Open House: Don and Jackie’s

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Enjoy Don and Jackie’s Open House.   I’ll be following up sometime in the next couple of weeks with photos of the basement and attic, both filled with Jackie’s suitcase assemblages.  Click here to see Don’s two-level studio / gallery, which is located in a former barn behind the house.

Words.  Sentences.  Verses and Chapters.

Don and Jackie have lived in their Rogers Park Victorian for nearly 30 years.  The energy is palpable, and despite a lousy night’s sleep I feel invigorated, like I’m buzzing.  It’s coming from them of course, from decades of living and all that entails; it comes from decades creating art.  While Don works primarily in his studio, a former barn in the back yard, Jackie has laid claim to the main home.  In essence it’s not only their residence but also Jackie’s workspace, canvas and material, a giant art installation filled with dozens of vignettes containing hundreds of objects, each of which has its own energy containing its own story and each contributing to an overarching narrative.  Pastels are the rule (even the hardwood has been covered with color-appropriate tile), but they’ve never seemed so powerful.  I stay for hours, far longer than I normally do.  I want to absorb as much as I can.

A snippet of a longer conversation

“He took the A-train,” Jackie says.

“What’s the A train?” I ask.

“That’s what they used to call the Red line,” Don answers.  “But was it the A-train yet or did they just call it the train?  I think it was just the train then.”

“No I think it was the A-Train by then,” says Jackie again.

A Father’s Intuition

Jackie’s parents very nearly bought a house very near the one she now shares with Don.  For Jackie’s mother, it was a spacious and sturdy dream.  But it was located on an alley, a fact that bothered Jackie’s father ; the house would be low-hanging fruit for anybody up to no good.  No, he decides finally; there are other homes, and he can’t shake that bad feeling.

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Round portal like windows have been cut into the home

Captain Blanket

Jackie has seen firsthand how Don helped develop art therapy and wanting to contribute in her own way, she decides to start the after school program the neighborhood needs.  She believes in the power of art, that she can help the neighborhood kids ignite their creativity, to change their lives.   She needs to convince the neighborhood parents, so she makes up fliers and knocks on all the doors.  She is successful, of course, and born is the Battling Butterfly Brigade, a club of sorts where children learn about jazz, paint, memorize new words and and dress up in costumes.  Jackie is Captain Blanket.  There are secret codes (they are posted).

Reflections and Physics

There’s a photo of each room framed and hanging in that room.  The fact that I notice delights Jackie.  “You don’t miss a thing,” she says laughing (although we both know how much I’m missing).  “If it weren’t for those photos I don’t think I could bear the thought of leaving.”  The photos are both charming and unsettling, as if to call attention to each moment and its relation to every other moment, like one frame of a filmstrip or packets of information stacked on top of each other.  Some theoretical physicists posit that our reality is actually constructed in this way, that time is not linear at all, that each moment, each second exists as a unit in perpetuity; it’s only our perception time flows like a river, but it’s an allusion.  But how does one define a moment?

How Has It Been 30 Years?

Don and Jackie buy their home despite the fact that its drab, that the olive paint is chipping away and peeling.  It’s big and affordable, and there’s a barn in back that will make a perfect studio for Don.  The couple like Rogers Park’s diversity, and Jackie notices that there seem to be two of everybody: two Russians, two Turks, two Africans.  Buying the house reminds Jackie of the house her parents almost bought, about the life she almost lived and about Suzie, the little girl about her age who she commonly saw when she and her sister Barbara went skating at the Edgewater Beach Hotel, the little girl whose parents bought the house instead.

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One of Don's sculptures hangs prominently behind the sofa

Remembrance

Space isn’t just about environment for Jackie, it’s an integral part of her art.  She uses rooms like others use snapshots, to commemorate her lives.  A small bedroom on the first floor has become a magical kingdom, a physical recreation of a play given by Don and Jackie’s grandchildren who live in London.  It’s both far more permanent and far less permanent than a photo, which makes it far more precious; it’s more like life.

Facing Facts, Meaningless Platitudes

“We’ll have to leave here someday,” says Don as we chat in his office.  He believes maintaining the home will one day be too much, and he worries about Jackie who especially loves living there.  I keep forgetting Don was born in the 20’s, that he served in World War 11; he seems decades younger when he speaks.  I cannot restrain my optimism.  “Any one of our lives could change on a dime,” I say (or a like-platitude), but Don stops me firmly and matter-of-factly.  “But I’m 82.”

I keep forgetting.

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The Prairies of Edgewater

After Jackie’s father vetoes the first home, her parents buy a home in nearby Edgewater, where Jackie grow ups (just as Don did).  Nature is everywhere; a monkey grinder stands on Glenwood Avenue and entertains the Senn High School kids.  Families keep chickens for eggs and meat; they slaughter them in the alleys, and Jackie watches their headless bodies running around.  But the alleys smell of lilacs in the summer and vegetables grow in the numerous but rapidly disappearing empty lots.

