Local artist Jamie Alexander, in costume in front of her mural, is among the many who'll be celebrating the Scarab Club's 100th birthday with an Egyptian-themed costume ball.
Scarab Club invites public to join in 100th birthday celebration
For 100 years, Detroit’s Scarab Club has been a public space for artists to interact and visitors to enjoy art and culture. Unfortunately, many non-artists — and even some artists — don’t know this.
People passing the three-story historic brick structure with heavy wooden doors don’t realize they’re welcome to enter — at no charge — and see an exhibit. As the club celebrates its 100th anniversary, Scarab Club members are working to change public perception and increase their ranks.
To mark this milestone, the club is throwing an Egyptian-themed costume ball from 6:30 p.m.-2 a.m. Sept. 29. Guests can come early for a full dinner and orchestral music, or opt to come after 10 p.m. for a dance party with DJs spinning hip-hop, rock and techno, as well as an Egyptian-themed fashion show.
“It’s really formal at the beginning, and as the evening goes on, it gets less formal,” explained Kelly Lockwood of Grosse Pointe Park, one of the ball organizers.
The early portion of the evening includes an auction of Egyptian-themed murals created by local artists, including Jamie Alexander of Sterling Heights, Barbara Carr of Grosse Pointe Woods, Francine Kachman of St. Clair Shores and Rachael Harla of Clinton Township. Mark Heggie of Utica created the imagery for the ball’s poster. Proceeds from the event benefit the nonprofit Scarab Club.
The costume ball used to be an annual tradition, but Harla, this year’s ball chair, said the club hasn’t had one for about 25 years. She said this is a way to “go back and celebrate our history.” Organizers hope to raise money to go toward extensive building repairs, including a new electrical system.
The club gets its name from an Egyptian symbol that represents eternal life, Lockwood said.
“For us, [the scarab] is a symbol of our commitment to the perpetual renewal of the arts in Detroit,” she said.
Scarab Club Gallery Assistant Leslie Keeton of Ferndale, like Lockwood, is one of the club’s newer and younger members. Since joining roughly a year ago, she’s found it to be an ideal spot for new and seasoned artists alike to learn from each other and socialize.
“It’s a great place that fosters all of the arts,” Keeton said.
Alexander is another young newcomer. She visited the club during Noel Night last year, and saw some of her art professors and other artists she admired.
“The building just spoke to me,” said Alexander, a painter who’s currently working as a graphic artist. “I felt the presence of the artists who’d been here (in previous generations). I thought it would be great to be part of this wonderful tradition.”
The club was founded as the Hopkin Club in 1907 by a group of artists and art aficionados. The name was changed to Scarab Club in 1910, and the members adopted bylaws and a mission statement in 1913. They purchased their first clubhouse circa the 1920s on Forest Avenue in Detroit, which they occupied until they opened a new building on Farnsworth in 1928.
It hasn’t always been smooth sailing for the Scarab Club. Longtime female members recall the staunch opposition they encountered from male members when the club opened its ranks to women in 1962. Kachman and Carr joined well after that point, but even they remember tensions at first between some men and women. In contrast, the atmosphere today is friendly, they say.
“Now, we can have an opinion … and we’re respected,” Carr said.
The club almost fell victim to the wrecking ball in the 1970s, when a leader at the neighboring Detroit Science Center wanted to turn the property into a parking lot. Kachman said members rallied around the club and got city leaders to protect it as a historic landmark; the building was named to the state historic register in 1974 and added to the National Register of Historic Places a few years later because of its architectural and historic significance.
Today, the club hosts regular literary events and a chamber music series, as well as private events like weddings. The Alliance Francaise has met there, and the club has hosted jazz concerts as well, said former Scarab Club President George Booth of Dearborn Heights, a photographer and member of the Grosse Pointe Artists Association.
“It started with a very simple idea — artists wanted to get together and draw from a model,” Gallery Director Treena Flannery Ericson of Royal Oak said. “I don’t think at that time they would have dreamed we would have done all these other things.”
Art collector Al Gutierrez of Clinton Township, who joined the Scarab Club in 1986, embraces the organization’s long and fascinating history. The second floor meeting room was once a dining room where the likes of Edsel Ford and Diego Rivera could be seen eating and chatting, he said.
“If this room could talk,” Gutierrez mused.
Nowhere is that storied history more apparent than on the meeting room ceiling, whose beams have been signed by international cultural icons as varied as Rivera, Norman Rockwell, Marcel Duchamp, Marshall Fredricks, Tyree Guyton, and most recently, writer Elmore Leonard.
Artist and art educator John Hegarty of Clinton Township, whose 40-year career is being celebrated at the club with a retrospective exhibit on display through Oct. 13, said he was “just thrilled to get my name on a beam up there” alongside artists he’s admired over the years, such as Duchamp.
Flannery Ericson said future plans include adding classes and activities for kids. The club has just under 300 members now, but anyone is welcome to drop in.
“There’s always something going on,” she said.
The Scarab Club is located at 217 Farnsworth, behind the Detroit Institute of Arts, in Detroit’s Cultural Center; hours are noon-5 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday. For costume ball tickets or more information about the club, call (313) 831-1250 or visit www.scarabclub.org or www.myspace.com/thescarabclub.
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