Monday, October 29, 2018

--- Pride of Place: Denver's History of Public Art ---

It's interesting to see how much of the forces that drove New Haven's public art movement (described in Melissa Sand's section of Pride of Place: New Haven Material and Visual Culture - Discovering New Haven's History of Public Art. accessed 10/15/2018)  also drove Denver's. Of course, from the first (which is much more recent than New Haven's "first", Denver worked hard for recognition as a cultural center, but the early steps were rather amateurish.

What really jump started the public arts movement (in the whole United States) was the New Deal Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) of the 1930s. This brought such works as the two Gladys Caldwell Fisher sculptures at the Byron White courthouse, Rocky Mountain Sheep and White Ram, and the Hugh Weller East High School murals.

The Federal Art Project of the 30s and 40s provided further impetus that continues to the current day. Much of the art in Denver was funded through these government programs. Denver's Public Art Program was established in 1988. It directs that one percent of any capital improvement project costing over one million dollars must be set aside for public art to be included in these projects.

Public art intersects intensively with both culture, politics, and history. I attended a presentation on the history of southwestern Denver and a topic that was brought up was the survival of neon sign art from the 50s.

                                                            [Voorhies memorial]

The Voorhies Memorial was placed in the northern section of Denver's Civic Center Park in 1919. Funded by John Voorhies, it was to be a memorial gateway. The ensemble includes the Greek Theater and Colonnade of Civic Benefactors. Water features and ancient-style murals break the powerful architecture. The colonnade was designed by William E. Fisher and Arthur A. Fisher, and the Greek Theater was designed by Willis A. Marean and Albert J. Norton. These architects were active in many of the early architectural projects in Denver including the Cheesman Park Pavilion, the Governor's Mansion, and the Brown Palace Hotel.

The memorial would fit quite well in the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The sheer size of solidity exudes pomp and power.

It is interesting that two different architectural firms came together to create such a unity of form, a testament to early Denver's vision of a cultural center for the West. I keep saying "early Denver" but keep in mind that Denver itself is a recent city when compared to the centuries older cities of the east and much more ancient cities of the rest of the world.

The creation captures a classical style while addressing local topics, such as the murals, "The Trapper" and "The Prospector" in the Greek Theater, modernistic works that, nevertheless, fit well into the feeling of ancient splendor. They do point to the idea that the triumphant sentiment reflects the conquest of nature - the West - instead of a conquest of nations, a sentiment that would have been appreciated at the turn of the century at the beginning of World War I (1914).

The animal heads in the photographs are a recent exhibition based on the Chinese Zodiac.

                                                                   [Mural - Alameda]

This mural, painted by Yulia Avgustinovich, is at the intersection of Santa F Drive and West Alameda Avenue. Called "Viva Colorado", it incorporates characteristically Coloradan elements including the state animal (bighorn sheep), bird (lark bunting), flower (columbine), cactus (claret cup) and insect (Colorado hairstreak butterfly), mountains, and a pioneer wagon. There is also a fish that I take to be a green cutthroat trout ( the Colorado state fish) and a blanket in Native American pattern. And above it all the trademark Colorado sun (I swear it's a different sun that what I was used to back east.)

There is a detailed description of the mural on the artist's website.

The pale pastels give the mural a dreamlike quality and I can't help thinking about the writings of Carlos Castenada when I see that spooky looking, blue eyed bighorn. Of course, that might just be me - I've had a lot of spooky in my life. Certainly an artwork will draw drastically different associations from different people.

Obviously, this mural is blatantly about Colorado. One motivation the artist mentions in creating the work was to beautify a previously ugly wall.

The pioneers portrayed are not the usual "Old West" stock. One is, maybe, Spanish, playing a guitar, and the other strikes me as, perhaps German, blowing a horn. The small dog seems rather, unimpressed. The horse practically gambols. It all has an antique feel to it but there are modern cityscapes here also. Colorado - nature, history, culture - seems compressed into one here. The pioneers could be modern city dwellers.Anachronism can be used in artworks to tie the past with the present. Unlike (what seems to me) the electric, "edgy" (despite the picnickers) mural at Alameda station, this mural is endowed with an almost mystical peacefulness.

