Cassilhaus, to say the least, is a true definition of a home.Kourtney Diggs, Nasher Museum marketing intern, North Carolina Central University Class of 2025.
By Kourtney Diggs
Cassilhaus is home to many. It is the dream home of Ellen Cassilly and Frank Konhaus. It’s also home to a contemporary art collection with a focus on contemporary photography. And it’s a busy artist residency for visual artists, poets, dancers and more. The house, adjacent to Duke Forest, is surrounded by a stunning landscape of trees, flowers and plants. One can only imagine the plethora of animals, birds and insects that surround the property on an average day. In my experience, the atmosphere and environment speak to the kind nature of the homeowners.
When I visited one recent afternoon, I was full of questions and the first one emerged just as I was entering their property. As Frank later explained, the entrance to Cassilhaus has a sculptural deer fence in the driveway that keeps deer from entering without a visually intrusive gate. For a city girl like me, that was quite fascinating and bewildering.
Then we made our way into the beautiful trapezoidal home that pays homage to Frank and Ellen’s inspiring journey. There is art everywhere, each piece with its own respective story and location. We got to see the apartment where the invited artists stay and create during their residencies at Cassilhaus as well as the exhibition gallery that connects the home’s primary suite to the artist’s “pod.”
The current exhibition Beyond the Horizon showcases phenomenal contemporary photography that leans in on a simple concept that is visually complex. “It’s a large group show featuring 61 artists from the Cassilhaus collection and exploring the concept of the horizon line in photography,” Frank explained to me.
Something that spoke to me most was not a part of the exhibition; it was of the little things we don’t often pay attention to. As we were being guided through the home, I couldn’t help but notice the attentive family cats Jaco and Joni (named after two of Frank’s favorite musicians, Jaco Pastorious and Joni Mitchell). Jaco was off in the corner of the kitchen messing with something that I couldn’t recognize out of the corner of my eye until the tussle got closer and I realized it was a lizard. Yikes! Jaco tossed the lizard around the kitchen until the lizard made its grand escape under the fridge–or so I thought. Jaco casually peeped under the fridge looking for the lizard and for a split second I turned my head and when I looked back, the lizard was hanging out of Jaco’s mouth. Double yikes! I felt sorry for the poor lizard until I realized that there was no foul play going on and Jaco was simply being a cat and wanted to keep his entertainment away from the guests. Once I made Frank aware of my observation, he found the lizard where Jaco had left it and took it outside into its habitat. I found that to be one of the most beautiful moments I have ever witnessed in my life. I realized how fear and confusion could have easily resulted in a chaotic reaction to the little friend who is part of nature, which preceded our human existence. Instead the lizard was met with kindness and compassion from Jaco (who could have killed it) and Frank. This interaction showed me that nature not only surrounds Cassilhaus, but also sometimes enters it in beautiful, unexpected ways.
The Cassilhaus tour is an experience that has changed my view on what a home is. The home can only be as beautiful as the people who made it. This was an immersive mini odyssey that I didn’t anticipate. The history, art and architecture all told stories of two phenomenal creators who came together to create a safe space for artists, visitors and even wildlife to dwell together. Cassilhaus, to say the least, is a true definition of a home.
Ellen Cassilly and Frank Konhaus are longtime Nasher Museum supporters. Ellen has served on the Nasher Friends Board and Frank currently serves on the Nasher Museum’s Collections Committee.