Archive for Public art in Denver

Two lively current exhibits, organized by History Colorado, complement a lavishly illustrated new book by Stan Kuba (1) and focus attention on the 1928 founding of the Denver Artists’ Guild. The exhibits, featuring the work of many of the 52 founding members, are at the Byers-Evans House Museum and the Kirkland Museum. They will be on view through September 26 and are well worth a visit!



The response of far too many people, on becoming aware of these events, is, “What is the Denver Artists’ Guild? I never heard of it?” Indeed, an article in Westword (June 26, 2015) proclaimed that that these exhibits and the book bring “AN OBSCURE CHAPTER OF LOCAL ART HISTORY TO LIFE.”

If you do not feel as well informed as you would like to be about the Denver Artists’ Guild, now is the perfect time to remedy this deficiency and have a good time in the process. Go see the two exhibits, then spend a few evenings reading the new book on the Guild and marveling at its profuse and handsome illustrations – reproductions of the work of many of the 52 founders of the Denver Artists’ Guild.

Foreword by Hugh Grant (2)
Hugh Grant rightly points out, in his brief and informative foreword, that a 2009 exhibit at the Denver Public Library was the effective forerunner to these current events about the Guild. Stimulated by the research of Deborah Wadsworth, a tireless volunteer in the Western History Department of the DPL, the exhibit Fifty-Two Originals featured work by many of the 52 founders of the Denver Artists Guild. Hugh Grant gave a lecture about the guild at the Denver University School of Art and Art History, “I think practically all of my listeners…were struck by the scope and quality of the 106 works of art representing 42 artists. Because all exhibitions must end, a number of us determined to do something lasting to preserve the history of the guild. This book is the result.”

Introduction by Cynthia Durham Jennings
Information about the Guild, and about the lives and work of the 52 founding Guild members, would be infinitely less complete without the many years of patient research done by Cynthia Durham Jennings. Her research centered at first on her father, Clarence Durham, a major founding member and five-term president of the group. After his death in 1994, Cynthia began looking into his background and his long-standing membership in the Guild, with a view to “writing a book about him to help preserve his legacy.” (3)

As Durham Jennings’ research efforts became more widely known, several individuals seeking information about other founding members approached her. When she realized how little was known about the Guild and its members, she resolved to widen the scope of her project. She recruited two colleagues to help her in what proved to be a time-consuming and difficult task – gathering information about as many of the 52 founding members as was humanly possible. Many of the original members had died or moved away from Denver, some of the women had remarried and acquired new names. On the positive side, family members, when traced, often provided photographs, biographies, and locations of artwork that was photographed. All possible sources, from old scrapbooks kept by Guild members to the Internet, were canvassed.

Rendering of new Kirkland Museum courtesy

Rendering of new Kirkland Museum courtesy

Using the material so gathered, Stan Cuba, Associate Curator of the Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Art, “prepared the members’ biographical entries, helped with the final selection of color reproductions and captioned them, and wrote an extensive historical overview, introducing readers to the general subject of the guild and documenting the heretofore little-known story of its fifty-two founding members.”

Cuba’s Story of the Denver Artists Guild
The Denver Artists Guild – renamed the Colorado Artists’ Guild in 1990 to better describe its area of activity – is the second oldest artists’ organization in Colorado. The oldest is the Denver Art Museum, which had its origins in the Denver Artists’ Club, founded in 1893. The Guild’s original membership included many of the best-known Colorado artists of the day, including Dean Babcock, Albert Bancroft, Donald and Rosa Bear, Frederic Douglas, Clarence Durham, Anne Evans, Gladys Caldwell Fisher, Laura Gilpin, Elsie Haynes, Marion Hendrie, Vance Kirkland, Waldo Love, Albert Olson, Paschal Quackenbush, Anne Van Briggle Ritter, Arnold and Louise Ronnebeck, Paul St.Gaudens, Elisabeth Spalding, David Spivak, John E. Thompson, Allen Tupper True and Frank Vavra.

