Arts News: Greenwood Social Hall

Peregrine Honig is a bit of an unstoppable force in Kansas City. A respected artist, whose works hang in major museums (at 22, she was the youngest living artist to have work acquired by the Whitney Museum of American Art), she was a linchpin of the West Bottoms when she resided at and curated The Fahrenheit Gallery there from 1997 to 2006. Honig was a finalist on Bravo’s “Work of Art: The Next Great Artist” television series. She is co-owner/proprietor with Alexis Stevens Burggrabe of Birdies lingerie shop in the Crossroads and served as artistic director of the West 18th Street Fashion Show from 2000 to 2016.

Recently Honig embarked on a new role as community property developer: Since March 2017 she has been residing in and managing the Greenwood Social Hall at 1750 Belleview in Kansas City, Missouri.

Originally the Greenwood Baptist Church, the building has been transformed physically and spiritually. Its debut event was a reception and sale in response to the Presidential Inauguration on January 20. Honig and ceramic artist Rain Harris rallied national and local artists and business owners under the umbrella “Nasty Folk” to contribute works of $100 or less which were then sold that evening, with all proceeds ($6,800) going to the ACLU.

It was an introduction entirely fitting to the building’s history and purpose of giving community support and comfort. Honig explains she reveres the “paternal and protective” atmosphere of the hall.

Her annual Valentine’s Ball followed, and after that, a lecture about the background and community significance of the church. The Greenwood space has also seen regular photo shoots for Birdies, a memorial for the father of her dear friend Dana Seeley and the Nelson-Atkins Y.F.A. Hello Goodbye Party. And then the performances: A Fishtank play, “Death, By Shakespeare,” by Heidi Van; The Fools Gold Revue, Beau Bledsoe’s foray into country music; Tango Lorca with violinist Christine Brebes and bandoneon artist Martine Sued from Argentina. In June, harpist/singer/guitar-player Calvin Arsenia delivered a sublime solo performance.

Going forward, more performances may be scheduled but Honig is more dedicated to maintaining the “social hall” nature. Historically, social halls have been community venues offering classes, readings, entertainment of various kinds, dances and gatherings. Unlike “social clubs,” here there is no membership but the events are still somewhat private and intimate and not widely publicized. Fifty participants are the maximum for any event.

In June, she presented a trunk show of exquisite rugs brought in by a Turkish dealer, an old friend. She also launched Monday night figure drawing classes. In coming months, Greenwood will be hosting rehearsals for various organizations. With the assistance of Pastor Mike Carroll, Honig is pursuing a grant to bring Greenwood Church’s Baptist Choir back to sing with contemporary regional musicians.

All of this is a combined effort by Honig and collaborative partner Jamie Jeffries of Jamie Jeffries Construction, which has been specializing in custom carpentry and residential remodeling and sustainable building systems since 1997. The Greenwood project is their fourth effort together. Jeffries framed Honig’s works for her first solo show with Byron Cohen Gallery in 1998, which garnered her first review in “Art in America.” In 2016 he built the extensive and elaborate stereoscopic shelving for “Chromophobia,” an exhibit Honig curated for The KCAI Crossroads Gallery, in conjunction with the 2016 National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts conference in Kansas City. The exhibit drew praise from renowned ceramics specialist Garth Clark.

For their third joint effort, Jeffries created a curved wooden frame outlining one of Honig’s more dramatic art pieces, a fan from a residency in Guanlan, China. The piece was shown in “Suites,” an exhibit co-produced with the Hotel Phillips and shown at Belger Crane Yard Studios.

But Greenwood may be their greatest achievement — and one that presented real challenges. The church congregation dates to the 1890s, but it was in 1927 that the (current) modest one-floor church was built. In 1945 the church was expanded and the roof raised. The result was a much more impressive place of worship, but one also weakened by the increased weight. This caused considerable settling, rippled floors and uneven windows, problems which only worsened as the years passed.

Jeffries bought the property in January 2016 and tackled these issues methodically and innovatively. Stepping into the grand hall now is a most inviting experience. The replaced floors are of warm wood; most of the walls are softly “milk washed,” butting up to ones of bare brick. The windows are a combination of clear and, above the altar space, stained glass.

Scattered about are Honig’s artistic touches and personal collection as well as historic mementos and maps of the church, which she has collected with the assistance of Doug Shaver and archived with Dolphin Printing. An external sign, designed by Archie Scott Gobber and fabricated by Midtown Signs, feels a bit like stained glass. The second-floor towers have been converted to a bedroom, bath and closet, and under the hall are two separate apartments.

Beyond the physical attributes, Honig feels a true spiritual presence in the building. Interestingly, unlike most abandoned churches, Greenwood was not “deconsecrated” (removal of a religious blessing by a minister or priest), and perhaps that accounts for the welcoming atmosphere and feeling of grace.

Honig has moved often and lived in many places (most all of them similarly untraditional), but her life, she feels, has brought her here to Greenwood and she has every intention of staying.

Coming up: Monday night drawing classes. Visit www.facebook.com/thegreenwoodsocialhall for dates and themes; October exhibition, “Ross Redmon: Passenger Migration,” a large installation of porcelain migratory birds; October 21 concert: The Kansas City African American Chamber Choir.

Rebecca Smith

Rebecca Smith is an impassioned supporter of local performances of all types, who welcomes the  opportunity to promote them to KC Studio readers.

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