Kirkland Museum is Denver treasure

Collection of about 30,000 objects remains in rotation

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On the northwest corner of Bannock Street and 12th Avenue in Denver, bright yellow ceramic tiles beckon to anyone who can see them. They mark the entrance to the Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Art, where the visitor will find more than 30,000 works by more than 1,500 artists who worked from 1845 to the present.

Three main collections include Kirkland’s collection of decorative arts, Kirkland’s own works and works by recent Colorado artists. Colorado artist Vance Kirkland (1904-1981) had a studio and art school at 13th and Curtis Streets in Denver, which became a focus for many area artists to learn — and also to hang out with like-minded souls. Kirkland was also head of the Art Department at the University of Denver and instrumental in the development of contemporary arts in Denver.

In November 2016, Kirkland’s Pearl Street studio was raised and loaded on a steel framework with wheels and on a Sunday, when traffic was at its calmest, slowly moved across Denver to the present Bannock Street location, where funding by the Merle Chambers Fund settled it at a new location, attaching the studio to a long, low building where the collection could expand into special exhibitions in the center of Denver’s Golden Triangle Arts District.

The original studio is oriented as it was originally, with studio windows facing north and a large flat table holding paintings. Suspended above the table is a series of leather straps, on which Kirkland lay flat to paint, so he could reach across his large canvases. He used special mixes of paints and alcohol, pouring, dripping and painting with assorted sizes of wooden dowels in addition to brushes.

Many of Kirkland’s paintings seem to refer to constellations and include vibrant pigments.

Funding for the move was provided by the Merle Chambers Fund, the charity operated by one of Denver’s important philanthropists, who was especially supportive of the arts, as well as her commitment to community and social justice. Museum director Hugh Grant, a close friend of Kirkland’s, was willed the majority of Kirkland’s estate after the artist died in 1981 and became executor of the estate. He and Merle Chambers were married from 1989 to 2017.

Grant was concerned that no other local museum was exhibiting Colorado’s decorative art in depth and feared those artists, including Edgar Britton (who lived and worked in Littleton) and Otto Bach, would be forgotten. More recently, works by other area artists, including rita derjue and Craig Marshall Smith, have been added to the collection, which has over 7,000 works by 700 artists — a truly unique resource for Denver.

Grant set up a Vance Kirkland Foundation and toured Kirkland’s collection to nine European countries while construction began on the addition to the studio building, which would hold display space for the unique collection. Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Art opened on April 2, 2003, offering a unique addition to the already busy Golden Triangle District in Denver, just west of the Denver Art Museum.

The Kirkland Museum opened on March 10, 2018 and has 4,400 works on view at any given time, rotating the collection, which is constantly increasing. (Estimated at over 30,000 objects.) Works are displayed in vignettes that may include a chair, table, lamp, glass bowl and silverware.

A look at the website offers photos of a wide range of International decorative art, (1875 to 1990) labeled as to origin and material. Art Nouveau, Arts and Crafts Movement, Glasgow Style, Wiener Werkstatte, De Stijl, Bauhaus, Art Deco, Modern, Pop Art, Postmodern ...

Photos include a bentwood armchair by Gerald Summers (1890-19676); a Dutch end table by Gerrat Rietveld (1888-1964); a Bauhaus Telefon; Japanese butterfly stool by Sori Yanagi (1915-2011); a Finnish laminated platter by Tapio Wirkkala (1915-1985).

These influence design in our homes today, yet are certainly works of art!

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