Artists’ Club of Denver, Denver Public Library, Western History Collection

Artists’ Club of Denver, Denver Public Library, Western History Collection

The mission of the new 1928 organization, as described in the Rocky Mountain News (June 10, 1928) on the occasion of the opening of the Guild’s first exhibit of members’ work, was “To promote a spirit of professional cooperation and maintain a high standard of craftsmanship among the artists of Denver and vicinity, (and) to bring to the attention of the public representative works of these artists in painting, drawing, sculpture, ceramics and the graphic arts (etching, lithography, etc.)”

Development of the Denver Art Museum
In his chapter on the history of the Guild, Cuba tells the story of the evolution of both the Denver Artists Guild the Denver Art Museum. He describes how local Colorado artists were active in the DAM’s programs and played an essential role in its development. But he also makes clear that, as perhaps an inevitable result of the widening sphere of the DAM’s activities, there came a time when it could no longer fulfill the needed function of nurturing and sustaining local artists.

Originally the 1893 Denver Artists Club was an organization of Colorado artists dedicated both to increasing public awareness of the offerings of local artists, and to educating the public about developments in the wider world of art – nationally and internationally. The group sponsored annual juried exhibits, not only of members’ work, but also featuring well-known artists from the East and Midwest. From the beginning, the Club sought Associate Members to augment its financial resources and to help carry out its mission in the wider Denver community. In 1917, feeling that it’s original name was too narrow as a description of its activities, it was renamed the Denver Art Association.

The organization began to collect the beginnings of a permanent art collection, which, until 1922, had to be displayed in galleries of the Museum of Natural History in City Park. In that year, a huge boost in the fortunes of the Art Association came with the donation to it of Chappell House, a large mansion at 1300 Logan. Though falling short of the Art Association’s ultimate objective – a spacious museum on the new Civic Center – Chappell House was an invaluable asset, the DAM’s first real home. In 1923, the Denver Art Association became the Denver Art Museum. It began a long journey, not only to secure its coveted place on the Civic Center, but also to become the official “art arm” of the City and County of Denver. (4)

Chappell House, courtesy

Chappell House, courtesy

A Need that could no longer be Ignored: The Story of the Denver Artists’ Guild
And so, by 1928, the artists of the growing Denver area “felt the need for a successor organization to the Denver Art Association and the Denver Artists Club. They desired the backing of a formally constituted, democratically oriented group open to all Denver-area artists capable of sponsoring their own traveling and annual exhibitions. They also sought to encourage among the city’s artists the same mutual support and enthusiasm they had experienced as members of these two predecessor art groups through monthly meetings and lectures, sketching trips, dinners, and other social events.” (5)

Albert Bancroft, a Colorado native and a well-known Denver artist, was the leader in the 1928 organization of the Denver Artists Guild, ably assisted by two other prominent Denver artists, Dean Babcock and David Spivak. According to Stan Cuba, “Most of Denver’s artists responded to Bancroft’s invitation to join the guild, initially paying annual dues of $15 per person – not an inconsiderable sum at that time. However, when the Great Depression began to negatively impact artists’ incomes, dues dropped to only $3 per year.” (6)

H. David Spivak, 1893 – 1932. DENVER ROOFTOPS. oil on panel Courtesy,

H. David Spivak, 1893 – 1932. DENVER ROOFTOPS. oil on panel

Cuba goes on to describe in detail the structure of the new organization, its lively program of activities for members: weekly Guild meetings, monthly dinner meetings with substantial and informative programs offered by members, sketching trips, sessions of constructive criticism of current members’ works. The Guild, in addition to its artist members, “solicited twenty-two patron members. Their yearly dues of $20 provided the fledgling group with additional capital for its organizational activities, particularly promoting the artist members by funding the Guild’s annual exhibitions…

In the next section of his 37-(large) page essay on THE DENVER ARTISTS GUILD, Its Founding, Activities and Legacy, Cuba describes the work of the Guild and its members through the First World War and the explosion of unconventional modes of artistic expression, the Great Depression, and World Ward II. He describes the locations where the work of many members during this time, in murals, sculpture and paintings, can still be seen – from the State Capitol to the Civic Center, and to restorations of commercial buildings like the newly remodeled former Colorado National Bank Building complete with its original murals. Also he talks of the many art projects executed under the aegis of the Federal Government during the Depression era, in post offices and other public buildings.

