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Life Hasn't Always Been A Circus For New Funhouse Gallery Artist Theresa Disney

The Funhouse Gallery

When Theresa Disney’s two sons came home from school, they never knew what they might find. To their artist mom, everything’s a canvas, even the furniture.

“The kids would be like, ‘Why are our couches crunchy?’’ Disney said. “And I’d answer, ‘Because I painted them.’”

Now the boys are grown. Disney’s collection of paintings and sculpture is larger, too. Much of it was forged through adversity: the end of a bad marriage, a house fire, two bouts of cancer and spinal meningitis. But this new chapter of her life is all about having fun.

This Saturday, she'll debut her new Funhouse Gallery in the Clifton Heights area of south St. Louis.  The opening event is billed as a “Circus Party.”

Step Right Up

Disney’s been working in St. Louis for 30 years. But her home town hasn’t always embraced her bright, whimsical style. She doesn’t have formal training and is sometimes dismissed as a less-than-serious artist. But being serious is not the point. And they get that in New York, Chicago and even parts of the South, she said.

“There is a great eccentricity there,” Disney said. “One art museum in Atlanta has wings dedicated to folk art and I’m so loved down there, it’s just crazy.”

Disney creates her pieces with whatever she has on hand, a block of wood or even the occasional car hood.

“It’s the shape that inspires me and the feeling and the colors,” Disney said.

Personal challenges have also inspired her, including her successful but grueling fights against cancer.

“When I wasn’t feeling well and I was in bed I would work on small clay figures,” Disney said. “When I had more energy, I’d do bigger pieces.”

Credit The Funhouse Gallery
From Theresa Disney's circus collection

She’s well now and has recently been concentrating on circus- and carnival-themed work: a painting of a masked couple surrounded by miniature jungle animals. A sculpture of clownish figures packed into a red convertible. A rendering of a fortune teller with yes-no earrings. Thus the theme of opening night.

“It’s my coming-out party, my declaration of energy,” Disney said.

Popcorn, Peanuts and Unicycles

Disney travels to art fairs for about a dozen weeks out of every year. But local Disney collector Ruthie Zarren doesn’t want Disney to have to leave home to be appreciated.

Zarren and her partner Mark Philips have become Disney’s patrons, setting up her gallery and paying the rent.

“I want more people in St. Louis and the Midwest to see her work,” Zarren said.

Credit The Funhouse Gallery
From Theresa Disney's circus collection

Zarren’s made sure that a full-on circus atmosphere will surround Saturday’s opening.

“We have popcorn and peanuts, a fortune teller, a singing gorilla, people on unicycles in full circus regalia directing traffic,” Zarren said. “A lot of interesting people.”


The Funhouse Gallery Opening

Where: 6210 Columbia Avenue in Clifton Heights, 63139

When: 7-10 p.m. Sat., Nov. 8

How much: Free

Information: The Funhouse Gallery website

Follow Nancy Fowler on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL

Nancy is a veteran journalist whose career spans television, radio, print and online media. Her passions include the arts and social justice, and she particularly delights in the stories of people living and working in that intersection.