1History of Colorado Art, from Traditional through Modern at Kirkland MuseumBy Hugh Grant, Founding Director and Curator, Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative ArtEarly Colorado ArtVisitors and even residents of Colorado may not be aware of this state‘s illustrious art history,upon which living artists continue to build an even greater legacy. Colorado‘s place in American art ranksvery high among the fifty states, probably in the top 10, not only because of the important artists whomade this state their home, but because of the famous artists who visited and worked here includingGeorge Caleb Bingham, Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Moran, Frederick Remington, Hamilton Hamilton,Robert Reid, Frederick MacMonnies, Alexander Phimister Proctor, Birger Sandzén, Ernest Lawson, JanetLippincott, Jackson Pollock and Robert Motherwell to name a few.Colorado art began with Native American works, which can be seen at the Denver Art Museum.The first non-native artist was Samuel Seymour who arrived in Colorado in the summer of 1820 with thegovernment expedition of Major Stephen Long, who would name Longs Peak. The difficulty of travelingthrough Colorado with its Rocky Mountains, in addition to the hostilities between the settlers andAmerican Indians, discouraged visitors for many years. Also greatly impeding homesteading anddevelopment of the West was the fact that Major Long had described much of the area west of theMississippi and east of the Rocky Mountains as ―The Great American Desert‖.Colorado is Settled and Attracts ArtistsIt was the 1858 Pikes Peak Gold Rush and discovery of gold along Cherry Creek which firstbrought many new people to Colorado, including artists. The accomplished painter John Howland cameto Colorado in 1859 and stayed, with more to follow. At first, most of the artists earned a meager livingby executing murals and paintings for saloons and hotels and selling paintings to sparse residents andtourists. A few fortunate ones painted scenes of Colorado for eastern magazines, such as Albert Bierstadt(in 1863 and 1876-7) and Thomas Moran (in 1874, 1881 and 1892). With the end of the Civil War (1861–1865) travel became easier. Several Hudson River School artists worked in Colorado including T.Worthington Whittredge in 1866 and 1870-71 and John Kensett in 1870. By the 1870s, the towns ofColorado became increasingly cultural, making it possible for more artists to make a living through theirartwork and also by teaching.The Territory of Colorado was designated in 1861 and Colorado became a state in 1876. Artiststook up residence in Colorado including Charles Stobie (in 1865), Alexis Comparet (1868), Richard Tallant(1870), Helen Henderson Chain (1871), Walter Paris (1871), Charles Partridge Adams (1876), Harvey OtisYoung (1879), Charles Craig (1881), William Bancroft (1881) and others. One of our distinguishedmuralists, Allen True, was born in Colorado Springs in 1881.Art Organizations and SchoolsArt organizations began to appear in Colorado. In 1880 the University of Denver‘s College ofMusic offered drawing and painting courses taught by Ida De Steiguer. From 1883–1885 she was theDean of the College of Fine Arts; from 1884–1887 she was listed as the Principal of the Department ofFine Arts. In 1893 the Denver Artist‘s Club was founded by 13 artists, later becoming the Denver ArtAssociation in 1917 and then the Denver Art Museum in 1923. English painter and teacher Henry Readopened his Students‘ School of Art in 1895 in Denver, at which point the University of Denver‘s ArtSchool only retained Ida De Steiguer to continue to teach art classes. Read had come to Denver in 1890,
2and became one of the 13 founders of the Denver Artist‘s Club in 1893. In 1910-1911 he constructed afreestanding building for his Students‘ School of Art at 1311 Pearl Street, which is now Kirkland Museum.Modernism Arrives in ColoradoJohn Thompson (1882–1945) was the first modernist artist in Colorado, though his later worksbecame more stylistically conservative. Born in Buffalo, New York, he studied in New York City and thenin Europe from 1902 until the beginning of World War I, where he saw the Paul Cézanne retrospective inParis in 1907. He initially came to Colorado in 1914, returning permanently in 1917. Jozef Bakos (1891–1977) had been Thompson‘s student in Buffalo and followed him to Colorado. Bakos began teaching atthe School of Art of the University of Colorado in Boulder in 1919. In 1921 Bakos and Walter Mruk—bothin the Denver Armory Show—along with Fremont Ellis, Willard Nash, and Will Schuster, formed SantaFe‘s first modernist art group, Los Cinco Pintores (―The Five Painters‖).The Denver Armory ShowStrong divisions