Jun
05

The Event that Deeply Divided Sculptor Arnold Ronnebeck and Anne Evans

By

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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