Evanston Art Center – Seventy-Five, Alive, Healthy and Growing Strong

A living, breathing 75-year-old Art Center thrives and grows in 2005 and breathes life into the community. As you approach the grounds to this historic landmark you can feel yourself go back to a less complicated, precious time.

That time would be 1927 when the Clarke Family Mansion was built. It was the last mansion built in Evanston before the stock market crash. By 1929, the roots of the Art Center grew on the same premises. They are currently celebrating their 75th year (as an organization) with an exhibit of the entire faculty’s work being displayed in the beautiful vine covered mansion and on its front lawn. The front lawn you say? Yes. The lawn proudly displays a 3-D sculpture by Bernard Williams. The towering, interlocking form greets you on your way in to the Art Center.

I found the work of Eleanor Spiess-Ferris entitled “Island 2005” to be haunting yet beautiful, with a whole array of pastel colors that depict life in its various forms. As I strolled through what used to be the master bedrooms of this estate, I also found the works of Robert Horn to be lifelike and imaginative, and was impressed by a lovely Oriental style watercolor painting entitled “The Chinese Vase” by Kay Thomas.

In 1949 this mansion was sold to Sigma Chi fraternity for use as a national headquarters. Assuming there were no toga parties and food fights may not prove to be a good idea! Even the wealthiest frat houses had their share of pranks and shenanigans, back in their day. But they kept this building and the grounds in one piece and it survives with a nice lawn and fish pond. The former greenhouse is now used as a workshop where many established and aspiring sculptors pound and mold a lifeless piece of metal and twist and manipulate it into a living piece of art.

The building was purchased by the city of Evanston in 1963, and in 1966 the Art Center began leasing from the city. This facility offers classes form every art medium they can think of including paintings, drawing, ceramics, photography and sculpting. They employ a talented staff of experienced professionals that are bringing up a new generation of artisans. Classes can range from 2 sessions to a couple of months.

The Clarke family once held court in their private beach that is right behind the Art Center. Nowadays this section of Evanston beach offers a sanctuary from the heat and stress of life. Also on the grounds you can enjoy a picnic or a stroll in Jensen Park. Then it’s back to your vehicle which is parked in the same parking lot which was once the former driveway of the mansion where perhaps a butler may have acted as your personal valet. There is such a feeling of history everywhere you look here.

I encourage you to go and relax, enjoy a day at the Art Center, the beach, or the park. Show your appreciation to this grand landmark, see the creations from the artist’s both past and present, and celebrate how their lives enhance us all. We can also show the Art Center our appreciation by attending either their current or upcoming exhibits.

Through November 20th, the featured exhibit, Domestic Disturbance, features six artists who create narrative photographs, paintings and computer generated images to address social dysfunction in America’s suburban heartland. December 2-11, 2005 the Art Center will present a Winter Arts & Crafts Expo. You’ll find original, handmade works of jewelry, ceramics, fiber, metal, glass, painting, photography, mixed media and more. A silent auction will be held the first weekend only, December 2-4, featuring art works donated by participating Expo artists. All proceeds from the Expo benefit the ongoing exhibition, education and youth outreach programs at the EAC.

Evanston Art Center, 2603 Sheridan Rd., Evanston, IL 60201. Phone: 847-475-5300. www.evanstonartcenter.org

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