relevant resource within the community.”

Thanks to support from the Wheeling Arts and Cultural Commission and Wheeling Heritage’s partnership grant program, the OCPL put out a call to local artists to submit proposals for the library redesign project. The only stipulation was that their art interpreted Wheeling’s natural setting, particularly the river and land. After reviewing several qualified submissions, three local artists were selected: Logan Schmitt, Natalie Kovacs, and Elisha Rush.

Each artist shares a special connection to the library which motivated them to be a part of this project. Natalie Kovacs, an illustrator who is known for creating whimsical pastel monsters and woodland creatures, explained how a project like this was the perfect fit. “I love books, I love libraries, and I love art. Coming from both a literary and visual arts background, this project checked all the boxes for me.” The flexibility in the call for submissions allowed Kovacs to inject their personal style into the final design. Kovacs explained, “I don’t have a tremendous interest in the industrial history of Wheeling, so I knew I didn’t want to draw any boats or trains. A friend of mine had told me a story about a raccoon sitting on the bank of Wheeling Creek outside his house and the visuals kind of sprang from that. If someone is having a bad day, I like to think they’ll see these cute ‘lil critters on a card in their wallet and it’ll make them smile.”

  • Designed by Natalie Kovacs, this card features a lush natural scene with three animals—two raccoons and an opossum—in the brush and sitting on the banks of Wheeling Creek.

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While Kovacs’ design pushed creative boundaries, local illustrator Logan Schmitt took a more literal approach to his submission. “I interpreted the theme pretty literally by drawing the confluence of the Ohio River and Wheeling Creek. I wanted to feature some of our local waterfowl as well as acknowledge some of the industries that make use of the Ohio River,” said Schmitt. For those who are familiar with Schmitt’s work, this decision is true to his style which is heavily inspired by Appalachian wildlife. While Schmitt has created artwork for nationally touring bands and big-name clients, he explained why this project holds a special place in his heart, “I’m really so honored for my work to be on our local library card! I’ve been going to the Ohio County Public Library since I was a little kid and it’s been a big part of my life. I hope viewers and library patrons are inspired to explore our city and its woods, creeks, and bridges as well as the books they check out from the library!”

  • The card designed by Logan Schmitt shows a view of the Ohio River from Main Street Bridge and includes iconic Wheeling Island buildings and spotlights two geese standing on the old train tracks that cross Wheeling Creek.

Like Schmitt, illustrator
Elisha Rush shares a special connection to the local library. “I enjoy working with community organizations, and libraries, in particular, hold a special place in my heart,” said Rush. “I was totally the type of kid that would just hang out at the library all day! I still enjoy spending time at the library when I can.” Rush’s design was largely inspired by her time spent in nature. “The last few summers I’ve been kayaking a good bit and I’ve really enjoyed slowly traveling along riverbanks observing all the different kinds of flora and fauna you can take in from the river’s perspective. Last summer, I was able to observe a great blue heron for a while and it really stunned me. They seem like wise figures of the river landscape – perfect for a library!”

The card designed by Elisha Rush depicts a scene at dusk, featuring a Great Blue Heron holding a railroad lantern, with a dreamy vision of the Ohio River in the background, filled with stacks of books, a train in the distance, and additional small critters.

With such thoughtful and high-quality art selected for this project, it’s no surprise that it was met with overwhelmingly positive feedback. A quick scan of comments received on social media reveals encouraging comments from library patrons that include “How are we supposed to just choose one?” and “On my way to the library ASAP!” 

This positive response has prompted McGregor and the OCPL team to continue finding new opportunities to incorporate visual art into their work. “Our mural and the library cards are huge steps in that direction, but I know we can do so much more,” said McGregor. “Discussions are already popping up about bringing more permanent art into the library, such as art for the walls of the meeting rooms or stained glass in the windows! We currently have a free-standing mural up on loan from the West Virginia Rivers Coalition and I believe projects and exhibits like that should be on a steady rotation within the library.”

So, what are you waiting for? Current OCPL cardholders can swap their existing cards for the redesigned ones by visiting the circulation desk. If you aren’t a current cardholder, residents in the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia can get a library card with proof of address and ID. Nearby county residents can get a card for a fee. Patrons will also receive a matching sticker and bookmark with each new library card. Visit the OCPL website to learn more about getting a library card. You can also contact the OCPL Circulation Desk at 304-232-0244.

The Ohio County Public Library is located at 52 16th Street, Wheeling WV 26003. Hours of operation are Monday – Thursday, 9 a.m. – 9 p.m., Friday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.; and Saturday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. (closed Sundays). Learn more by visiting

• Alex Panas is the Program Manager for Wheeling Heritage, where she works with artists, small business owners, and community stakeholders to provide technical assistance and create meaningful programs that enhance Wheeling. She also serves as the managing editor for Weelunk. Alex lives in St. Clairsville with her husband where they raise four cats and four spunky backyard chickens.