1948: A Split in the Artists Guild
Cuba describes the Colorado artists’ version of a split that had been developing locally and nationally, since the beginning of the twentieth century, between traditional painters and those exploring ever more adventurous modes of artistic expression. In Denver, the actual split started with Vance Kirkland, then an important figure on the Denver art scene and the Director of the Denver University School of Art. Vance infuriated Rocky Mountain News reporter Lee Casey with a public comment to the effect that “people who don’t know anything about art should keep quiet.” (7)

Casey responded, in a Rocky Mountain News column, “Painting, as I view it, ought to bear at least some resemblance to what it is supposed to represent, and I can’t see that surrealistic paintings – or, for that matter, the paintings of any other special school since Picasso and Cezanne botched things up – do that… We are, I am confident, advancing beyond the stage when the most-applauded painting might just as well be hung wrong end up. True art is timeless, and within a few years an original Picasso or Cezanne will be valued mainly for the frame. ”

At this point, artist William Sanderson entered the fray. Sanderson was a talented artist and an eloquent teacher at the DU School of Art. He was an active member of the Artists Guild, though not a founding one. His response to Lee Casey was titled “Pioneers in Art.” He wrote, “If the artist (in our society) has the temerity to deviate from the phony formula of “tourist painting,” he is labeled a fake, a zany and generally a moral leper…This part of the country is proud of its pioneer tradition…the term pioneer is not confined to men who rode in covered wagons. Many artists are still trekking across the arid wastes of our intellectual deserts. They have a vision and they hope it is not a mirage. In the meantime, instead of being scalped, the modern artists could use a helping hand once in a while.” (8)

As the Guild’s vice-president and program chairman, Sanderson was experiencing the group’s “underlying conservatism and some members’ disdain for modern art.” Along with Sanderson, four other members seceded from the Guild to join a new group, Fifteen Colorado Artists, which was composed mainly of faculty members from Denver University’s School of Art.

The Guild leadership was a first afraid that the split would permanently fracture the comradeship of Colorado artists. But, in Cuba’s words, “All parties managed to weather the storm. In 1948 both groups displayed simultaneously in adjoining galleries at Chappell House…The Denver Monitor reported that both shows generated unprecedented public interest, confronting their viewers with the controversial questions of modern versus traditional art.” Cuba suggests that in one way the split benefited the Guild: it gained a new sense of unity it had previously lacked, due to “growing controversy within its ranks.”

Over the years, the animosity between Guild and the Fifteen Colorado Artists softened. The Guild began to feature guest artists in its annual shows whose work was far less conservative than that of most of the Guild members. And in 1963, William Sanderson was invited to be one of the jurors for the Guild’s annual exhibition.

Summary: The Contributions of the Founding Members of the Denver Artists’ Guild
It was something of a shock to read the first words of Cuba’s final paragraph in this section of the book: “Although all of the organization’s founding members are deceased…” A shock because I personally knew a number of those members, so this statement is quite a reminder that I have indeed “grown old!”

Cuba concludes by paying a final tribute to these artists, “the art they created and their multi-faceted cultural pursuits remain an integral part of the cultural heritage of Colorado and the Rocky Mountain West.” (9)


1. THE DENVER ARTISTS GUILD: ITS FOUNDING MEMBERS. An Illustrated History by Stan Cuba. Foreword by Hugh Grant. Introduction and Acknowledgements by Cynthia Durham Jennings. Published by History Colorado in 2015.
2. Hugh Grant, Founding Director and Curator, Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Art, Denver.
3. Cynthia Durham Jennings, Introduction and Acknowledgements, p. 10
4. This “journey” is described in my book, Anne Evans, A Pioneer in Colorado’s Cultural Development: THE THINGS THAT LAST WHEN GOLD IS GONE, Barbara Edwards Sternberg with Jennifer Boone and Evelyn Waldron.
5. Stan Cuba, op cit, p. 22
6. Stan Cuba, p. 24
7. Stan Cuba, p. 46
8. Stan Cuba, p. 46-7
9. Stan Cuba, p. 49

On January 27, 2014, the Kirkland Museum announced that it was moving from its historic site at 1311 Pearl Street to a new location at 12th and Bannock. Its new site will put it squarely in Denver’s Golden Triangle Museum District, near the Denver Art and Clyfford Still Museums. Groundbreaking will take place very soon, but before I describe briefly the whys and wherefores of this major new art project, I would like to sketch the character and history of the Kirkland Museum.

