September 29, 2014

Art is Everywhere at Pullman Historic District

Community members designed molds to create unique cast-iron tiles.
Community members designed molds to create unique cast-iron tiles.

Walk around Pullman Historic District today, 13 miles south of downtown Chicago, and you won’t hear the clanging of metal as luxury railcars are being manufactured.

But amazing things are still being created there.

Earlier this month, for instance, in a nod to Pullman’s industrial past, there was a community-wide iron pour, organized in part by two artists who invited residents to create molds and produce cast-iron tiles. This was followed by a site-specific installation at the district’s iconic clock tower and administration building.

Or explore some of the alleys in the neighborhood, and you’ll find brightly painted garage doors, many of which were created by local artist Ian Lantz, in collaboration with members of the community.

And there’s a steady stream of public art projects courtesy of Mosnart (that’s “transom,” spelled backwards), a gallery founded by local artist JB Daniel. Mosnart, which helped organize the iron pour along with Pullman State Historic Site and nonprofit PullmanArts, facilitates residencies for artists to create work that interacts with the Pullman community. This summer, for example, Mosnart invited Chicago-based artist Matthew Hoffman to create a temporary, site-specific installation outside Pullman’s Market Hall: a 12-foot-tall wooden structure spelling out the words “go for it.”

Chicago artist Matthew Hoffman created this site-specific installation outside Pullman’s historic Market Hall.
Chicago artist Matthew Hoffman created this site-specific installation outside Pullman’s historic Market Hall.

A spirit of creativity and artistry are as central to Pullman’s lasting legacy as its stately brick row houses, its grand Hotel Florence, and its clock tower and administration buildings, which once housed the construction factory and executive offices of Pullman Palace Car Company.

Pullman, the nation’s first model industrial town, was a planned community founded by George Pullman in the 1880s to attract and house skilled workers, craftspeople, and artisans who helped create the company’s railroad passenger cars. (Legislation to designate Pullman a National Park is currently pending.)

And those with creative inclinations -- writers, painters, filmmakers, architects, musicians, potters -- continue to live and work there, more than a century later.

Pullman’s industrial history was explored at a community-wide iron pour earlier this month.
Pullman’s industrial history was explored at a community-wide iron pour earlier this month.

“Pullman definitely has a long history of being a place where artists are comfortable and like to set up shop,” says Jennifer Sandy, senior field officer of the National Trust’s Chicago Field Office.

That leads to a very welcoming, collaborative environment, says architect and Pullman resident Ann Alspaugh. Alspaugh is a founding board member and recording secretary of PullmanArts, a nonprofit group founded in 2010 to preserve and promote Pullman as an artisan neighborhood

“It’s a very community-oriented community. Everyone supports and looks out for everyone else,” she says. “The community is so accepting of the range of diversity and the many people we have living here. I think that, in and of itself, attracts so many creative people.”

To that end, PullmanArts is looking to establish an artist live-work space in Pullman. Using historic residential buildings that are currently vacant, and possibly building a new, historically sensitive structure as well, this live-work space would provide affordable housing and studio space for artists, along with community amenities such as gallery and exhibition space, carpentry workshops, pottery kilns, and a community kitchen.

There’s a strong desire for this kind of space, Alspaugh says. PullmanArts conducted a community survey to confirm that. And that interest attracted the attention of Artspace, a Minneapolis-based group devoted to creating affordable housing for artists, and the Chicago Neighborhood Initiative. Both entities have been instrumental in the undertaking, lending their expertise and finding funding sources.

Artist and Pullman resident Ian Lantz collaborates with community members to create colorful murals on garage doors throughout the neighborhood.
Artist and Pullman resident Ian Lantz collaborates with community members to create colorful murals on garage doors throughout the neighborhood.

“Without them, we couldn’t make this happen,” Alspaugh says.

In the meantime, the creativity in Pullman will keep flowing, in its studios, on its sidewalks, and in and around its historic buildings.

“Pullman is such a multi-layered, interesting community,” Jennifer Sandy says. “There are so many great things that are going on there. It’s such a tight-knit community, so it’s really cool to have artists who live there and have connections to the community, who are creating art that is so visible to everyone. It makes it so exciting and interesting.”

Lauren Walser is the Los Angeles-based field editor of Preservation magazine. She enjoys writing and thinking about art, architecture, and public space, and hopes to one day restore her very own Arts and Crafts-style bungalow.

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