Clara K. Johnson: Heck-Andrews House Memorialized By Raleigh Artist
Almost 150 years old, this eclectic Second Empire-style mansion with pale yellow walls, eye-catching blue and red painted window panes, carved porch pillars, and a tower jutting from the roof like a unicorn has a history as eccentric as its exterior. Many people have walked past its property on Blount Street and wondered what was inside.
With such a flamboyant and historic visage, it’s easy to assume it’s a museum or historic site like the Mordecai or Joel Lane House. Alas, the doors have been closed to the public for decades, making it all the more mysterious.
Local Raleigh artist Clara K. Johnson, who utilizes a whimsical mix of iridescent paint colors, twisted metal, and found items to create surreal North Carolina landscapes, among many other enchanting pieces, found herself fascinated by the mystery and unique design of the Heck-Andrews House and felt inspired to share its magic through her own craft.
- I love the architecture involved in the Heck-Andrews House, she shares. I would pass by it on my way downtown and marvel. I would bring out-of-towners there to see it. I was taught early in life how to appreciate quality, craftsmanship and distinction.
How Was It Crafted?
Johnson has crafted her own, miniature versions of other icons that intrigue her, using her own distinct style. “I created a mixed media/wire sculpture of the Eiffel Tower. Then, for the Tower of Pisa, I decided to first draw the tower using graphite, ink and charcoal on Bristol paper and then create the wire sculpture to place over it.”
She used similar methods to create the Heck-Andrews House. “My creation of the Heck-Andrews house is TRULY mixed-media! There is wood, paper, galvanized steel, aluminum, acrylic paint, acrylic mediums, sand, denim, copper wire, glass beads, a faux time piece.”
The Heck-Andrews House has a somewhat somber history, captured expertly in the charcoal black background and wavering metal aura twisted around the house’s enunciated outline.
“I’ve always been particularly fascinated with the fact that the outside was restored, but the inside sat in shambles. It’s a remarkable structure, and I’ve seen many pictures of the poor interior conditions.”
“The Heck-Andrews House itself is a very intricate design; a work of art. When I decided to create it I had to see in my mind how to fashion the wire sculpture in order to compliment the drawing without covering it up too much.”
The Strange History of the Heck-Andrews House
Gladys Perry was the final inhabitant of the mansion, and many Raleigh-ites remember her as an eccentric elderly woman, known for wandering up and down the street and gathering items she found in people’s garbage. She wore pale white make-up with heavy blush to create rosy cheeks. She became a recluse, and as she grew too old to care for herself, she was eventually removed from the house. Since the late 1980’s, the house has sat, vacant, deteriorating on the inside. It was never torn down, but nor was it opened to the public. But it’s rustic and incredible exterior, coupled with the majestic ruins within, drew the eye of many who love Raleigh’s history.
Col. Jonathan McGee Heck raised 13 children in the spacious halls, mirrors on the wall and pale hardwood on the floor. As his children grew old and moved away, Fannie Heck, his daughter, remained, alongside her sister and mother. Johnson found herself particularly connecting to Fannie when hearing the house’s history.
For the past few months, Johnson’s rendition of the Heck-Andrews House has been showing at the Woman’s Club. “I think Fannie would greatly appreciate this art. Ironically, bringing the piece to the Woman’s Club was a last minute decision. During the artist’s reception, I was informed that Mrs. Fannie Heck was the first President of the Woman’s Club of Raleigh!”
Want To See Clara K. Johnson’s Heck-Andrews House?
Johnson says she hopes anyone who sees this piece will feel as delighted as she did when she first saw the house. She hopes it’ll instill in them a burning desire to go see the house for themselves!
Johnson also wildly praises the original designer and builders of the house, and tips her artist hat to theirs. “For those who know the house, I hope you appreciate my attempt to honor what must have been painstaking work to build-in all of the details in the actual house. The windows, the circular window up top and the shape of the portion of the house that holds it is magnificent and genius. The bannisters, the staircase leading to the porch are a testament of a very creative mind!”
Clara K Johnson creates fine crafts as well as fine art. You may find her fine crafts and textile/mixed media bowls in Pittsboro at Chatham Markertplace with Goldsmith, Jenny McLaurin and in Wake Forest at Sugar Magnolia Emporium. She will be exhibiting and demonstrating at the Southern Ideal Home Show, April 7 thru 9 in the Jim Graham Building.