Sunday, May 16, 2021

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At Home With

Emily Susanin Kessinger


Yellow Door Gallery

Emily Susanin Kessinger and Mason Kessinger.

Emily Susanin Kessinger and Mason Kessinger.

“The door was yellow when we bought it, just for the record,” says Emily Susanin Kessinger.

Kessinger and her husband Mason’s south-side house serves as more than a home; it is also the Yellow Door Gallery, taking the name from the bright yellow front door. The couple moved into their first home together in November after house hunting for two months. They looked at 30 other homes before they found “the one.”

“It was a no-brainer. After maybe 10 seconds of being in the house, this was it,” she says.

Soon after moving in, they opened their home to the public. While the name may have gallery in the title, it’s the model of a 17th century French salon that Kessinger is after, and they had their first salon in January 2017.

Prep Iowa

While Kessinger may not have envisioned a gallery in her home, the salons were an idea she was familiar with and wanted to bring to the city. A Des Moines native, Kessinger previously lived in Chicago where she became privy to the idea of salons. Most of the salons she knew of were one-night-only affairs, so she made some tweaks for a format that would work in Des Moines.

“We wanted something a little more lasting. Something that people could continue to engage in. And I didn’t want to just do salons. I knew there was more potential to connect with the community than one night a month,” she says.

The exhibits from the salon nights stay up five to six weeks, with an opening and a closing reception. The gallery is also open 1-4 p.m. on Sundays and holds other events as well. A list of all events and more information can be found at

Yellow Door Gallery most recently held its fourth salon on July 8. The art from the salon will remain up trough Aug. 20. The opening night saw a performance from the art’s creators, University of Iowa MFA graduates Heidi Wiren Bartlett and Kuldeep Singh. Kessinger first saw the artists perform at a gallery in Chicago in 2015. Singh was a former classmate, and Kessinger met Bartlett a few years later through the Des Moines art scene. After meeting, Kessinger reached out to Bartlett and was excited to bring her work to Yellow Door in what viewers describe as an “other-wordly” performance.

“I liked what she was doing, how she was pushing the boundaries of what contemporary art in Iowa is doing, specifically through the kind of content and subject matter of her work,” she says.

Kessinger meets lots of the artists whose work she shows this way, who in turn introduce her to more artists. It’s one of the things she loves about the community.

“I find that by working with some of these amazing artists — that are just even more incredible people because they’re Iowans, most of them — they have that same kind of ethos of ‘help thy neighbor,’ ” she says.

She also likes being able to bring attendees something they might not be used to.

“I think I curate and pick artists I feel are really doing things that are a little different and out of the box and aren’t things that everyone would understand right away,” she says.

The gallery name’s inspiration comes from the yellow front door.

The gallery name’s inspiration comes from the yellow front door.

Some of the people who might not understand the art or the gallery are her neighbors.

“They know what we’re doing; they’re all very confused by it, because they’re over 60,” she says. “I think one of them thinks we have a lot of parties.”

She notes that even though they might not get it, her neighbors are very nice and supportive about the endeavors the couple has put so much heart in to. Those neighbors also include her parents. Kessinger grew up three blocks away, and her mother and father still live in the same home.

The Kessinger home was built in the 1950s and their aesthetic lends itself to the home’s mid-century modern appeal. Because it houses a gallery, their tastes have also become more minimalistic.

“We moved from a city 600-square-foot apartment into a 4,300-square-foot house. We didn’t just want to amass things, and that was easy because we decided pretty fast to have a minimalist living room/dining room, which is our gallery,” she says.

Kessinger likes to keep the house clean. When a salon finishes its run, she carefully takes down the art, patches up holes in the wall and gets everything back to neutral. A few days later, she’ll set it up for the next one. ♦



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