One recent evening at the corner of 25th and Evergreen in the Seward neighborhood, late-autumn leaves glowed yellow as the sun set over the Graybar electrical supply warehouse. Tall stacks of aluminum tubes cast long shadows across the storage lot, and on the opposite corner, all was quiet at Aerie #34 of the Fraternal Order of Eagles. It was a placid scene featuring wide expanses of flatness, but to call the spot a “prairie” would be a stretch.
It was the chickens in the backyard, explained Louise Hotka, that inspired a former tenant to coin the sobriquet “Little Duplex on the Prairie” for the home she shares with her family of artists. “They do produce eggs, and we do eat them. The eggs, that is, not the chickens.” Hotka had just pulled herself out from under the kitchen sink, interrupting a home repair job to join her partner Jill Meyer in the living room of their cozily eclectic second-floor apartment. Hotka’s niece Megan Singel was also there, having climbed the back stairs from the first-floor apartment she shares with her husband. All three women are artists–Meyer and Singel are painters, Hotka works with clay–and they were getting ready for this weekend’s Seward Arts Festival, where the Little Duplex will be a stop on the Saturday art crawl.
Compared to most open-studio events, the Seward Art Crawl is “a much more personal experience,” says festival coordinator Leah Stob. “For many of our artists, you’re not just going to their studios, you’re actually walking into their homes.” Noting the art crawl’s record of popularity, the women of the Little Duplex are preparing themselves for serious crowds despite the fact that it’s their first year as participants. Singel is planning refreshments including cider and ginger snaps: she intends to bake the treats from scratch, but warns that if numbers get out of hand, “there might have to be some freezer cookies.”
Hotka and Meyer have owned the Little Duplex for nearly twenty years, enjoying the warm sense of community and continuity that drew them to the inner-city residential neighborhood just south of downtown Minneapolis. Urban renewal in the 1960s and 70s brought considerable upheaval to the Seward neighborhood–in the fray, the century-old Little Duplex itself was moved from its original location a few blocks away–but Hotka and Meyer have seen more continuity than change since they arrived. “Twenty years seems long,” observes Hotka, “but a lot of our neighbors have been here even longer.”
Still, change has come to Seward as new arrivals have been incorporated into what Meyer identifies as the “nice calm mix” of residents. Recent waves of immigrants have brought a new energy to the neighborhood. “The restaurant scene is certainly better than it was twenty years ago,” says Meyer. “It’s better than it was one year ago!” adds Singel. The number of artists in the neighborhood has also grown. The Seward art community is particularly strong in the ceramic arts, thanks to the draw of the Northern Clay Center. “There are a lot of really accomplished clay artists here,” says Hotka in admiration.
With the clay center as a northern beacon at 25th and Franklin, the southern anchor of the Seward art scene is the Ivy Building on 27th Avenue, between 26th Street and 27th Street. The Ivy Building contains over two dozen artists’ studios as well as the Vine Arts Center, a new nonprofit gallery that assumed organizing sponsorship of the eight-year-old Seward Arts Festival this year after the Seward Neighborhood Group–the festival’s previous sponsor–ran financially aground. Leah Stob, director of the Vine Arts Center, is coordinating the arts festival for the first time. In consultation with participating artists, Stob has trimmed the festival from a weekend-long extravaganza to one focused day of art and performance. “This festival is all about what the artists want,” says Stob. “It’s all about how they want to get themselves out there.”
While Hotka, Meyer, and Singel will have work for sale at the crawl, art is decidedly a labor of love for all three. Each woman maintains a career separate from art: Hotka works as a water monitor for the state, Singel is studying math education, and Meyer worked at the Resource Center of the Americas until the nonprofit shuttered in August. “My art would have a whole different angle if I felt I had to ‘produce,’” says Meyer. “It would take the fun out of it. I just want to be creative.” Hotka agrees on the value of art for art’s sake: “It’s a nice way to spend winters. Of course, I’m always interested in what comes out at the end of the process, and it’s always good to know that someone else is interested too.”