Evanston can pride itself on several outdoor public artworks that are easily accessible for viewing.
Four six-foot tall figures of Bedford limestone welcome students to the main entrance of Haven School, 2417 Prairie Ave. The sculptures are by Mary Anderson Clark, a Chicago-born and educated artist and sculptor.
Haven was designed in the 1920s by the architectural firm of Childs & Smith, which also designed Nichols School and Marywood Academy (now the Morton Civic Center.) Built in 1927, Haven was one of the first intermediate schools in the country and the recipient of an award for architectural excellence from the Art Commission of Evanston in 1929. The sculptures were not installed, however, until 1938.
Anderson Clark was employed by the Works Projects Administration, a New Deal agency created in 1935 by order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The program employed millions of jobseekers during the Great Depression, from 1929 to 1941.
The goal of the WPA was to supply one paid job for all families in which the breadwinner suffered long-term unemployment. The Federal Art Project was only one of the programs that supported art, music, theater, writing and historical records. In 1936, employment of artists peaked at more than 5,300.
Limited research available on the Haven statues suggests they were paid for by the federal government, possibly with state and local governments supplying 10% to 30% of the project cost. The curving, rounded style Anderson Clark used was in vogue at the time, which can also be seen in the figures in the main post office on Davis Street, also a WPA project.
The Haven sculptures portray adolescents – two boys and two girls – each with an accompanying animal pet. They flank the steps and main doors on Prairie Avenue, which at the time was the only entrance to the building.
According to the records of American Abstract Artists (AAA), founded in 1936, Anderson Clark created an additional statue titled Jill, which was rejected by the Evanston School Board due to its being “age inappropriate” for a junior high school. (Was Jill too “mature-looking”?)
Anderson Clark was a niece of the American modernist sculptor John Storrs. Born in 1910, she attended classes at the Art Institute of Chicago, Carnegie Tech in Pittsburgh and the British Academy in Rome. She also studied under her uncle.
In 1934, she married Horace Clark, a fellow student at the Art Institute of Chicago. In 1941, Clark joined her husband on the art faculty at the University of Arizona, where she taught sculpture and ceramics. From there she went to teach at Syracuse University in New York.
Anderson Clark considered her greatest works to be Peace and Harvest, which were installed in 1939 at the entrance of the Peoria Tuberculosis Sanitarium. In 1976, both statues were removed, restored and reinstalled in the Peoria County Courthouse Plaza in Peoria.
The four Haven statues are not in the best condition. Recently the nearby plantings were cut back – an improvement, as last year they almost covered two of the statues. Some naughty child has chiseled a nipple into the right breast of one of the female statues, which needs repairing.
All four sculptures could certainly use a cleaning. Haven School could follow Peoria’s lead. Sadly, there is no signage for these sculptures. This is surely an oversight, although the school has been encouraged to do something about it. The sculptures belong to District 65, not to the City of Evanston.
Anderson Clark died in 1994. Her occupation at time of death was listed on her death certificate as “homemaker.”
Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles focusing on Evanston public artworks by women artists. For the next article, click here.