An article in the April 27, 2008 issue of the Denver Post asked the question, “Is this Denver’s most interesting Museum?” The subject was what the article’s author, Kyle MacMillan called the “quirky Kirkland Museum.”

According to MacMillan, the Kirkland, when measured by today’s museum standards emphasizing, “the slick, streamlined and structured, is hopelessly out of step. It happily takes a kind of Victorian approach to showing its collections, however modern or contemporary the objects themselves might be.”

They “probably shudder…because of the sheer plethora of objects packed into every conceivable cranny and the seeming disorder of it all…Painting, sculpture, furniture, ceramics, a hodge-podge of now-classic, mass-produced consumer goods from the past hundred years or so; it’s a jarring, if adventurous, place to spend an afternoon.”

“Yet”, says Macmillan, “it all works.” Partly, he guesses, this is because Hugh Grant, the Founding Director and Curator of the Kirkland Museum, “is not a museum director by training. So there is a refreshingly unbridled, free-form approach to everything the Kirkland does.”


Vance Kirkland, Near Evans Ranch, 1935 Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art, Denver.

Vance Kirkland, Near Evans Ranch, 1935 Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art, Denver.

According to the museum’s description of itself, it is “An eclectic assemblage of art, furniture, glassware and other objects, centered on the work and collections of Vance Kirkland (1904-1981) best known for his abstract paintings.”

Kirkland’s original studio, part of the Museum, was built by artist Henry Read and is the second oldest commercial art building in Colorado. It is second only to the Van Briggle Pottery in Colorado Springs. Read was one of the 13 founders of the Denver Artists’ Club in 1893 – the organization that eventually metamorphosed into the Denver Art Museum. The 1911 building was designed in an Arts and Crafts style and served for many years as Read’s own Students’ School of Art.

In the early 1890’s, the University of Denver had a flourishing Department of Art, but between the late 1890’s and 1929, it appears to have gone into eclipse. In 1929, as a result of a rigorous evaluation of all the University’s offerings by a committee headed by Henry Suzzalo, its Report made tough and wide-ranging recommendations for change. One proposal was to add three new new departments – social work, librarianship and fine arts.

Anne Evans, with her lifelong commitment both to Denver University and to the flourishing of the arts in Denver, was an enthusiastic supporter of the revival of a Department of Art – and probably the source of the suggestion that an appropriate head start should be the acquisition by DU of an existing School of Art, the Chappell School. Frederick Hunter, Chancellor of the University, and Henry Suzzalo, author of the ground-breaking Report, traveled to Chicago to interview a promising candidate to head up the new Art Department. This was Vance Kirkland, who was teaching at the Cleveland School of art and widely considered to be a promising young painter.

Vance Kirkland, Evans Ranch Landscape, 1946 Jan Mayer Collection

Vance Kirkland, Evans Ranch Landscape, 1946 Jan Mayer Collection

Kirkland came from Ohio to Denver and in 1929 became head of the new Department. Anne Evans undoubtedly welcomed the arrival of the energetic, creative new figure on Denver’s art scene. But the cordial connection between them was severed in 1932, when Vance made a drastic break from Denver University. This was over D.U.’s refusal to accredit a B.A. degree in art studies alone, which Vance felt to be a betrayal of what he was promised. He left the University, leased Henry Read’s property (which he later bought), and opened the Kirkland School of Art – taking most of his DU students with him. Kirkland arranged for accreditation of his classes by the University of Colorado Extension Center in Denver, thus initiating the art program at what is now UCD – the University of Colorado at Denver.