arose over the styles of impressionism, mild fauvism and restrained cubism when,in 1919, a landmark exhibition was held at the Denver Public Library. Innocently called the Twenty-fifthAnnual Exhibition of the Denver Art Association (which was to be renamed the Denver Art Museum in1923), it was subsequently and notoriously nicknamed The Denver Armory Show, a reference to the 1913New York Armory Show that shocked America. The Denver exhibition provoked strong reaction from thepress and the public although, to our eyes today, the paintings in the show do not look particularlyadventurous. But at that time the headlines in the Rocky Mountain News blared ―Bolshevism in Art” (April17, 1919) and ―Library Art Exhibit Called ‗Fraud‘ and ‗Monstrosity‘ by Two Writers” (April 20, 1919).Broadmoor Art AcademyIn 1919, the Broadmoor Art Academy was founded in Colorado Springs, evolving into theColorado Springs Fine Arts Center in 1935. The art colony became a major force in art instruction andnational art activity, somewhat overshadowing Denver until the mid-1940s. The Center‘s influence thenbegan to wane because it did not encourage abstraction and was not attached to a degree-grantingacademic institution. Although a few of the teachers, such as Jean Charlot, Mary Chenoweth, andEmerson Woelffer, were open to modernism by the late 1940s and 1950s, the Center closed its school inthe early 1960s. Some of the faculty, including Chenoweth, then began the Department of Art atColorado College in Colorado Springs. The Academy‘s famous teachers included Lawrence Barrett,George Biddle, Arnold Blanch, Edgar Britton, John Carlson, Adolf Dehn, Otis Dozier, Laura Gilpin, YasuoKuniyoshi, Ernest Lawson, Charles Wheeler Locke, Frank Mechau, Robert Motherwell, Henry VarnumPoor, Robert Reid, Boardman Robinson, and Birger Sandzén.Artist Groups in Boulder and DenverThe Boulder Art Association, founded in 1923, continues today. The Boulder Artists‘ Guild wasoperating by 1926 and seems to have dispersed in the late 1940s. The Armory Group, formed in Boulderin 1966, consisted of University of Colorado students such as Clark Richert, Margaret Neumann, DaleChisman, John DeAndrea, John Fudge, and one faculty member, George Woodman (about 15 in all).In 1928, fifty-two charter members of the newly established Denver Artists Guild participated in itsinaugural exhibition. Founding members of the Guild included Donald Bear, Clarence Durham, LauraGilpin, Robert Graham, Elsie Haddon Haynes, Vance Kirkland, Albert Olson, Anne Van Briggle Ritter,Arnold and Louise Rönnebeck, Francis Drexel Smith, Elisabeth Spalding, David Spivak, Margaret Tee,
3John Thompson, Allen True, and Frank Vavra. The Denver Artists Guild continues to operate today underthe name Colorado Artists Guild, to reflect its wide spread membership.15 Colorado ArtistsIn 1948, the traditional Denver Artists Guild was fractured, but continued to operate, when someof its more modern artists broke away. Others joined the renegade group and, calling themselves 15Colorado Artists, they requested and received a rival exhibition at the Denver Art Museum—at the sametime and across the hall from the Guild‘s annual exhibition. This controversy recalls the earlier heateddebate touched off by the 1919 Denver Armory Show about the validity of modernism. Denverexemplified the widespread disputes about abstraction superseding traditional painting that occured inAmerica during the 1920s, then regionalism holding sway over abstraction in the 1930s, and thedominance of modern art forms that was established in the 1940s. The Denver Artists Guild‘s 1948schism was a seminal moment in Colorado art history, when the moderns formally broke with thetraditionalists. Eleven articles about the break appeared in the newspapers. People came in droves to thetwo dueling exhibitions. They chose sides. The Colorado art war was on.The 15 Colorado Artists were Don Allen, John Billmyer, Marion Buchan, Jean Charlot, Mina Conant,Angelo di Benedetto, Eo (Eva Lucille) Kirchner, Vance Kirkland, Moritz Krieg, Duard Marshall, LouiseEmerson Ronnebeck (recently widowed), William Sanderson, Paul K. Smith, J. Richard Sorby and FrankVavra, ten of whom taught at the University of Denver. At this time, Charlot was head of the ColoradoSprings Fine Arts Center art school (1947–49) and Kirkland was director of the University of DenverSchool of Art (1929–32, 1946–69).Vance Kirkland and the University of DenverThe Chappell School of Art operated at Thirteenth Avenue and Logan Street in Denver from 1924to 1928 with H. A. W. (Jack) Manard as its founding director. The University of Denver then purchasedthe Chappell School with a grant from the Carnegie Foundation and hired Ohio