Transition/Dislocation: Mobile Home at Waterloo Arts
Krista Tomorowitz and Timothy Callaghan are artists and residents of Collinwood, living in the geographically unique, culturally diverse community along the Lake Erie shore, which includes the Euclid Beach Mobile Home Park. The mobile home park is unusual in that it offers affordable lakefront living to people in mobile homes. In June, the owner of the mobile home park (Western Reserve Land Conservancy, or WRLC) announced it would close in 2024 to make way for a public lakefront public park, akin to the west side’s Edgewater Park. The news means 150 residents will be displaced in the name of increased public access to the lake. In that context, Tomorowitz and Callaghan curated an art exhibition featuring works by artists living in the area, prompting them to respond to that change. Mobile Home includes work by the curators, as well as Bridget Caswell, Rubi Green, Valerie Grossman, Lori Kella, and Will Slabaugh; it is on view through September 23 at Waterloo Arts.
This latest chapter in the story of 28-acre parcel of land on which Euclid Beach Mobile Home Park currently sits is still unfolding, as is the impact on the people who live there and wish to keep their lakefront homes. A pictorial timeline accompanying the exhibition, on view in the former cafe space adjacent to Waterloo Arts’ main gallery, begins in 1894 provides more nuance about the stakeholders in the current debate. While WRLC executive director Rich Cochran is receptive to ideas for alternative housing and support for residents, he says it is highly unlikely that people will get to keep their homes and stay on this particular parcel, which his organization temporarily owns.
According to Oxford languages, “transition” is “the process or a period of changing from one state or condition to another.” The term is an apt starting point for the Waterloo Arts exhibition because those living closest to Lake Erie see the weather change in seconds, the waves rise with wind gusts, the sand become peppered with glass, tampon applicators, and fishing line, especially after a storm. The shoreline is in constant transition, a blurring between earth and water. This is part of the magic that is irreplaceable, an unquantifiable part of the equation for fairly and equitably valuing the homes of people living at the Euclid Beach Mobile Home Park, especially as residents are being asked to give up their homes for the benefit of the community.
The story of Heather, a resident of the Euclid Beach Mobile Home Park since 2009, told in a didactic adjacent to her portrait photo by Bridget Caswell, speaks to the enchantment of Lake Erie life:
“I wasn’t hip to the idea [of living in the Park] at first but once I moved in I was hooked. I fell in love with the lake. I kayaked and walked my dog everyday no matter what. This park and the community are so dear to me. This is my home. It’s my safe haven. I feel like I live in the country in the city…”
Other Euclid Beach Park Mobile Home residents are featured in photos by Caswell, which, aside from the historical images and those of residents depicted on the detailed timeline of the History of the Euclid Beach Park and Mobile Home community, are the only reference to living human beings, much less the tenuousness, the tumultuousness of the Lake Erie environment. Rather, most of the artists in the show take the closing of the Mobile Home Park as an inevitable outcome of neighborhood “progress.”
One former resident of the mobile home park, Rubi Green, is represented in the exhibition by her weavings, created at Praxis Fiber Workshop. Green had moved to Collinwood at age 84, and –according to a didactic by Annmarie Suglio–was Praxis’s first member, taking up weaving at age 92. She created approximately 30 rugs at Praxis, several of which were loaned from private collections. Sadly, Green passed away in 2019.
Timothy Callaghan’s walnut ink on paper renderings of mobile homes from the Park are visually stunning; a master of this medium, with its rusty-brown hue suggesting the tone of vintage sepia-print photographs. They are portraits of the structures, with only traces of the people living within them–a potted plant, a hammock, suggest human life, but the content of the work is about space, architecture, mobile homes without inhabitants.
Eroding Home, an installation by Tomorowitz, Lori Kella, and Valerie Grossman consists of a ceremonial dining table, replete with handmade paper flowers by Kella, and bisque ware with Polaroid transfers by Grossman, and Tomorowitz’s muslin cloth spray-painted in a tone reflecting Callaghan’s walnut ink, with further references to concrete blocks, the material of foundations, basements, and material permanence. “Nature” shows up in the found, dried grapevine that floats above the table, and in the paper flowers crafted by Kella, which are reproductions of plants native to the Lakeshore environment. While the collective creates an installation that works aesthetically with the two-dimension art surrounding it, their ambiguous iconography feels like a lackluster response to an issue involving several hundred neighbors’ basic human rights to housing.
Grossman’s bisque ware Polaroid plates are, at times, barely legible as images of historic park buildings and structures; moreover, they lack references to the human beings who built and occupied them. There’s a warped nostalgia that borders on fetishizing in pining for a past without acknowledging this, as the 28.5 acre plot of land on the lakeshore has been shaped by humans, plants, and animals.
The human dramas that unfolded on this hallowed ground were informed by industrial capitalism and the immigrations of people coming to the U.S. from Europe for the promise of work and a better life. As the exhibition timeline reveals, in the early 20th century, one of the park’s owners, the Humphrey family, created tent camps for workers who came to the amusement park to work under contract to earn their freedom once they paid the Humphrey’s for the cost of the fare to get to Cleveland, Ohio from wherever they boarded. This was a common arrangement and a person indentured to servitude might well survive to see freedom, but their odds of survival increased based on the fairness and financial success of slaveholder, and whether or not they were fed and sheltered appropriately and had access to clean water and sanitation. This is just one story among many that could emerge from the history presented with the exhibition, as the parcel on which the Euclid Beach Mobile Home Park and its residents has (for millennia) drawn humans to it.
Caswell’s presentation of the stories of the residents whose homes are currently on the line comes as close to address the elephant in the room in “Mobile Home,” which are the people who are being told they must sacrifice their sacred homes for the “good of all.” This reality is not an unknowable truth; Caswell spends time with their neighbors, supports them, and asks questions. (Out of respect for the residents in those portraits, the images are not reproduced here.)
Perhaps Eroding Home, with its beautiful elements–the paper flowers by Kella, Tomorowitz’s muslin cloth, the halo-like grapevines suspended above the table, is alluding to the Last Supper, with its inherent betrayals, losses, including the ultimate sacrifice (the body, of Christ, the houses of the people living in the Euclid Beach Mobile Home Park). The iconography is present, but the trauma of loss, the efforts of those fighting to keep their homes alive, is not felt. Indeed, a house, a building, like those vaguely depicted on Grossman’s bisque ware, is not a home, especially devoid, as the plate images are of Erie and the people who find solace on her shores.
Will Slabaugh contributes two images of two mobile home properties to the exhibition. He illustrates his distance from the Euclid Beach Mobile Home Park (despite his own daily proximity to it as a resident of Collinwood), as both images feature a mobile home on the other side of a fence. Euclid Beach Mobile Home Park I best illustrates this, as it depicts a barely visible, brown mobile home hidden behind verdant green, ivy-covered matching brown fence. The second image in the series shows a white mobile home beyond a rusted chain-link fence. As with Callaghan’s walnut ink paintings, the residence is tidy, with little evidence of current inhabitants.
Waterloo Arts has a history of presenting shows that take up topical issues of current relevance to the neighborhood and communities they serve, and this is another example. While Mobile Home leaves many artistic, political, and conceptual questions unaddressed, the supplemental educational materials, including the timeline of the history of Euclid Beach Park, along with reproductions of post cards of Euclid Beach Mobile Home Park’s history provide context for the current debate, as well as the art in the exhibition. The most valuable thing about exhibitions such as Mobile Home is the discussions and questions they inspire.
Mobile Home is on view at Waterloo Arts through September 23.