Most of these murals seem to be unaffected by political motives of patrons, and if Denver commissioned them and said, "paint what you want." In this busy intersection at Santa Fe, and Alameda, and Interstate 25, I must believe that the painter has attempted to give busy people a small does of peace.

                                                [Historical sculpture - Coming Home]

This grouping by Susan Grant Raymond consists of two draft horses lead by a man, with a child riding one of the horses and a colt trailing behind the team. The sculpture is visible from South Santa Fe Boulevard and South Prince Street as well as the Platte River Trail in Littleton. It represents a farmer and his son headed home at the end of a work day with their horses.

The bronze statues were created in 1987.

I sense the peace of the prairie in the fatigue of a days work. People like this settled the Platte River Valley. Southwestern Denver was farmlands until well into the 20th century.

The Littleton Fine Art Committee commissioned the piece from the artist who grew up in Littleton to add to the considerable collection begun in 1964.

                                                       [Modern artwork - big blue bear]

The big blue bear at the Denver Convention Center is the creation of Lawrence Argent, an associate professor of art and, later, professor emeritus at the University of Denver until his death in 2017. The actual name of the project is "I See What You Mean'. It is 40 feet tall and weighs around 10,000 pounds.

It is composed of fiberglass and, if you look closely, you can see that it's not furry. It is more...polyhedral. The blue color was an accident. Argent had originally intended to use the earth colors commonly seen around Denver but, due to an error in the copying process, the planning layout came out blue. Argent liked it, so blue it remained.

The bear is quite intentionally playful and funny, meant to get visitors into a lighthearted frame of mind.

The statue was installed in 2005 and has been well maintained. To emphasize the humorous aspect, there is a big coil that is sometimes brought out and placed under the bear between his feet. I guess if a bathroom tissue can make an ad campaign out of that old saw, Denver can, too. There has also been a ball and chain attached to the bear's leg.

The piece was inspired by a newspaper article that showed a bear looking into the house of a Colorado resident. Absolutely appropriate because there are bear statues all over Denver, the bear looks right at home.

It was  actually constructed in California before being shipped to Colorado, the project costing $424,400. It is a part of the Denver Office of Cultural Affairs Public Art Program. Reproduced in various sizes and photographed around the world, this is one of the most beloved art pieces to knock on Denver's windows.

                                                     [Stained glass at Evans Chapel]

Evans Memorial Chapel was completed in 1878 in downtown Denver by Governor John Evans, also founder of the University of Denver. It was built in memory of his daughter, Josephine, who had died of tuberculosis a decade earlier. In 1960, the building was moved to it's current position on the campus of the University of Denver.

It stands on the west side of the Harper Humanities water gardens. One of the reflecting ponds is at it's east wall. The High Victorian Gothic chapel is built of rough hewn stone and displays a collection of stained glass windows.

The large stained glass window in the eastern window depicts a scene from Ruth that personifies grief. The small inset at the bottom shows Naomi followed by her daughters-in-law after proclaiming, "call me bitterness".

The National Register of Historic Places Inventory Nomination Form for Evans Chapel is accessible here:

and provides more historic information about the chapel.

[Architecture - Buchtel Memorial Tower, University of Denver]

The Buchtel Tower was built in 1917 as part of the Memorial Chapel Building that burned down in 1982. It was dedicated to the memory of alumni who died during World War I. It was named after Henry Buchtel, who was the university's chancellor from 1900 to 1924.

The space around the tower - an amphitheater and garden with stone features and metal lattices - is the Holocaust Memorial Social Action Site dedicated to the spirit of inclusion and respect.