A Calculated Life

That should have been me, Jackie thinks as she watches the crews digging up the sewer to look for Suzie’s body.  The murderer took the A-Train from his south side neighborhood, disembarked on the far north side and broke into the home her mother so wanted.  It’s completely random, so there’s no reason to think it wouldn’t have been Jackie or her sister or both who would suffer Suzie’s fate.  From that point on, Jackie calculates the approximate percentage of life she believes she has left to live.  “It’s all so short,” says Jackie.  “Time goes too fast.”

Art Therapy

Don convinces the Art Institute to let him develop an art therapy program.  As part of the curriculum, Don and his students actually work with doctors and patients in a psychiatric hospital.  The patients are in bad shape when they start, but art begins to help many of them.  His ideas are working.  Don asks people from all walks of life to write a letter to the Art Institute board explaining why they should approve an art therapy program.  The letters are ceremonial, and Don delivers them to the board ceremonially, like something out of a Hollywood movie.  The program gets approved, and similar ones proliferate around-the-world.

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Jackie and Barbara's hand-written life story covers the dining room table

Jackie and Barbara

The dining room table is covered with a gauze, underneath which are piles and piles of papers; it’s Jackie’s life story, a hand-written collaboration with her sister Barbara.  I want to follow her into the past for a moment; I catch glimpses as we talk; it’s tantalizing but not nearly enough.

The End

Is time really is really made up of stacks of “moments” or “things” that exist complete unto themselves than I’m still talking with Don and Jackie in their living room, and a younger Jackie is still watching the men dig up the sewers trying to find Suzie’s body; it means the A-Train is still rumbling along north side neighborhoods and Don’s still delivering those letters to the Art Institute board . . . it all exists, or happens as we perceive it, in perpetuity.  We’re all stuck, and we’re all free.  Living in the moment is a concept that might make sense; after, it’s not only all we have, it’s what we’ll experience forever.

PS

It felt so natural to hug Jackie when I left, and I wanted to hug Don, one of the kindest men I’ve met, but he was born in a different era, and I wasn’t sure how he’d feel about that so instead I offered my hand, but Don pulled me into an embrace.

Thank you Don and Jackie.  Keep watching for a tour of the basement and attic, both spaces filled with Jackie’s assemblages.

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The Media Room

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Fortune Cookie fortunes, cut and taped

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Albert Tanquero and Evelyn Daightman

Many thanks to former Open House star Evelyn for introducing me to my new friends Don and Jackie.

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16 Responses to “Open House: Don and Jackie’s”

  1. Thanks for this amazing story—I want to meet them too! That devil skeleton surrounded by pastels is totally surreal. What a wonderful house.

  2. Rosemary – they’re so unbelievably cool.

  3. this is the very best open house ever! I can’t stop looking at it.

  4. I love the hacienda color scheme, and the art, and the photo of the room in the room idea.

  5. Tate- this is the type of home tour only you can take us on. You take us into the lives of others in a way that is always respectful, creative, thoughtful and celebratory. Don and Jackie have amazing taste and an artistic vision that few possess.
    I think your artist homes are always the most original, vivid and unafraid. Isn’t that the way we would all love to live? I applaud you- this is one of the best home tours ever. Thanks Jackie and Don for showing us your incredible space and sharing with us your fantastic story.

  6. You know what I love? The stairway with objects placed on each step.
    I saw this done when I was in Cordoba, Spain and it looks sooo cool.

  7. This is the best Strange Closets I’ve seen. Thank you for doing all the research and presenting in such a fabulous way.

  8. The house is filled with light and soft colour which contrasts strongly with the macabre subjects of some of the sculpture and artwork. It suits the inhabitants very well. Good work on the photos, Tate!

  9. Isabella Weintraub 03. May, 2009 at 2:53 am

    It is great

    !!!!

  10. I am so proud to say that Don & Jackie are my father & step-mom, and that you have done a superb job of capturing both their souls and their intentions in this piece. OUTSTANDING WORK, both photographically and literally… their lives have been and will continue to be a portal to so many who need a nudge into co-existing peacefully and documenting their experience… and existence. I AM SO IMPRESSED— BY ALL OF YOU!!!!!!! AMAZING STUFF!!!!! AWESOME!!!!! :-)

  11. Loved the article and so well captured the essence of their work and dedication to Art and Life. I have been in that home many times and have wonderful memories of great family parties.

  12. decorator dave 01. Nov, 2010 at 10:59 am

    Holy moly. Just wanted to see this because of the ‘picture of a room in a room’ idea. I feel like I may have been given some sort of drug…I can’t imagine that this is a real home. I love it. I hate it. I wish that my long dead granny had been half as chic as this lady. How I got stuck with an overly rich and overly bigoted lady as a grandmother is beyond me. That color scheme, that piano, that newel post. I need to go and take some OCD medication now.