The Art Department at DU continued, though weakened by Vance’s defection. Anne Evans was appointed to a three-member Advisory Committee to the Department, a post in which she served until her death in 1941.

I was touched by Hugh Grant’s memory of a conversation he had with Vance Kirkland. Like everyone who knew Anne Evans well, Vance was aware, towards the end of 1940, that her days were numbered. He made a decision to visit her. He wanted to tell her how much he appreciated all she had done for the arts and for artists in Denver, and especially how much he admired her incredible efforts to save the old Central City Opera House and establish the summer Festival there. He told Hugh Grant that, as he took Anne’s hand, they both “teared up.” There was a genuine healing of their broken relationship.

Anne Evans died early in 1941. The DU Department of Art continued to operate, though hardly to flourish. In 1946 the Chancellor of the University was able to offer Vance Kirkland satisfactory terms to persuade him to return as head of the Art Department, bringing back to DU his Kirkland Art School students.

Artist Vance Kirkland Director of the D.U. Department of Art. Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Arts Denver

Artist Vance Kirkland Director of the D.U. Department of Art. Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Arts Denver

When my husband and I arrived at the University of Denver Campus in the fall of 1947, we were introduced to Vance and his wife Anne. It was apparent that Vance was heading up a lively and very successful Department.

My husband, Gene Sternberg, had been appointed Associate Professor of Design at the brand-new School of Architecture and Planning. He invested his utmost energies in building up the School – as did the rest of a remarkable faculty. But alas, it was not enough. Denver University had done once again what it did so often in the past – founded an expensive professional program that it did not have the resources to support on a long term basis. The dynamic Director of the school, Carl Feiss, saw the handwriting on the wall and accepted a position at another, more stable, architectural school. Denver University asked Vance Kirkland to step in and take on the leadership position at the School of Architecture, in addition to his duties as head of the Art Department. It was only a matter of time until the School of Architecture and Planning closed its doors – in 1952.

Vance Kirkland continued his leadership role at the growing Denver University Department of Art until his retirement in 1969, all the while continuing his constantly evolving career as a painter and using the 1311 Pearl Street facilities as his studio. After his “retirement,” until his death in 1981, he simply devoted all his energies to painting, constantly creating new ways of expressing what “his mind could see.” Over his lifetime as a painter, Kirkland moved through five distinct styles of expression.

Vance’s wife, Anne, died 1n 1970. Vance soldiered on, greatly helped by the efforts of a young friend, the son of long-time friends and supporters of Vance’s work. This was Hugh Grant, whom Vance eventually nominated as executor of his estate. In 1996, Grant established the Vance Kirkland Foundation to preserve Kirkland’s legacy.

Hugh Grant became the Founding Director of the new Museum, located in Kirkland’s studio and adjunct quarters at 1311 Pearl Street. The unique Museum showcases not only more than 1,000 works by Kirkland, but also the works of contemporary Colorado artists and craftsmen, and a growing assortment, based on Vance Kirkland’s own collection, of “decorative works, many from the Arts and Crafts, Art Nouveau and Art Deco periods, mostly from 1970 through 1980.”

For his activities as Director of the Kirkland Museum the multi-talented Hugh Grant has received many awards. These include the 2015 Citizens of the Arts Award from the Fine Arts Foundation, the 2009 Bonfils-Stanton Foundation Award for Contributions in the Field of Arts and Humanities, the 2000 Historic Denver-Ann Love Award for Historic Preservation and the 1999 Mayor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts. Grant also received more than a dozen awards for his role as Executive Director of three art documentaries aired on PBS stations. The PBS show, Antiques roadshow, was taped at the Kirkland for two days in July, 2009.

Grant studied for two years at Tufts University and completed his B.A. at Colorado State University in1967. In 2003, he received an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Denver. (Information from the Kirkland Museum’s Profile.)

Working through the Kirkland Foundation, Grant has built on Vance Kirkland’s collection of Colorado and Regional Art, a collection which now includes over 650 work by more than 200 artists. He has also expanded Vance’s own collection of International Decorative Art to what is now recognized as one of the most important such displays in North America. The collection concentrates on work from approx. 1875 to c. 1900. (Information in this section from the Kirkland Museum’s Profile of Grant.)