Although the whole ensemble is located on busy Evans Avenue, it has a feeling of quietness and solemnity. The stone and metal projects a sense of age and strength, perhaps of commitment in the face of adversity and social resistance.

 In 2015, the tower was rededicated to honor current military veterans in the DU student body.

Holocaust is a part of the human psyche. Any of us could be victim or perpetrator. I doubt if we can ever rid ourselves of the hatred of that which is different from us, but the memorial underscores the need to always be vigilant. Historically humanity is a vicious and hateful creature, but humans are also rational animals capable of choosing different directions. We can be better.

You have artworks in your area that are relevant to the spirit of your community (I know you do!). What are they? Can you interpret them in the light of the history of your community and your current world? Do they engender any feelings or emotions in you?

Look up the history of a local artwork. Does anything surprise you about it? Did the creator's intent differ from your interpretations? Has the message of the artwork changed over time?

Friday, October 26, 2018

--- Autumn ---

On 10/26/18, I had an appointment with my doctor, one of those "regularly programmed" things, and had a meeting at the University much later, so I had time to kill, so I did what I do and wandered around.

For high desert, Denver colors up nicely in the fall. The University of Denver with it's arboretum campus is a great place to catch fall colors. Of course, tree coloration is dependent on two things - healthy, well watered trees and broadleaf varieties. The brilliant colors are even more striking when mixed with the blues and greens of the indigenous evergreens. Here are some pictures of the University of Denver campus including some mountainous backgrounds.

                                                                [Autumn colors]

After a bus ride to my doctor's office and some shopping at WalMart, I had about three hours to spare, so I decided to take a train ride up to the site of my next station-to-station hike and check it out. I've been eyeing the glass elevators of the parking garage of University Station for some time and took the opportunity to check them out. The top deck offers some great views of the mountains and Denver skyline.


Other than being packed to standing-room-only, the train trip was uneventful and I got back to the campus with an hour to spare.

"There is something, I think, that doesn't like walls." Frankly, I'm rather partial to them - especially the ones I can sit on.

How are the trees looking in your part of the world? Tree's create bright leaf colors in the process of storing sugars for the winter and they need plenty of water to do so. After very dry summers, trees are often drab during the fall.

Buildings with access to their roofs and upper floors, such as multilevel parking garages often provide interesting "bird's-eye" views of the surrounding country-side.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

--- A trip to Latin America ---

Oh, Mexico.
I never really been there so I don't really know

James Taylor

One thing that I enjoy about Denver is the great diversity of cultures here and, even better, those cultures are valued and conserved in ways that are accessible to outsiders like me.

Latin America is a diverse population of peoples in the Western Hemisphere who predominantly speak Romance languages such as Spanish, Portuguese, and French. As countries, most of South and Central America are included. The term "Hispanic" is somewhat narrower, emphasizing Spanish speaking peoples.

In Denver, there are large sections composed primarily of Hispanic residents, but those communities are also mixed and the blend usually forms unities that succeed as neighborhoods.

I've already reported on my visit to the Whittier neighborhood on a tour hosted by the Denver Public Library and lead by Chris Englert of Walk2Connect. On 9/15/18, I joined another Walk2Connect neighborhood tour of the Barnum neighborhood that began at the Ross-Barnum branch of the Denver Public Library.

The trip actually started as many of my trips begin, a hike down to University station, and then a train ride to Alameda Station, where I took a familiar bus route west on Alameda to Knox Court. On leaving the bus, I was greeted by two Denver signatures:

                                                                 [Denver skyline]

and a mural (of course).

                                                                [Barnum mural]

Not very Latin? Like I said, the neighborhoods in Denver mix to form distinctive, often surprising combinations. The neighborhood up Knox Court is very Latin. The flavor is vibrant. People are outside and the area is pleasantly noisy.

