The James Howe House became the subject of artwork on Friday, Jan. 27, at One River School of Art and Design, as the organization Friends of the Howe House and the school held a fundraiser in support of preserving the homestead.   

Ticket holders were greeted with soft music and refreshments at the door. In addition to fundraising, the goal of the event was for residents to reimagine the Howe House in different ways. Participants had the opportunity to either paint, draw or create a digital rendering of the house.

Erin Foley, director of the art school, wanted to see people become creative in the ways that they see the Howe House through the different art mediums provided. 

”Just because the house happens to be gray shiplap on the outside, it doesn't mean everyone has to paint it that way,” Foley said.

And the artists took her up on that challenge. 

Montclair resident Freda McClean chose to create a digital reimagining of the house, and instead of sticking to the brownish-grays on the outside, she chose vibrant pinks and greens, to honor her affiliation with the sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha. 

McClean called her artistic choices “childlike wonder.” 

“It's important that we as a community support our ancestors and particularly as it relates to education,” she said. “So it's critically important that we support any and all endeavors that will increase the education and the knowledge of African American history.” 

Built by town founder and merchant Israel Crane around 1780, the residence is known as the James Howe House because it was once owned by the first freed slave in Montclair. In addition to being the founder of what was then known as Cranetown, Crane was a slave owner. According to a press release from Friends of the Howe House, he bought Howe in 1813 for $50. When Crane died in 1858 at the age of 84, he granted Howe his freedom, $600 and the house situated at what is now 369 Claremont Ave.

The residence, which has come to be known as the “Freed Slave House,” officially became a local historic landmark in 2007.

Since October, Friends of the Howe House has worked to raise awareness and money to purchase the home. Through a rally and a benefit at the Montclair Brewery, along with other efforts, the organization purchased the home last month for $400,000.

Now, with events like the one at One River School, it plans to raise more money to repay loans and to raise awareness of the home. The group hopes to turn the house into a site to teach the history of slavery in America and celebrate the impact of the African American community on Montclair.

In the drawing room, residents like Nancy Silverman put pencil to paper to create their own display of the site.

“I like seeing the house, and I’ve driven by it a million times, but now I'm really looking at it and appreciating all the details,” Silverman said. She preferred to focus on the multiple windows of the home in her drawing. 

Dionne Ford, a member of Friends of the Howe House, said of the event, “It's really a thrill first of all to see that so many people showed up to support this event. And we're so grateful to have our partners One River, and of course it just means the world to me that our community understands the importance of the James Howe House and its history.”

The event was one of many planned to raise $50,000.  

On Feb. 17, the Montclair Brewery will hold a party from 5:30 to 7:30 launch a special beer in honor of the Howe House. 

On Feb. 19, from 7 to 10 p.m., a Devil’s Hockey Night at the Prudential Center will be held, organized by the Montclair Diner. Those interested in attending can email for more information on tickets. 100% of the proceeds from the tickets bought through the link will go directly to the Montclair Diner, which will then share a portion of those proceeds with Friends of the Howe House. 

On Feb. 21, a jazz night at Pineapple Express will be held between 7 and 11 p.m.