There are three huge advantages of the new site over the existing one.

First is the factor of exposure. Charming as the 1311 Pearl St, location is, it is out of the mainstream of cultural traffic. The site at 12th and Bannock will put the Kirkland right into the lively circle of central Denver cultural venues – the History Museum, the central Denver Public Library, the Byers Evans House Museum, the buildings comprising the Denver Art Museum, and the Clyfford Still Museum. The Kirkland Museum, which already attracts an unexpectedly high volume of visitors, will see a great increase in numbers.

Second is the always important matter of parking, which is distinctly limited in the current location. The Museum was fortunate to have the resources to purchase a 26,000 square-foot space for parking, adjacent to the new Museum site.

And last, but by no means least, the new structure will double the size of the existing gallery space at the Pearl Street location. According to one report, the Museum will have “19,000 square feet to show off its collection of 15,000 objects by such names as Frank Lloyd Wright, Frank Gehry, Andy Warhol, Eero Saarinen, Philip Johnson and Mies Van der Rohe.”
(“Move to new digs a big deal for Denver’s Kirkland Museum”, article in Denver Post, 1/27/2014.)

New Kirkland Museum

The new Kirkland Museum from

The Chambers Family Fund, headed by Hugh Grant’s wife, Merle Chambers, will supply the funding for the new Museum. The Fund is well-known in Colorado as a generous donor to museums, theaters and performing companies throughout the state. It was a major contributor to the Ellie Caulkins Opera House and the Clyfford Still Museum.

The new building will be designed by Olson Kundig Architects, a Seattle firm with what Denver Post Fine Arts Critic Ray Mark Rinaldi describes as “a distinguished resume of residential and civic projects.” (“Move to new digs a big deal for Denver’s Kirkland Museum” article in Denver Post 1/27/2014.)

Important for lovers of the existing Kirkland Museum is the news that the new building will incorporate Kirkland’s entire studio, “bricks and all,” into the new building. This contains the structure where Vance managed to hover above his laborious “dot paintings,” and work on them for hours, supported by an ingenious system of straps.

Amid all its recent coverage of the rebirth of Denver’s Union Station, with its “$54 million addition of “a hotel, shops, restaurants and bars” (1), the Denver Post made a little excursion into our city’s early history. They reminded readers that, more than a century before the 1980’s, when the city “was choking on a brown cloud of pollution and struggling with a decaying downtown and a sputtering economy,”(2) a gleeful leader in a rival city had pronounced Denver “too dead to bury.”(3)

The year was 1865, and Denver’s leaders had lost the battle to have the transcontinental railroad routed over the mountains and through their city. The Union Pacific Railroad understandably took the easier course through Cheyenne, Wyoming. Denver’s economy, already adversely affected by the Civil War and the stagnation of gold mining, plunged into what could have been a death spiral. Population declined, business dwindled. The dire economic times forced the Colorado Seminary, forerunner of the University of Denver – which had opened with high hopes in 1864 – to close its doors.

Denver - Union StationThe city’s economic turnaround was largely due to the stubborn and persistent efforts of one man, John Evans. At the time, Evans was embroiled in his own serious troubles following the October,1864 Sand Creek Massacre, the issue over which he lost his position as Colorado’s Territorial Governor. Nevertheless, when “a representative of the Union Pacific came to Denver…in 1867 to suggest that the businessmen of Denver should form a railroad company and build a line to Cheyenne with help from the Union Pacific, there was an immediate response from men like David Moffat, John Evans and William Byers.”(4)

In my book, I describe the almost superhuman efforts of John Evans to assure the success of this venture, involving “an overwhelming series of financial organizations and reorganizations, contracts with construction companies, and congressional lobbying to secure land grants. At one point, with no prospects and construction at a complete standstill, Evans resigned as president of the board of directors and signed a contract to build the railroad and pay off its debts. At the beginning of 1870, Evans again became President of the Denver Pacific Railroad, and was on hand at the Denver Depot. when the tracks finally reached the city on June 23, 1870.“(5)

The first incarnation of the Denver Union Station opened in 1881 – described as an Italianate structure with two stories and an 180-foot tower. The center section burned in 1894, and the entire structure was razed in 1914 to make room for the new neoclassical station which opened in 1917.

