Contact CassiLhaus

Chapel Hill North Carolina


Nur tote Fische schwimmen mit dem Strom.


So what's a Cassilhaus?

Cassilhaus is a home, a singular piece of architecture, a lifelong arts project, and a love-filled partnership between Ellen Cassilly and Frank Konhaus. Ellen is an architect and community activist and Frank is an AV System Designer, documentary film producer, and arts entrepreneur.

After a five-year land search and a three-year design process, Cassilhaus was born as dream home/art gallery/artist studio and residency in the woods between Durham and Chapel Hill, NC and has grown into an exciting nexus for arts activity and community in the Triangle region. Cassilhaus hosts a diverse exhibition program and a multi-disciplinary residency program which bring extraordinary artists from our region and around the world to pollinate and stimulate our little corner of the art world.

 Ellen Cassilly & Frank Konhaus  Photograph by Mona Kuhn    

Ellen Cassilly & Frank Konhaus
Photograph by Mona Kuhn


our Team


Jaco and Joni

Abandoned and rescued from a trailer park five years ago, they don't appreciate how great a gig they have at Cassilhaus. And yes, they are aware of how beautiful they are.

Pictured: Jaco is in the box, and Joni is on top.

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Frank Konhaus
Co-founder, Co-designer, and the haus of Cassilhaus

Frank is a serial entrepreneur who started his first business at age 12. He studied chemistry and industrial design and is the founder of KONTEK Systems, a commercial AV integration company – hence the logical transition to running an artist residency and exhibition program at Cassilhaus. Frank serves on the Collections Committee at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, the Durham Cultural Advisory Board, and the executive committee of the annual Click! Photography Festival. He fell into photography trying to impress an old girlfriend. He got photography and not the girlfriend. He and Ellen are both very happy about that.

Favorite piece in the Cassilhaus collection: It's a tie between Emmet Gowin’s Edith, Chincoteaque, Virginia 1967 and Olivia Parker’s Miss Appelton’s Shoes II.

Jaco or Joni: Couldn’t ever choose. Both melt my heart.

First photograph: While I don't remember my first photo, I do remember the first time I understood that a photograph could be more than a straight document. I was living in an older apartment complex that was undergoing renovation; they had gutted one of the buildings and all of the porcelain toilets from these units were sitting out randomly in the courtyard. Some vandals sprayed black spray paint graffiti on them and that night we had a huge snowstorm. I was taking a black and white darkroom course and I shot photos of the scene and it was pure magic – funny, beautiful, and other-worldly. I was hooked. 

Best advice for art-making: Take a risk. Trust yourself. Never give up.

An artist whose work you are inspired by: Artists are my heroes. So many artists inspire me: Ippy Patterson, Sally Mann, Georges Rousse, Zanele Muholi, Gabriel Garcia Roman, and Nancy Rexroth, to name a few.

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Ellen Cassilly
Co-founder, Co-designer, and the Cassil of Cassilhaus

Ellen has been the principal of Ellen Cassilly Architect since 1999. She received her Bachelor's of Environmental Design degree from Texas A&M University and a Master of Architecture degree from the University of Pennsylvania. Throughout her career, Ellen has collaborated with architects, artists and clients to design and build single- and multi-family homes, commercial, religious and educational buildings. 

First interests in art: I have always preferred doing over watching, be that in sports or in art. I grew up taking art classes of all sorts. In college I had classes in art and architectural history. Art and the appreciation of art was always in my midst without being over bearing. My mother had a strong personal style and my father was an avid, amateur photographer. It is a pity that he and Frank never met. It would have been a geek lovefest.

Jaco or Joni: I love cuddling with Joni in the evenings and Jaco in the mornings.

Favorite piece in the Cassilhaus collection: Elliot Erwitt's Valencia, Spain. I love the intimacy of the image, and the backstory of Elliot Erwitt and Robert Frank traveling together in Spain.

An artist whose work you are inspired by: Ann Hamilton

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Jessina Leonard
Programs Manager

Originally from Philadelphia, Jessina Leonard came to Durham by way of Chicago to complete a Masters' degree in art and theology at Duke Divinity School. She has been working at Cassilhaus since 2015. She also maintains her own studio practice.

Favorite piece in the Cassilhaus collection: David Simonton's Blackboard, Chinquapin, NC, or Mitch Epstein's Untitled, Holyoke, 2000 – too hard to choose!

Jaco or Joni: Joni

First Photograph: My first memory of taking photographs was at the Moscow circus when I was probably five or six years old – but, honestly, I was most excited about arranging and sequencing the images in a scrapbook when I got home. 

Best advice for art-making: "Do not complain. Work harder. Spend more time alone."

An artist whose work you are inspired by: Graciela Iturbide


Phyllis B. Dooney

Phyllis B. Dooney is a social documentary photographer and visual storyteller. Phyllis' recent project, Gravity Is Stronger Here, was published in a photo book by Kehrer Verlag in 2017 (available at Phyllis will receive her Masters of Fine Arts degree from the Duke MFA-EDA program this May, and she is our 2017-2018 intern at Cassilhaus.

Favorite piece in the Cassilhaus collection: Susan Worsham's Marine, Hotel Near Airport, Richmond, VA

Jaco or Joni: Jaco

First photograph: My father was a photography enthusiast so it’s impossible to locate when I first picked up a camera. I remember my sister and I dressing up in our super-hero bathing suits and taking photos of each other in the garden. We probably couldn’t articulate why at the time, but we knew it was a preposterous portrait session.

Best advice for art-making: Don't put booties on kittens.

An artist whose work you are inspired by: Trent Parke