Clare Cooley’s life is an art exhibit. Creativity explodes from the Endion neighborhood home she’s dubbed “The Emerald Lady”—an almost entirely handcrafted space. “I realized early on in life if I made everything I needed, I could afford to be an artist.”
Artists typically bifurcate their lives by renting a studio or at least creating a separate workspace. Rarely do they turn their entire residence into an exhibit.
White-Naped Cranes Arching is among the Clare Cooley watercolors currently on display at the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum in Duluth.
Sharing this arrangement is Cooley’s business partner and son, Bodhi Werner. A few years ago, they left the San Francisco Bay Area in a motorhome they christened “The Reasoned Manor,” destined for adventure.
But life does not follow a straight line, and their 22,000-mile journey zigzagged into a documentary, chronicling the people they met along the way.
The Warren and Rose McCord Residence on East Superior Street is a Shingle Style built in 1903, at the height of the Colonial Revival. The two-story, circular entry tower features 23 diamond-paned windows above the front door. The dark green cladding on the striking facade led to Cooley’s new name for the house: “The Emerald Lady.”
But by the time they arrived, the grand house had been disgraced by time, so The Reasoned Manor is parked near the garage (added in 1912 in matching architectural style) while the house is being restored to its previous grandeur.
The casino-patterned carpet is now a memory, unearthing hardwood floors. The walls have been repainted in light tones to magnify what comes in the windows.
A triage of sorts was committed on the exterior in order to redirect water away from the stone foundation. Cooley added a teardrop-shaped composting station this year. The original carved lions greet guests in the front yard.
In the foyer, plastic fixes stem the flow of cool air streaming in from the lakeside. Removable windows in the basement also function as a loading bay into the lower level. “The room on the left is my framing room. Then we have a shop room created under the then-leaky deck. Whatever we need, we learn how to do,” Cooley says, noting that her construction skills have saved her the exorbitant expense of contractors.
Judging by Werner’s 2016 documentary about his mother’s work, Life of Art, this is not the first dwelling to become Cooley’s canvas. She designed and built their Mount Tamalpais home, which the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art incorporated into its gallery tour.
Werner directed the short bio through their filmmaking venture, MotherSon Productions. “We design our own products. She designed her own website. We made our own web store. We print everything we need in-house.”
Just down Superior Street from the Emerald Lady is another aged structure, the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum. Once a church, it is now a repository of items caught from the stream of history. Water has leaked in over the years, and the historic 2012 flood forced repairs to its dome, whose concave curve provides perfect acoustics for the local musicians who perform here.
Daylight in the Karpeles steals the show even on a cloudy day. Modern art complements the Saint John’s Bible in display cases. Cooley’s work has been on display here since May, showcased by the light palette and wooden floors and stained glass windows. Karpeles is an unusual museum. Here, art is a walk-through, walk-around process that unifies audience and material.
Nature is the centerpiece of Cooley’s crane/flower paintings. Long slender forms play off each other in strong yet delicate double line symmetry. Color comes off in just the right amounts—not overpowering, but hinting there is more there beyond the pale page.