Another jewel in Denver’s museum crown is the Kirkland Museum. It’s a two mile walk from the center of the Cultural District into the colorful and eclectic Capitol Hill neighborhood. It’s a small space, filled with delightful surprises and is one of my favorite museums. I had mixed feelings when I discovered PBS’s Antiques Roadshow paid a visit and the hour long documentary Face to Face: Vance Kirkland and Clyfford Still aired on US public television because this place was my little secret. Not only does the museum feature a retrospective of Kirkland’s varied art but Hugh Grant (director and curator) has amassed one of the most important collections of decorative art spanning from the late 19th to the middle of the 20th century; along with a large and thoughtful collection of past and present Colorado artists.
Vance Kirkland’s paintings intrigue me because of his use of color. As a college student, he failed his first watercolor class because his colors weren’t “right”. But perhaps they weren’t right because his relationship to color was synesthetic and as he created art, he could hear colors. His vision of “blue” encompassed two senses rather than one. A prolific artist, his work moved over five different periods from Designed Realism, Surrealism and his “dot paintings”. His method for creating these pictures is demonstrated in his studio by the large straps which hang over the artist’ table. Kirkland would suspend himself over the piece and meticulously dab the paint. (I had wondered how he achieved the dots without any dribbles, and now I know!) Our tour guide and a docent for the Kirkland–Margaret–told us he painted up until his death in a local hospital and visitors knew where his room was because of the kerosene smell. I love how the objects and art are displayed in an intimate Salon Style over several different rooms, gathered in tableaux or in unobtrusive glass cases. The gathering of objects makes me feel more like a guest in someone’s home rather than a museum patron. The afternoon I visited, early 20th century classical music played in the background which further set the mood and transported me to another age when the art and objects were first created and considered avant garde.
I wanted to sneak under the ropes and paw through all the things sitting about on the bookshelves in the studio. I wanted to sneak into a case and shimmy the vases out and hold onto them feeling the warmth of the Colorado clay or coolness of the Hungarian glass in my hands as I turned the objects round and round taking in the shapes and the nuances of the tiny imperfections every three dimensional object possesses. But I resisted and managed to keep my hands to myself. My resolve against testing the comfort of the chairs, or lounging on the art deco settees was taking a quiet break in the inviting courtyard garden where an abundance of Bleeding Hearts competed for my attention against the large and whimsical metal sculptures.
The Kirkland is easy to find at the corner of Pearl Avenue and 13th Avenue, two miles east of the Denver Cultural Center and the state capital. Off street parking in this neighborhood can be scarce and the museum does offer a few places in front. But half the fun of seeing the Kirkland could be walking the quirky and friendly Capitol Hill neighborhood if you have to park at distance. Admission is $7 for adults, seniors, students, and teachers are $6. Included in the admission Wednesdays through Saturdays is a guided tour at 1:30. I highly recommend experiencing the museum under the helpful guidance of a docent. I was lucky enough to tour gratis with Margaret Saari. The Kirkland asks children between 13-17 tour with an adult and they don’t allow children under 13 because of the delicate nature of the objects on display. If you’re touring Denver with younger children, there’s a cute place across the street–Jelly–which serves breakfast all day and you can tag team the little kids with a waffle bribe.
The lead image and the closing image were found at examiner.com. The other photos are mine, shot by me with my iPhone. A big thanks goes to the nice people who invited me to tour the museum free of charge.