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Why One Kansas City Artist's Search For A Home Depended On The Basement Ceilings

Julie Denesha
KCUR 89.3
Renée Cinderhouse works on a ceramic piece in her basement studio in the Historic Northeast."

Renée Cinderhouse is an installation artist based in Kansas City whose site-specific art installations are ambitious explorations of past and present.

Kansas City audiences may remember her 2012 show "Manifest Destiny" at the La Esquina Gallery, an exhibit focused on American history and the Midwest as frontier. It featured mixed-media porcelain sculpture and a 14-foot tree forest.

Cinderhouse and her husband Héctor Casanova, who is also an artist, are frequent artistic collaborators. For about eight years, they lived and worked in the West Bottoms, on the second floor of the old post office on Union Avenue. The Green Door Gallery, an art space they curated in their home, was a fixture in the Bohemian arts scene that blossomed there in the early 2000s. The gallery closed at the end of 2008.

After she and Casanova moved to the Historic Northeast and into a home built in the 1880s, creating a space where she could work was the first order of business.

"Because I work so much in mixed media, my studio has to cover a lot of ground," Cinderhouse says. "So I have everything from theatrical props and costumes to theater curtains, to 14-foot tall trees, to the tiniest most fragile pieces of porcelain."

Still, it took a decade to fully renovate her basement studio space. The high-ceilinged basement once served as a coal cellar and features an original, herringbone brick floor.

A recent afternoon found Cinderhouse decorating a hollow ceramic hand for an unusual collaboration with the Kansas City Museum.

Scroll around this 360 video to see Cinderhouse at work in her studio:

Cinderhouse says her mixed-media installations operate as theatrical tableau.

"I want to use my sculptures as actors and props that build a new narrative,"she says. "It should take something familiar and present new information in a dreamlike or surreal fashion. It's wedding past with present, science with historical and literary references and, of course, my own, personal spin on it all."

Cinderhouse’s latest project is to create a series of four time capsules to be installed within the walls of the Kansas City Museum's Corinthian Hall. The old mansion and museum, in the historic Scarritt Renaissance neighborhood, is in the midst of a major restoration and renovation spearheaded by Executive Director Anna Marie Tutera.

It will be years before anyone sees Cinderhouse's work for this project; she and Tutera are still discussing the possibility of setting a date to open the time capsule, but if they do it will be after they're gone, Cinderhouse says.

Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM
At the the Kansas City Museum, Renee Cinderhouse holds her latest creation: a time capsule that a construction worker from JE Dunn will soon cover with dry wall.

The project carried added significance for Cinderhouse because, traditionally, time capsule projects have not been the led by women artists.

"A lot of times when you think about time capsules, you're thinking about civic projects, school projects," says Cinderhouse. "Historically, speaking it was all male and business driven. So I was pretty much given carte blanche as a female artist to create works of relevance." 

Years ago, she says, she chose to stay in Kansas City because of its thriving web of artists who have made their homes here.

"It's more about the culture makers that live and work here and choose to stay," says Cinderhouse. "And there's a lot more of us than mainstream Kansas City is aware of."

This story is part of a series using 360 video to bring readers into unusual studio spaces of artists in the Kansas City area.

Julie Denesha is a freelance photographer and reporter for KCUR. Follow her on Twitter, @juliedenesha.

Julie Denesha is the arts reporter for KCUR. Contact her at julie@kcur.org.
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