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Arts & entertainment

Kirkland Museum’s new home is stylistic standout

Golden Triangle facility glows with glass tiles, terra cotta facing


When asked about his favorite part of the new Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art he designed, Jim Olson, of Olson Kundig architects in Seattle, said the glass tiles with told backing that are used on the exterior especially please him. He also loves the Art Deco room in the Denver museum.

He was excited when asked to work on this new addition to the Golden Triangle arts district, but concerned that there were architecturally outstanding buildings nearby. How to make it stand out? (Denver Art Museum; DAM’s Gio Ponti-designed North building, now closed for remodeling; Denver Central Library, Clyfford Still Museum …)

Described as “A Golden Museum in the Golden Triangle,” Olson has designed an inviting smaller museum that clearly won’t get lost, with its sunny facing in various shades of glowing yellow terra cotta plus those glittering glass tiles with gold that speak to the craftsmanship of the decorative arts collection inside.

Situated at 1201 Bannock St., the 38,000-square-foot Kirkland Museum opened on March 10, a couple of years after the original Kirkland at 13th Avenue and Pearl Street closed in anticipation of the move.

A key part of the previous building: Vance Kirkland’s historic original studio — where he painted, taught and met with area artists — was loaded on a truck one Sunday in November 2016 and very slowly and carefully hauled across Denver to its new home. It is seamlessly attached to the north end of the new building, where it displays part of the collection plus Kirkland’s books and art supplies.

It shows how and where the noted namesake artist worked for decades. Built originally as Henry Read’s Students’ School of Art in 1910-1911, Kirkland (1904-1981) acquired it and became a most prominent Colorado artist, recognized nationally and internationally.

He was also chairman of the University of Denver’s art department for many years, active in the local artists’ community and in starting the Denver Art Museum.

He was well-acquainted with the mother of the young Hugh Grant, who continued the friendship, shared a love of classical music and eventually became the heir to Kirkland’s studio and private collection of decorative arts.

Most of the museum collection was actually acquired by Grant and Merle Chambers, whose Chambers Foundation was instrumental in funding the new museum.

Founding museum director and curator Grant conceived the idea of building a museum to house and conserve the considerable number of Kirkland’s paintings, which ranged from early realistic through Art Deco and a surrealism phase, to his last works — the dot paintings where he created an abstract composition, and added dots with a wooden dowel.

A room in the new museum is dedicated to Kirkland’s work and is centered with a handsome dining table designed by architect Olson. (Other Olson designs are featured in the guest area near the entrance.)

Windows on the exterior wall frame items from the collection, inviting passing walkers to enter. Sculptural pieces also decorate the outside. Just inside, past a visitor’s area and desk/showcase, stands an inviting glass-enclosed gift shop on the left.

To the right is a long promenade, a spine for the various style-related galleries that line each side (with displays designed by Hugh Grant). At the far end, a large bright Kirkland dot painting hangs on the wall of the original studio.

In addition to the collection of decorative arts — which are displayed salon style, in home-like groupings — the Kirkland has a collection of works by prominent Colorado artists, including a number from the south metro area: Edgar Britton, Craig Marshall Smith, rita derjue, Macy Dorf and more, whose works are rotated through changing exhibits.


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