painter Vance Kirkland(1904–81), who at age twenty-four became the founding director of the present University of DenverSchool of Art, which opened on January 3, 1929. With the faculty that he both developed and inheritedfrom the former Chappell School, Kirkland encouraged modern art forms and effected a shift of thestate‘s art center from Colorado Springs to Denver in the mid-1940s.In 1932, as Kirkland‘s senior students approached graduation, the university refused to give creditfor art courses toward degrees. Kirkland resigned and began the Kirkland School of Art in Henry Read‘sold art school building two blocks east of Chappell House (now Kirkland Museum of Fine & DecorativeArt). By 1933, Kirkland had an agreement with the University of Colorado ―Denver extension‖ (UCD) thathis students could get credit there toward graduation for their art courses. He thereby also founded theUCD art department and initiated its art program. Kirkland was then 28 years old.In 1946, when Kirkland had more than two hundred students, the University of Denver hired himback with a salary equal to the chancellor‘s. Over the years Kirkland‘s faculty included three directors ofthe Denver Art Museum who were also very fine artists: Arnold Rönnebeck (director 1926–30), DonaldBear (director 1934–40), and Otto Bach (director 1944–74). Many other important artists taught withKirkland including Julio de Diego, Roger Kotoske, Barbara Locketz, Robert Mangold, Frank Mechau, AnneVan Briggle Ritter, Beverly Rosen, William Sanderson, Margaret Tee, John Thompson, Maynard Tischler,and Frank Vavra.Surrealism and Abstraction in Colorado
5Artistic Styles: This exhibition explores an evolution of Colorado art styles, particularly as onemoves clockwise around the smaller Exhibition Room II. Five principal styles—Early Traditionalism(Realism and Impressionism), Modernist Regionalism, Surrealism, Referential Abstraction and PureAbstraction—are shown in groups. Further works in these styles can be seen throughout the rest ofKirkland Museum.Kirkland Museum does not show Contemporary style art because those works can be seenin many other places around Denver including the Denver Art Museum, the Museum of ContemporaryArt—Denver, the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art and a majority of the galleries. At KirklandMuseum, visitors can see, in depth, the history of Colorado art from traditional through modern, whichhas provided the foundation for contemporary artists. As the modern era waned, Post-modern andContemporary art began to take its place from about 1970 to 1980.The classification of paintings as Early Traditionalism (Realism and Impressionism) setsthem apart from the works of artists who continued to paint realistically in the later 20thand 21stcenturies.Regionalism, also known as American Scene Painting, portrayed American subjects with anentirely American approach (mid 1920s—mid 1940s). Famous examples are paintings by Thomas HartBenton, Grant Wood and others, although Regionalism was not limited to the mid-west. Vintageregionalist paintings are stylized to the extent that they are not Realism or Impressionism, but they arestill representational and not abstract. Since the term Regionalism can apply to any artwork done toportray a particular region at any time, vintage regional paintings are additionally referred to here asModernist Regionalism, which is a more descriptive term than Regionalism. These paintingsrepresent an early style of modernism and they are not ―realistic Regionalism‖ or ―impressionisticRegionalism.‖ Starting in the 1940s, Regionalism became largely displaced by abstract art and, to a lesserextent, surrealism.Surrealism began in France and grew out of the atrocities of WW I. It spread through Europe,then to America, resulting in the 1936 exhibition Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism given at New York‘sMuseum of Modern Art. Surrealism portrays real, actual things and scenes, but then distorts, alters oreerily transforms the images, or puts things together in unnatural ways so that scenes become surreal.The surrealists felt that what appears to be real isn‘t; how people portray themselves is often notrepresentative of their true nature; reality lies in our subconscious. Surrealist images are therefore likedreams or frequently like nightmares, or sometimes whimsical and humorous.Referential Abstraction denotes art that abstracts something but the viewer can still tell whatit is; the abstraction refers to something. Pure Abstraction, also called Non-objective Art, does notseek to abstract identifiable things, but to create feelings and/or movement and/or optical effects, usingline, form, color, texture and other elements.