Fee Buchanan has a favorite painting made by the late Scott Hansen: An eye-catching abstract with seven reed-like shapes suspended against a deep black background.
“I look at it as the forest,” Buchanan says as she holds and then rotates the canvas in her hands, finding new meaning each time she turns it and sees the images anew.
“You can sit this painting different ways and get different expression from it,” she says. “It can be tears. Rowboats in water. I look at it in all different ways.”
Buchanan has kept the painting — very special to her — apart from many others painted by Hansen as they await display on the walls of Yahara House, a program of the nonprofit Journey Mental Health Center.
Yahara House, 802 E. Gorham St., will open its doors to the public on May 6 as part of Spring Gallery Night. It will be the first Gallery Night for Yahara House, the home of a community-based “Clubhouse” that helps members with a diagnosis of severe and persistent mental illness. Run jointly by members and staff, the Clubhouse serves as a center to connect with resources such as affordable housing, job training and placement, food and community.
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Part of the programming at Clubhouse is a weekly optional art session called Creative Expressions. Some of the group’s participants also will have artwork on display during Gallery Night, an evening when many other venues across the Madison area will host art exhibits and openings.
“I get a lot out of (art),” said Karla Krajco, who has done projects in macramé, copper tooling, knitting, mosaics, poetry and more in the Creative Expressions group.
When also giving painting a try on a recent visit to her brother, “I really enjoyed it,” she said. “It calmed me down, it helped me with my depression and was just relaxing for me. Even when I come here, when I know we have an activity going, it gives me something to do, especially at night when the Clubhouse is closed.”
Side by side
“Art makes me feel good,” agreed Buchanan, as she stood near the stacks of nearly 150 paintings that will be on display on the walls of Yahara House or its website by Gallery Night. Most are by Hansen.
Hansen died of cancer June 2020 at age 62, and his family donated more than 100 pieces of his artwork — from abstracts to realism, in pastels to bold primary colors — to the organization that had helped him. Hansen’s works will be priced on a sliding scale ($75-$500, depending on size), and proceeds will be divided three ways: to enhance Yahara House, to support member artists and as a donation to a Clubhouse in Poland that is welcoming refugees from Ukraine.
Yahara House is a member of Clubhouse International, a global nonprofit network of communities designed to help people with mental illness lead happy, productive lives.
Housed on Madison’s East Side in the historic Kayser House, a 1902 mansion named to the National and State Registers of Historic Places, Yahara House is not a residential program or a “day treatment program,” said Madison Clubhouse director Brad Schlough.
“We’re a social rehabilitation program,” he explained. The Clubhouses use a “side-by-side” model, where “members and staff work side by side as colleagues.”
In the Clubhouse programs for transitional, supported and independent employment, for example, staff fill an outside job first before a member takes over the position. That way staff can provide first-person support if needed. At Yahara House itself, staff and members work together on day-to-day issues such as operating the reception desk, cooking and paying bills. They’ve also made greeting cards featuring art by Clubhouse members (the cards will be for sale during Gallery Night; $15 for a packet of eight).
Open to anyone over 18 years of age with a history of mental illness, Yahara House membership is funded primarily through Dane County’s Comprehensive Community Services Program and the Veterans Administration. The Clubhouse currently serves about 125 members, some 50 to 70 who come daily to Yahara House in person or who check in via Zoom.
‘Heart and soul’
The top floor of Yahara House serves as the Catfish Café, which is run by members and staff and is “really the heart and soul” of the Clubhouse, said Schlough. A home-cooked lunch is served each day — even on holidays — at a low cost to members, and the meal also serves as a time to socialize and connect. The café is currently planning refreshments to serve to visitors on Gallery Night.
“I’ve been coming here for years,” said Mark Benson, a Yahara House regular who recently retired from a restaurant career and volunteers at the Catfish Café.
“Clubhouse is great because it’s a whole community. I don’t know what I would do without the Clubhouse, because it provides some structure during the day — someplace to go, and relationships to build,” he said. “I consider these people my second family, and I’ve heard other people say that.”
For many years Hansen, too, found community at Yahara House, and with Gallery Night “it feels touching and fitting that his work be presented and embraced in a public setting one last time,” wrote a former caseworker, Drew Thompson, in an eloquent tribute to the painter.
Buchanan knew Hansen through their Clubhouse connections, but didn’t realize he was a prolific painter until dozens of works he had made were delivered to Yahara House, she said.
“We used to have conversations about art,” she recalled. “He talked about art, but I never knew he had that talent and that expression inside of those paintings. You see him in some of those paintings.”