1 Jaffe, Mark, “Denver’s renovated Union Station has been a 30-year barn-raising,” Denver Post, Business Section, pg 1 Sunday, July 13, 2014.
2 Ibid
3 Ibid
4 Sternberg, Barbara E. with Jennifer Boone and Evelyn Waldron. Anne Evans – A Pioneer in Colorado’s Cultural History: THE THINGS THAT LAST WHEN GOLD IS GONE. Evergreen: Buffalo Park Press with Center for Colorado and the West Auraria Library. 2011. pg 77.
5 Ibid. pp 77-78


The Event that Deeply Divided Sculptor Arnold Ronnebeck and Anne Evans

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Church Fire Spares Ronnebeck Sculpture
At 3:02 a.m. on the morning of Monday, May 13, 2013, the Denver Fire Department was called to a fire at the Episcopalian Church of the Ascension at 6th and Gilpin. The fire, which had started among some bushes outside the church, had spread to the inside.

The Ascension by Arnold Ronnebeck, 1931.

The Ascension by Arnold Ronnebeck, 1931.

According to the Denver Post, the building sustained heavy smoke damage and one of the stained glass windows was shattered. But the “massive wood carving over the altar was untouched. Beloved by church members, it was created by Arnold Ronnebeck, a German-American artist…

About Arnold Ronnebeck
Arnold Ronnebeck was born in Prussia in 1885 to a well-educated family. He studied art in Berlin and Munich and then moved to Paris, deciding to focus on sculpture. He studied with Maillot and Bourdelle and attended Gertrude Stein’s salons where he met Mabel Dodge, Pablo Picasso and American painters Charles DeMuth and Marsden Hartley. After serving in the German army in World War 1, he came to New York in 1922 where he was welcomed into Albert Stieglitz’s circle of avant garde American artists. Ronnebeck was a skilled lithographer and prolific writer about artistic subjects, as well as a fine sculptor.

In 1925, Ronnebeck made a visit to Mabel Dodge Luhan in Taos, New Mexico, at her home, an artists’ gathering place. There he met Philadelphia painter, Louise Emerson, whom he married the following year in New York. The couple were making a trip west on their honeymoon, and stopped in Denver.

Anne Evans and Arnold Ronnebeck
By 1926 what had started out in 1893 as the Denver Artists’ Association had matured into the Denver Art Museum. Some of Ronnebeck’s sculpture had been exhibited in its galleries and he was invited to give a pubic lecture on his own sculpture, and on modern sculpture in general. The lecture was well-received and Ronnebeck was invited by the Museum’s Director to serve as its Art Advisor. The Ronnebecks moved to Denver, and remained here for the rest of their lives. Since Anne Evans had been on the Board of Trustees of the art group continuously since 1896, and was deeply involved in all its activities, it is certain that she was involved in Ronnebeck’s appointment, and welcomed the new additions to the artistic life of Denver. Of her many interactions with the multi- talented Arnold Ronnebeck, I shall here highlight three:

  • Not long after Ronnebeck was named Art advisor to the Art Museum, the Director, George William Eggers, resigned. With no change in his title, Ronnebeck was placed in charge of the Museum. He brought a prestigious show by his French mentor, Aristide Maillol, to Denver and persuaded the Trustees to purchase a cast of a life-size Maillol bronze nude. In 1929, the Board appointed Samuel Heavenrich, former curator of Harvard’s Fogg Museum, as executive secretary to take over museum operations. Unfortunately, the two men were soon at loggerheads over what were the functions of an art museum and what kind of art the Denver Art Museum should be collecting. When their disagreements spilled out into the press, their services were terminated. The Board turned to long-serving trustee Anne Evans to take over as Interim Director until a qualified successor was found.
Bronze bust of Anne Evans by Arnold Ronnebeck, 1932. Denver Art Museum.

