Houseguest

A minimalist’s dream house in Leawood features a striking mix of furniture and art

Updated: 2013-12-29T02:36:40Z

By ALICE THORSON

The Kansas City Star

Diane and Matt Henk’s Leawood home reflects their passion for American Indian art and midcentury modern furniture.

Diane, an artist, and Matt, a retired captain from the U.S. Public Health Service, spent the first years of their married life on a Navajo reservation. For the past 2 1/2 decades, they have collected Pueblo pottery and Navajo rugs, as well as furniture by midcentury American designers. As home decor goes, the combination is both unexpected and striking.

What attracted you to Pueblo pottery?

Matt: I was a social worker at the PHS Indian hospital in Gallup, N.M., and we lived there from 1967 to ’71 when we were first married. I came from Milwaukee, and they put me up in the room by the hospital. I spent time watching television with Native Americans at the hospital, and I got to know the people.

The first piece we bought was an Acoma canteen. It had been misfired, so we got it for $5. Acoma pottery has a lot of sand in it, so it explodes if it’s not fired properly. We didn’t have much money starting out, so we didn’t start collecting until the early 1980s after we moved to Kansas City.

You have some gorgeous pieces on these shelves in the living room.

Matt: They’re from all different pueblos: Santa Clara; black pottery from San Ildefonso; Acoma; Zia. With Zuni, the slip is a little whiter. Cochiti pots have a creamy color. Some are new, and some are more than a century old. The one with the flower is a 1910 Santo Domingo olla. In all, we have about 100 pieces of pottery.

What guides your selections?

Matt: I have a library of American Indian auction catalogs. Some people collect based on name; I’ll buy anything I like. We recently went to Santa Fe and had seven of our Hopi pots definitively identified by the dealer and expert Marti Struever, as works by (famed Hopi pottery master) Nampeyo. We also have an example of gunmetal pottery by Maria Martinez.

Do you have a favorite?

Matt: My favorite pot is a bowl by Nampeyo that was made about 1890-1900. It has a figural motif with what look like bird beaks. I bought it at auction 10 years ago.

Tell me about the elegant jar and plate with the geometric designs.

Matt: They’re by Acoma potter Rebecca Lucario. They’re all hand done in fine line decoration in the classic style. She learned pottery as a little girl from her grandmother.

Where do you find them?

Diane: Almost all were purchased regionally, from auctions, estate sales and antique shops. We don’t buy in Santa Fe, due to price. eBay is too easy, you click and you can buy. We’re like hunters, we love the game.

How did you end up in Kansas City?

Matt: After we left Gallup in 1971, we lived in Alaska and Rochester, N.Y. I was transferred to Kansas City in 1977. I came here to help set up government-funded health clinics in the state of Missouri.

And Diane, you went to art school here?

Diane: I graduated from the Kansas City Art Institute in 1983. I studied with Wilbur Niewald. I’m a minimalist who married a collector. I’m getting to a point where nothing comes in unless something comes out.

I like consistent height in a room. Your eye needs to have a rest somewhere, so in some rooms, I decided to hang nothing on the walls. I need that break. We have 40 rugs, but I don’t put them out because I can’t deal with the busyness. I do have one saddle blanket on the floor. It’s not perfectly balanced. That’s why I like it.

The furniture is also very minimalist.

Diane: The first midcentury modern piece we bought was a Paul McCobb room divider. McCobb is one of our favorite designers, I love his simplicity; he’s not as well-known as Charles and Ray Eames. We have a McCobb dresser in the bedroom that we got from Rod Parks at Retro Inferno.

We bought the Alvar Aalto tea cart in the living room from Dan Lopez and Nick Carter at Nick Carter and Co. at 34th and Main. We also bought the living room couch there — they swear it’s Florence Knoll. I bought the Eames ebony “potato chip” chairs in the dining room from Dan Lopez when he had 20th Century Consortium on Westport Road. They were among our first purchases.

The George Nelson end tables were from an auction when the Kansas City Public Library closed for renovation. The top was marred, and we had the veneer refinished.

And what about the Barcelona chairs?

Diane: They’re not Barcelona. That’s what drew me, but I found out they weren’t. They’re knockoffs, and I had them reupholstered in a gray pinstripe flannel at Kansas City Upholstery.

Your collection is not all pottery and rugs.

Diane. We’re preservers. We’re not basket people, but we have them because we found them. We have three tin Santos, and when we find them and they’re old, we’ll buy them.

I never cared for dolls, but after you attend a dance and see something like those Katsina dolls, at life size, it blows you away. We took our grandchildren to a Hopi Second Mesa dance in Arizona, and it brought tears to my eyes. It’s a culture so many of us don’t realize is in this country.

We also have contemporary pieces. There’s a Wilbur Niewald watercolor in the bedroom and a Ron Slowinksi painting from his “Pollen” series that we got at an estate sale. I’ve done a new series inspired by the fine print that exists in legal documents. We have one of those in the living room, along with a 2006 work from my “Poetry” series.

To reach Alice Thorson, call 816-234-4783 or send email to athorson@kcstar.com.

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