Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art

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Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art is an art museum in Denver, Colorado. The museum houses three principal collections and includes the original school and studio of artist Vance Kirkland (1904–1981). The 1911 Arts & Crafts style building is listed as a member of Historic Artists’ Homes and Studios, a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, along with the homes and studios of Jackson Pollock/Lee Krasner, Charles Russell, Georgia O'Keeffe, Thomas Hart Benton, Charles Burchfield, N. C. Wyeth, Grant Wood and others.[1]

Museum Interior: Frank Lloyd Wright dinette and Vance Kirkland Paintings


The original school/studio (1910–1911), which is preserved as part of the larger Kirkland Museum, is the oldest commercial art building in Denver and the second oldest in Colorado (after the Van Briggle Memorial Pottery in Colorado Springs of 1908).[2] The building was designed in a distinctive Arts & Crafts style by architects Maurice Biscoe and Henry Hewitt. The building at 1311 Pearl Street was commissioned by Henry Read (1851–1935), one of thirteen founders of the Artists' Club, which later became the Denver Art Museum. This building served as Read's Students' School of Art, and, until 1922, a meeting place for the fledgling Denver Art Museum.[3]

In January 1929, Vance Kirkland became the founding Director of the current School of Art at the University of Denver. In 1932 he resigned from the University of Denver when they would not grant credit for art courses toward graduation, and leased Read's Pearl Street property. He ran the Kirkland School of Art until 1946, with classes accredited by the University of Colorado (1933–1946), when he returned as Director of the Art School at the University of Denver, retiring in 1969.[4] Kirkland had, by that time, purchased the 1311 Pearl Street building[5] and used it as his personal studio until his death in 1981.

After his death, Vance Kirkland willed his estate to longtime family friend Hugh Grant. In 1998, under the direction of Grant, construction began on an adjoining facility, adding 7,933 sq. ft. to the original 3011 sq. ft. Completed in 2002, the addition allows for expanded exhibition space and visitor amenities, while maintaining the integrity of the original studio. The museum opened to the public in April 2003 under Founding Director and Curator Hugh Grant.

The original exterior wall and similar roof tiles of the 1910-1911 building can be viewed from the main exhibition room of this new addition, and the studio work room has been maintained virtually as Kirkland left it. This is indicative of the museum's commitment to preserving the original architectural integrity of the building. The addition faithfully reflects the Arts & Crafts style of the old studio building.


The museum houses three primary collections, an international decorative arts collection, a regional collection with a focus on Colorado art, and a retrospective of the work of Vance Kirkland.

(1) International Decorative Arts Collection: Displays objects from the decorative art movements of Arts & Crafts, Aesthetic, Art Nouveau, Glasgow Style, Wiener Werkstätte, De Stijl, Bauhaus, Art Deco, Modern, Pop Art, and Postmodern. The collection focuses on objects from c. 1875 to 1990. Over 3,500 objects are on view at any time. According to scholars, including Patricia Kane, Curator of American Decorative Arts, Yale University, “Nowhere else in the country can one see such a comprehensive presentation of international twentieth-century design.”[6] Peter Loughrey, Director Los Angeles Modern Auction, similarly stated, “I believe your museum has the finest survey of 20th century design on view in America today.”[7]

(2) Colorado/Regional Collection: More than 200 artists are represented by over 650 works on view at any one time. At Kirkland Museum, visitors can see, in depth, the history of Colorado art from traditional through modern (mainly 1820-1990). Two Denver art critics have said: “…the Kirkland became the state’s most important repository of Colorado art."[8] “…the Kirkland has quickly become the largest repository of such Colorado work anywhere.”[9]

