Artwork on Sherman Avenue (Photo courtesy of Julie Cowan)

Pedestrians walking by 1706 Sherman Ave. may have noticed the art decorating the windows at the former Gap store. 

The installation consists of 64 individual pieces of art, each by a different local artist, which work together as a continuous collection. 

Local artist Julie Cowan organized the project earlier this year when she gave each artist a sheet of printmaking paper with a line of text at the bottom, from which artists could draw inspiration. 

Six weeks later, when the artists submitted their completed artwork to Cowan, they discovered the text was pulled from a chapter in Lincoln in the Bardo, the acclaimed 2017 novel by American author George Saunders. Each line in the chapter is represented by a piece of art.

This type of collaborative art project – in which participants all contribute to the same work – is called an exquisite corpse, Cowan explained. The project sought to build community at a time when people were isolated from each other.

Cowan said she is fortunate to be busy and prolific in the last two years, but for many artists, the pandemic slowed their productivity and creativity. 

“Offering this opportunity to participate in a restrictive project has been valuable to various artists,” said Cowan. 

The artwork is a part of a community art event called Artruck, which Cowan and her husband, Neil Good, have been organizing for nearly 10 years. To host Artruck, Cowan and Good rent two U-hauls and transform them into portable art galleries.

Local artists hang their work inside the U-hauls, and Cowan’s neighbor, David Bond, “an amazing baker,” provides bread and cookies for a festive night filled with art, food, drinks and community, Cowan said. 

The pandemic sidetracked Artruck, but instead Cowan decided to launch a new community art project she called Artruckish. For the event, she distributed a sheet of paper to nearly 60 artists and asked each to decorate the page however they liked. Cowan shared the finished pieces on her website

Artwork at the former Gap store on Sherman Avenue (Photo courtesy of Julie Cowan)

“This year, I wanted to come up with a different idea for Artruckish,” Cowan said. “I wanted it to be more of a single piece, rather than separate works.” 

Cowan said she initially wanted to base the project on a poem, but couldn’t think of a poem that really struck her, so she opted for Lincoln in the Bardo, which maintains a poetic feel. 

Maintaining Artruck’s tradition, Bond baked bread and cookies and gave them away to artists when they submitted their work, Cowan added. 

Cowan posted the pictures of the art online, but decided she also wanted to show the art in a physical space. She noticed that the shop does not use its windows and asked the owners if she could display the art there.

The owners didn’t mind, and Good, with the help of their son, Benjamin Good, designed and installed foam panels that hold up the art. 

“I think it looks really great,” Cowan said. 

Cowan said she is very happy with how the finished art looks, and has heard from several community members that they’d like to participate in a future project.

Adina Keeling is a photojournalist and reporter, covering city news, sustainability, schools, and art. She also investigates mental health systems and environmental injustices in Evanston, and puts together...