At the Kansas City Museum, a whimsical architectural intervention is underway with the forthcoming renovation of the museum’s historic Beaux Arts conservatory. In partnership with Kansas City–based firm International Architects Atelier (IAA), New York–based artist Summer Wheat reimagines the conservatory as JewelHouse, a site-responsive architectural meditative space that celebrates and pays tribute to women.
Located in Kansas City, Missouri, the original conservatory has undergone multiple renovations since its conception. It was first built in 1910 to store plants in the winter, then was reconfigured as a planetarium in the early 1950s. In alignment with the museum’s restorative practices, the building’s new chapter is set to transform the site into a light-filled sanctuary, evoking a jewelry box aesthetic that serves as a space for immersive meditative reflection that promotes health, well-being, gender equity, and empowerment. A completion date is yet to be announced, but once completed, JewelHouse will house educational and public programs to highlight untold stories of women across generations, through storytelling, music, dance, panels and more.
The New York–based artist is known for her immersive, vibrant and multifaceted art exploring materiality, figuration, and the abstraction of craft milieus and fine arts that collapses boundaries between viewers and her artwork. Inspired by other meditative architectural spaces like Austin by Ellworth Kelly and the Rothko Chapel by Mark Rothko, Wheat continues the tradition of artist-designed, chapel-like structures. Wheat’s JewelHouse branches out from its predecessors with its focus on women, and its aim to inspire active matronage and women-led collaboration. The project has garnered financial support from the Girlfriend Fund, the Wells Fargo Foundation, and the Women’s Art Fund of Charlotte, North Carolina.
The reimagined conservatory will feature its signature Beaux Arts style with Wheat’s interventions. The conservatory’s doorway dons Wheat’s water bearer icon, a motif used in her other works as a symbol of women’s labour and nourishment. It sets the tone before walking into the venue. Upon entering, JewelHouse, the walls are intervened with colorful stained-glass that glimmer against the bronze flower and coiled snake detailing enveloping the white marbled interior, and viewers, in colors. The interior’s floor is enclosed with black, white, and gold decorations, while the walls feature bronze elements. The restored rooftop features more stained-glass panels and a blue and yellow skylight, bringing light from above the structure to foster an ambiance filled with warm, vibrant hues. From the outside, the roof and wall’s glass panels provide transparency allowing for a peek inside the structure. On the roof three sculptures in the form of a moon, a sun, and a star are present, tying in the space’s connection between people, nature, and the cosmos.
In collaboration with the Kansas City Museum and the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, the space will house youth mentorship and leadership opportunities, bridging two cultural institution’s efforts to promote shared humanity and provide access to meaningful art experiences in Kansas City.