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Houseguest: Christopher Leitch’s Merriam home, built in 1930, full of interesting details

Artist Christopher Leitch lives in Merriam. His cat, Margot, is about 18 years old.
Artist Christopher Leitch lives in Merriam. His cat, Margot, is about 18 years old. The Kansas City Star

“We don’t live in a picture,” says artist Christopher Leitch of the home he shares with his partner, librarian Stuart Hinds. “We are a scholar and an artist and live in a house that is a machine for that kind of thing.”

The couple’s modest home in Merriam is filled with books, art, treasured family heirlooms and other objects that reflect their love of amateur American craft. And it retains evidence throughout of additions and changes made by its previous handyman owner, including numerous built-ins and arched doorways that once were square. “It’s very livable,” Leitch said.

Leitch is a nationally exhibited artist, known for haunting images and text works based on his dreams and a long history of unique textile works. Hinds is assistant dean for special collections and archives at the University of Missouri-Kansas City libraries.

Tell me about the house.

It was built in 1930 and was on the Johnson Drive trolley line from the Plaza. It was really out in the country. It still has the original chicken coop.

How long have you been here?

Eleven and a half years. We bought it from Mr. and Mrs. Link, who lived here for 50 years. His initials, C.A.L., are the same as mine, and there was a big bird feeder that I took as a sign from my (late) mom. The house is filled with incredibly charming touches that Mr. Link built himself, like this hutch with the scrollwork and arches and the little crooked doors that don’t close properly. He did the kitchen cabinets and handmade the cutting blocks set into the counters. He also built a Lazy Susan.

We’ve spent a lot of time uncovering wonderful things. We found all of his moldings and jars with hardware tucked into the rafters.

Any other surprises?

When I was sweeping out back I discovered a stone pathway and a metal canister with a lid set into the ground. It was made for storing fat and cooking grease. During World War II, households would donate the grease for use in munitions factories.

You’ve made some modifications, but nothing major?

We turned a smaller bedroom into a dressing room and kept the washing machine there that Mrs. Link put in.

We repurposed a linen cupboard into a presentation for some of our teapots. I love this early one by Pete Pinnell and its simple Zen approach. The circular red pitcher is Hall ware from my dad’s collection.

We wanted the bedroom dark for sleeping, so we covered the window and upholstered it in velvet to make a headboard. Stuart’s great-grandmother made the quilt tops in here and around the house, and we change them out. She also made the rag rugs in the bedroom. It’s filled with things conducive to rest and quiet.

And you have a number of artworks in here.

That’s an early Robert ParkeHarrison nude. Stuart got those Lynda Barry drawings for both of us 12 years ago. It was a crowd-source subscription thing, before Kickstarter. The little Buddha is a gouache on paper, and we have several pieces by Megan Whitmarsh, an alum of the Kansas City Art Institute painting department. And some of the work we have up is mine, including the portrait of Stuart as a cat.

Tell me about all of these green and brown ceramics you’ve collected.

They’re Frankoma, a pottery founded in Oklahoma by John Frank. He joined his last name to the last three letters of the state to make Frankoma.

Frankoma had an oddly Craftsman, Bauhaus mission about improving the world through “blessed handicraft.” My grandmother on my mother’s side had this little ceramic duck and some other pieces, and I have built and built the collection over the years. I love the leaf dishes. They’re sort of Prairie Deco. A lot of Frankoma is green and brown, but I also have those two white platters on the wall. They were a gift from Stuart last Christmas.

And who did the large abstraction in the dining room?

Eric Lindveit, another KCAI alum. He gave it to me after I hung his first exhibit at the former Veco restaurant on 39th Street. Stuart brought the primitive table to the marriage. He found it abandoned in a garage, and his great-grandmother made the seat covers on the dining room chairs from crocheted bread bags.

We have a weakness for American amateur craft — crochet with plastic doll faces, Styrofoam ornaments, and repurposed bleach bottles with crocheted poodles over them.

The living room is very cozy

That’s a Navajo rug from the Southwest on the wall, post-World War II, probably made for the tourist trade. The checkerboard quilt top over the fireplace was made by Stuart’s great-grandmother. That’s her chair — we reupholstered it in this weird textured plush. It has a worktop desk that fits over it that her husband made.

We keep adding odd little homemade furnishings that go with what’s here. There’s a stool with a seat made out of neckties and a table with a repurposed picture frame for a top. We’re both very elegiac in the way we approach objects and their stories, and we want those stories to be part of our lives. It’s a physical way to remember.

You have a second floor …

That’s my studio. I’m in the process of turning some of my dream drawings into books. I type the narrative of the dream into a pre-set format on acid-free bond paper, and then I draw in the remaining blank space.

What’s behind the curtain?

That’s a guest room. Tabbetha McCale Evans designed the pillow on the bed for Peruvian Connection, and we bought it at an auction. Those are my fungal printed pillows beside it. I made them by placing fruit and other organic matter on raw silk and allowing it to rot and leave a fungal imprint.

I’m not doing as many textiles at the moment. I’m focusing more on the dream drawings. I’m getting ready to send a piece to the University of Wyoming Art Museum for an exhibit titled “Ley Lines,” organized by philosopher professor Harvey Hix, who used to teach at the Art Institute. It’s from a book he edited of artists’ writings that he is presenting as an exhibit.

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