Pikes Peak or Bust

At the time the mural was painted, Robinson and his friend and colleague Thomas Hart Benton were just inventing regionalism--and laying the groundwork for the style that would dominate the mural division of the 1930s Works Progress Administration. Robinson continued to receive private commissions through the 1930s, including one for New York's fabled Radio City Music Hall. But he also received a number of WPA-sponsored jobs, most notably a famous mural series depicting great lawmakers for the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C.

Passing through the garden gallery and around to the north gallery, the viewer is confronted with the transcendent experience of seeing the other six Kaufmann murals brought together in one room. The murals depict trade through the ages, with titles like "Venetians in the Levant" and "The English in China." Each panel features large figures in appropriate historical garb set against landscapes that define the locales of the titles. The colors are as bold as the subject matter: predominating blues and ambers set off by vivid reds, soft pinks and dusty oranges.

Displayed along with the six Kaufmann murals is 1940's "Full Scale Cartoon for the Englewood Post Office Mural." History buffs will be delighted to find that this is the original charcoal sketch on gessoed craft paper that Robinson prepared as a study for the mural, which depicts a horse auction and which is still in place at the post office on South Broadway.

The remainder of the CSFAC show attempts to survey the many different phases through which Robinson passed. The two galleries devoted to his work make the point that Robinson was mainly interested in drawing and mural painting, and the viewer is struck by how rarely he turned his attention to easel painting. The first of the galleries includes many of Robinson's leftist political cartoons, which were published as early as 1908 in several New York dailies. The artist also had a career as an illustrator during World War I, when he traveled to Eastern Europe with leftist journalist John Reed. After the war he resumed his career as a cartoonist, publishing in progressive political magazines like The Masses and The Liberator. (These were the activities that would get him in trouble with the thought police of the 1950s.)

The second gallery is filled with work Robinson did after arriving in Colorado Springs. Many of these pieces are the rough sketches or finished character studies that he used in preparation for mural painting. But this section also features a number of fine portraits, many depicting Robinson's contemporaries in the art scene that was centered for so many years at the CSFAC.

That halcyon scene is the subject of a fabulous show at UCCS's Gallery of Contemporary Art titled Boardman Robinson and His Circle. Co-organizers Felix and Gerry Riggs, the GCA director, both sat on the Robinson committee and decided that the Robinson tribute would not be complete without a separate exhibit devoted to his colleagues and students. According to Riggs, he and Felix began by submitting the names of seventy artists to the Colorado Springs Gazette-Telegraph, which wrote an article about the effort. The response, Riggs says, was astounding. Some forty art collectors contacted the GCA, and the result is a show that includes a remarkable 137 pieces by 52 artists. Among the standouts are a pair of 1930s mural studies by the great Frank Mechau, a female torso in travertine from the 1950s by Edgar Britton, two never-before-exhibited 1970s bronzes by Starr Kempf, and four lithographs and a watercolor by regionalist master and sometime visiting CSFAC art teacher Adolf Dehn, including that artist's whimsical and wonderful 1940 lithograph, "Good Americans All."

After having toured these three shows, viewers may find themselves exhausted by the effort. But imagine how tired Tracy Felix must be. "I've got to get back to work in my studio," he says. He can use the well-earned rest.

The pottery of Artus and Anne Van Briggle, on permanent display at the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, 215 South Tejon Street, 719-578-6650.

Boardman Robinson: American Muralist and Illustrator, 1876-1952, through January 12, at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, 30 West Dale Street, 719-634-5581

Boardman Robinson and His Circle, through November 1 at the Gallery of Contemporary Art, 1420 Austin Bluffs Parkway, 719-262-3567.

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