Mar
31

Ground Breaking Soon for New Building for “Denver’s Most Interesting Museum”

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GROUND BREAKING SOON FOR NEW BUILDING FOR “DENVER’S MOST INTERESTING MUSEUM”
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.

THE “QUIRKY KIRKLAND”
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.”

WHAT’S UNIQUE ABOUT THE KIRKLAND?
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.”

IMAGINING THE REACTIONS OF CONTEMPORARY MUSEUM CURATORS -AS WELL AS THOSE OF MUCH OF THE GENERAL PUBLIC – TO THE KIRKLAND’S DISPLAYS!
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.”

WHAT EXACTLY IS THE KIRKLAND MUSEUM?

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.”

A BIT OF HISTORY
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.

THE UNIVERSITY OF DENVER’S DEPARTMENT 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 AND VANCE KIRKLAND
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.

A MOVING RECONCILIATION
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.

VANCE KIRKLAND RETURNS TO DU
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.

KIRKLAND RETIRES – TO BECOME A FULL-TIME ARTIST
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.

KIRKLAND MUSEUM OF FINE AND DECORATIVE ART OPENS ITS DOORS IN 2003
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.”

ABOUT HUGH GRANT
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.)

ADVANTAGES OF NEW SITE FOR THE KIRKLAND MUSEUM
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 kirklandmuseum.org

CHAMBERS FAMILY FUND – MAJOR SOURCE OF FUNDING FOR NEW MUSEUM
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.

DESIGN OF NEW KIRKLAND MUSEUM QUARTERS
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.

Comments

  1. Greg Dobbs says:

    This is nice news for Denver on several levels. We came in 1986 and “Cow Town” still stuck. Today’s that’s just a memory. Thanks Barbara.

    • Barbara E. Sternberg says:

      Dear Greg,
      Too bad about the “Cow Town”, but we still have the Stock Show. Of course we are all enjoying the flowering of Denver as a true cultural center, which Governor John Evans envisioned in the early 1860’s when he said, “Denver will be one of the great cities of America.” His daughter Anne spent her life building the cultural infrastructure for what we all enjoy today.
      Barbara

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The book may be obtained through Buffalo Park Press

For information, email info@anne-evans.com or call 303-894-0269.
This project is co-published with the Center for Colorado and the West Auraria Library.
© 2011-2012 By Barbara Sternberg. All right reserved.