                                                                    [Knox Court]

It's different from what I became used to in the South. In Selma, the Hispanic population pretty much stayed to themselves. Not once in the 20 years that I practiced in the area did I have a client from the significant Hispanic community there. They took care of their own. And they were surprised when I greeted them in town - cultures didn't mix much. Except, maybe, in the excellent Mexican restaurant, El Rancheros, on Broad Street.

Here, people are friendly and typically don't resent intrusion into their communities.

Here, there are many vegetable gardens in yards, lot of flowers, and the little row houses have brightly colored facades. The walk to the library is about three-quarters of a kilometer. On the way, I spot a small corner park (Cedar Park) that sports and elephant (again, the circus theme.) I get the idea that there's more to "Barnum" than just a name.) This little park was created by a local resident, April Crumley, and was recognized as a city park by the Denver city government on May 13, 1995.

                                                                     [Cedar Park]

The Ross-Barnum Library is just a little off Knox Court on 1st Avenue.

                                                            [Ross-Barnum Library]

I have seen many community gardens in my wanderings around Denver.  The city encourages them. There are more than 170 DUG (Denver Urban Gardens) plots in Denver and a website to get you in on the action ( The one in the Barnum neighborhood isn't the largest I've seen (I think that goes to the one in Rosedale) but it's pretty big. Aspiring gardeners could do much worse than to visit these plots for inspiration and learning.

                                                               [Barnum Urban Garden]

We walked north to Barnum park, which has one of those gulches that aren't gulches that I've talked about and one of the best views of the Denver skyline.

                                                                      [Weir Gulch]

We met this denizen of the area along Weir Gulch

                                                    [Juvenile Black-crowned Night-Heron]

Again, the circus theme in the park playground...

                                                              [Gorilla and lion]

                                                                  [Denver skyline]

Back in 1978, P.T. Barnum bought some land in this area and made some noise about making it the winter home for his circus. He made exactly four documented trips to West Denver and never wintered his animals anywhere but Connecticut and Florida (I can't see intentionally wintering anything in Connecticut or Colorado - skiing, yes, African animals....?)

Anyway, Helen Barnum, P.T.s daughter did move to the area that would become the Barnum neighborhood with her second husband, financier William Buchtel, who moved to Colorado to treat his tuberculosis. P.T. Barnum ended up selling some of his Colorado land to his daughter for a dollar.

                                                                   [Barnum house]

The Savio House, now a landmark, was established as an orphanage for wayward boys in the 1950s.

                                                                      [Savio House]

You can learn a lot more about the Barnum Neighborhood from this website by the Denver Public Library.

The Denver Public Library and it's branches are vital as historical archives for the Denver neighborhoods.

My tour over, I walked back to the bus stop on Alameda, returned to Alameda Station, and took the light rail back to University Station and home.

On my latest station-to-station hike,10/12/18, I had planned to stop at the Museo de las Americas in the Art District and revisit a Mexican market in the Barnum neighborhood.

The Museo de las Americas presents exhibitions by local Hispanic artists. On the day of my visit, they were showing El Infinito, pictures of the cosmos through ancient Aztec and modern eyes. Contributors included NASA, Logkheed Martin Space System Company, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, and Miguel Angel Sanchez Moreiro, who presented reproductions of the Codex Borgia. I learned why I could not find an English translation of the Codex Borgia. It's owned by the Vatican. (sigh).

                                                           [Museo de las Americas]

You can find out more about the Museo here:

After completing my station-to-station hike, I took a bus back to Knox Court and 1st Avenue in the Barnum neighborhood to visit the small Mi Pueblo Market - small but packed with interesting ethnic groceries, and there's a cafeteria style restaurant there which was also packed (obviously popular). I bought some candy and spices I had not seen in my local grocery stores.

                                                                   [Mi Pueblo Market]

They also have a website.

Is your local library a repository of facts about your community?

What ethnic groups are represented in your community? Are they accessible to visitors? Do the ethnic groups in your community mix amicably while conserving their distinct characters?