Bronze bust of Anne Evans by Arnold Ronnebeck, 1932. Denver Art Museum.

  • This episode could have resulted in a cooling of relations between Ronnebeck and Evans, but obviously it did not. Ronnebeck was soon deeply involved in Anne Evans’ Central City project. The renovation of the old Opera House and initiation of the summer festival there was the project in which she, and her equally capable friend Ida Kruse MacFarlane, invested the last years of their lives. Ronnebeck was a talented actor and played a substantial role in the 1932 Festival debut play, Camille. Ronnebeck was also the sculptor of a fine bronze bust of Anne Evans, which was presented by friends to the Denver Art Museum in 1933 in recognition of her dedication to the advancement of art in Denver.
  • But then came the event that did deeply divide Arnold Ronnebeck and Anne Evans. This was over the design of a memorial to Mayor Robert Speer to be placed on the Civic Center. It was 1933. Vaso Chucovich, a Denver business man and friend of Mayor Speer, left $100,000 in his will to pay for the memorial. The design had to be approved by the Denver Art Commission, of which Anne Evans was a long-time member. I will not here recount the many unsuccessful attempts made to select a sculptor, but in the end the Trustees of the Chucovich Estate selected a design by Arnold Ronnebeck. Anne Evans declared it a sculptured atrocity and said, in so many words, that over her dead body would it be placed on the Civic Center. You will see no Speer memorial sculpture on the Civic Center. In the end, Mayor Stapleton persuaded the Trustees that it would be more appropriate to spend the money on a greatly needed Children’s Wing at Denver General Hospital.
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There is a lively current controversy about the sculpture of a fiery-eyed Blue Mustang, prominently located at the Denver International Airport. Does it welcome or repel visitors? Should it stay or be moved elsewhere (preferably out of public sight)? Is it a masterpiece or a disaster?

This very public debate reminds me of the only time – during her lifetime of involvement in the development of public art in Denver – that Anne Evans got publicly angry, and came out swinging at the opposition to her point of view.


Robert Speer, Courtesy History Colorado

It was 1937, and at issue was the choice of a piece of sculpture to be placed in the Civic Center as a memorial to Mayor Robert Speer. The whole story is a complex one, lasting several years and involving a number of players, which is told in detail in my book about Anne Evans. (Chapter 16, The Dream of a Civic Center) But the point of interest here is that a rather bitter public battle developed between Mayor Ben Stapleton, who favored a design by Denver sculptor Arnold Ronnebeck, and Anne Evans, a prominent member of the Denver Art Commission, who was vehemently opposed to Ronnebeck’s proposal, calling it a “sculptured monstrosity.”

Mayor Stapleton demanded that the Commission approve the Ronnebeck design. The Commission refused. The Mayor knew that the main opposition came from Anne Evans. Perhaps reluctant to act against so well-respected a public figure, he did not directly take action against Anne but removed two of her known supporters from the Commission. Anne was furious. She resigned from the Art Commission and expressed her views loudly and clearly in interviews by the local press.

She considered the Mayor’s removal of her two fellow Commissioners as completely unjustified. In an interview with the Denver Post she said, “If a person who has been honored with appointment to a responsible position, as were these two colleagues of mine on the Commission, is dropped for no reason whatsoever and contrary to law, I propose to ask ‘WHY?’ as loud as I can and keep on asking.”

The Post article, headlined GOVERNOR EVANS WOULD BE PROUD OF DAUGHTER ANNE, shows four photographs of Anne Evans, with a caption under each. One is, “I don’t care what the mayor or the governor says, the art commission must be kept free of political wire-pulling.” Another, on the phone, “You needn’t shout. Whether I am on the commission or off, the civic center is going to be kept free of sculptured atrocities.”

I suppose one could say that Anne Evans won this battle. There is no sculpture on the Civic Center commemorating its major creator. Mayor Stapleton came up with an alternative proposal, persuading the private donors who were funding the Speer Memorial that it would be more appropriate to build a much needed Children’s Wing for Denver General Hospital.

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