This piece is part of "Cat People of the Outer Regions," a collection featuring the art of Karen Kuyendall

While awaiting its promised new home in the downtown federal building, the Mesa Historical Museum is pushing new – even bizarre – ways to tell the region’s story.

A more traditional approach is reflected in the museum’s famed “Play Ball” exhibit, which details the rich history of professional baseball in the Valley dating to the early 20th century.

“Play Ball” first appeared in 2008, when the museum still was open to the public in the 1913 Lehi School in north Mesa. Since then, it has been displayed in numerous spots around the Valley. Until April 4, it will be at the Scottsdale Civic Center Library, 3839 N. Drinkwater Blvd.

Then, there is the far-out world that greets visitors to the museum’s downtown Mesa showroom at 51 E. Main St.

“Cat People of the Outer Regions” is the creation of Karen Kuykendall, who lived in Casa Grande. According to museum director Lisa Anderson, Kuykendall was a groundbreaking science-fiction artist in the 1970s.

The exhibit includes paintings of a cat-centric alternative universe that reflected the artist’s own devotion to the species, as well as a trove of related artifacts that Kuykendall collected over the years.

When she died in 1998 without heirs, Anderson said, the city of Mesa acquired the material, which the historical society has been storing at its Lehi campus.

Anderson said visitors are asked to do more than just look at the stuff. They’re asked to contemplate why people collect what they do, to define the boundaries of eccentricity, to weigh whether such material should even be in a museum.

“The exhibit reflects the drift of the proposed downtown museum” in Mesa’s federal building, Anderson said. That museum, if it’s built, would include numerous interactive futures designed to help people create their own experience of the past and their visions for the future.

The Kuykendall exhibit also reflects the historical society’s recent push beyond Mesa to embrace stories from the region at large, Anderson said.

Strange as the cat exhibit is, Anderson said, it’s not as strange as Kuykendall’s demise.

“She died in Casa Grande in her house, and she was alone, and her cats ate her,” Anderson said. “So, she was consumed by her own passion.”

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