(3) Kirkland Retrospective: Vance Kirkland (1904–1981) painted over 1,200 paintings, with works spanning 54 years, ranging from Realism to Surrealism to Abstract Expressionism to his later abstraction. Paintings with Kirkland’s unique oil paint and water mixtures, as well as his watercolor and denatured alcohol mixtures are always on view.[10][11] A rotating selection of all five of Kirkland’s painting periods is shown, including his idiosyncratic late dot paintings.[12] Kirkland’s paintings have been widely exhibited at 70 museums and 30 universities in 13 countries and 32 states.[13][14] A one-hour television documentary, Vance Kirkland’s Visual Language—with seven curators and directors from five American museums—was aired on PBS stations from 1994-1996.[15]

Different Display Approach[edit]

The three collections make Kirkland Museum different from other museums, but the unusual way they are displayed gives the visitor an alternative museum experience.

(a) Most large city museums are displayed more sparsely than the Kirkland, and decorative art and fine art are usually shown in separate rooms. Kirkland Museum is arranged “salon style” much like a home where—similar to the Barnes Foundation (Philadelphia), the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston), the Neue Galerie (NYC), and a few others—fine and decorative art are exhibited together.

(b) In addition to paintings and sculpture being displayed together with furniture, groupings or vignettes are often arranged which showcase a particular design period such as Art Deco. Furniture is frequently accessorized with period radios, phones, lamps and other items. Many museums display furniture on risers, but furniture was never meant to be on risers, so most furniture is placed on the floor at the Kirkland.

(c) Another exhibition characteristic of the Kirkland is “comparative display” where more than one design style is shown in the same gallery. This has been particularly helpful to college classes when students can compare Arts & Crafts, Art Nouveau, Glasgow Style and Wiener Werkstätte in the same room for instance.[16]

Museum Information[edit]

The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday, from 11:00am to 5:00pm and is closed on Mondays and major holidays.

The museum does not allow children under 13 years of age due to the fragile nature and proximity of the collections on display.


  1. ^ National Trust for Historic Preservation. "Historic Artists' Homes and Studios". 
  2. ^ Nelson, Scott H. (1986). A Collector's Guide to Van Briggle Pottery. p. 38. 
  3. ^ McComb, David (1975). Interview with Vance Kirkland. Denver, CO: Colorado Historical Society Archives. 
  4. ^ Denver Art Museum Catalogue (1978). Vance Kirkland: Fifty Years. Denver, CO. p. 41. 
  5. ^ McComb 1975
  6. ^ Kane, Patricia (2005). personal letter to Kirkland Museum. 
  7. ^ Loughrey, Peter (2003). email to Kirkland Museum. 
  8. ^ Paglia, Michael (March 4, 2010). "Centennial State". Westword. 
  9. ^ MacMillan, Kyle (February 7, 2010). "100 Years of Colorado Art, Visual Movements in History". The Denver Post. 
  10. ^ Fitz, Peter (1997). Vance Kirkland-A Painter from Denver. Hungary: Kiscelli Muzeum/Budapest History Museum. p. 9. 
  11. ^ Koenig, Dr. Wieland and Dr. Evelyn Weiss (1999). Vance Kirkland (Exhibition Catalogue ed.). Dusseldorf, Germany: Stadtmuseum. p. 12. 
  12. ^ Koenig, Dr. Wieland and Dr. Evelyn Weiss (1999). Vance Kirkland (Exhibition Catalogue ed.). Dusseldorf, Germany: Stadtmuseum. p. 13. 
  13. ^ Vanderlip, Dianne Perry and Peter Weiermair (1998). Vance Kirkland. Zurich and New York: Edition Stemmle. pp. 153–7. 
  14. ^ Andreeva, Ekaterina and Hugh Grant (2000). Vance Kirkland Retrospective (Exhibition Catalogue ed.). St. Petersburg, Russia: The State Russian Museum. pp. 220–230. 
  15. ^ Rocky Mountain PBS, KRMA-TV. Denver, CO: Emmerich Oross, Director. 1994. 
  16. ^ Grant, Hugh (March 30, 2010). Bard Graduate Center Lecture. New York, NY. 

External links[edit]