Artists Book House is breathing new life into “The Harley Clarke Mansion” this month to celebrate Halloween in Evanston. Walk over to 2603 Sheridan Road after dark and be treated to colorful Halloween artwork and installations beaming from the windows and outside of this iconic building.
Artists Ken Gerleve and Hannah Batsel have created Halloween-inspired drawings in the windows. Lit from behind at night (dusk till 10 p.m.), they make the house “come to life,” the artists said. For curious pedestrians, peering into ground floor windows on the east side of the mansion, haunting tableaus are set up in a few of the visible interiors.
The former conservatory and once metal working studio, on the south end, is easily seen from the outside, though some of the glass window panes have been broken by vandals and boarded up. The room has been cleared out, tidied up and is now inhabited by a family of large, mysterious cast-marble birds, the work of artist Margot McMahon.
But pass through the heavy, carved front door on the west, into the gracious, candle-lit entry hall and you are greeted by a unicorn head with startling human eyes by artist Erin Cramer and a murder of cut-paper crows flying up the magnificent curving staircase, created by artist Beth Adler.
In a small, paneled room off the entry, several bony, fleshless “humans” sit around a small conference table, by Gerleve. Bookshelves with strange and mysterious items line the walls – some even for sale to interested visitors.
The lovely, former dining room of the home is all cleaned up, the paneling oiled and warm-looking again. This is temporarily the Trophy Room, with an installation of wild animal trophies/vegan taxidermy by artist Cramer. They are sculpted from handmade paper and for sale. In the center a tea party has been set with poisoned tea for small skeletal creatures of all kinds, even creepy insects, made by artist Linda Scholly. She created a ghostly installation in the breakfast nook off the dining room.
Treats will be given to costumed children by the front door of the mansion on Halloween, during the official hours of 4 to 7 p.m. for Halloween Trick-or-Treating established by the City of Evanston. Small tour groups can also visit by appointment.
Audrey Niffenegger, founder of Artist Book House, who grew up in Evanston, studied the art of printmaking. She aspires to place many more creative outlets in the mansion. The entire house needs a great deal of work before Artist Book House can fulfill its vision. The ghosts of the Clarke family are not the only ghosts who haunt the house. Hundreds of artists have floated through these halls, climbed the stairs, worked and dreamed in this house.
To accompany the event and installations, Artist Book House is posting 31 days of exclusive online content on its website and social media, including a short comedic video about a spirit medium who visits the Harley Clarke by Erika Valenciana and Heather Markey, and a conversation with board member Eileen Madden and author K. E. Bonner about the book Witching Moon.
Artist Book House is a fledgling organization, Niffenegger’s dream, devoted to the Book Arts: writing, reading, printing, bookbinding, papermaking, typography, calligraphy, poetry, fiction, memoir, artist’s books, publishing, comics, zines and more.
The plan for the mansion is to create spaces for print, paper and book binding studios, conference rooms and classrooms for teaching writing and for hosting book groups and a papermaker’s garden. Exhibition space, a library, bookstore and a terrace café are also planned. Additional programming will include artist talks, author readings and poetry slams.
Volunteers and Board members have spent the better part of the last year emptying and cleaning the 1927 English Tudor/French Eclectic lakefront mansion. American Disabilities Act requirements necessitate elevators and an environmental study as well. The board must raise funds for the renovation and improvements to the mansion.
The final cost of renovation and improvements is estimated to be around $8.5 million. Artist Book House has committed to raising $2 million each year for the next two years, so they have two years to prove themselves to the lease holder, the City of Evanston. Artists Book House is a non-profit organization.
This Halloween Spectacle, “A House, Haunted,” is the descendant of one held annually at the Ragdale Foundation in Lake Forest, “Rags to Witches,” where both Niffenegger and Gerleve were involved in past years. This is its second year in Evanston and is, importantly, both a real and a virtual fundraiser. To reserve a time for a small tour group, contact the Artists Book House at https://artistsbookhouse.org/contact or email firstname.lastname@example.org.