There are countless reasons to visit the Metro State College of Denver Center for Visual Arts' new exhibit spotlighting twentieth-century Colorado women artists, decade by decade. As gallery director Sally Perisho points out, one major goal for the show is "to paint a clear picture of how these women struggled in their personal circumstances, as well as artistic ones." But it also serves as a primer in twentieth-century American art movements before diving under the surface to explore the rise of feminism, specifically as it applied to the unyieldingly male-directed art world.
But one reason to visit stands out as even more compelling: the sheer novelty of the exhibit. As Perisho laments, such works by women are rarely collected, let alone archived. And there's an overwhelming sense of inner strength and vision, compounded by geographic isolation and neglect, that pervades the show's every twist and turn, all the while revealing great -- and often unrecognized -- talent.
Curated by art scholar Katharine Smith-Warren, Time and Place: One Hundred Years of Women Artists in Colorado 1900-2000 accomplishes the difficult task of representing each decade with the work of a single artist -- except in the case of the 1940s, represented here by twins Ethel and Jenne Magafan. "These are not necessarily Colorado's best ten artists," notes Perisho. "Especially in more modern times, I couldn't pick ten artists for a single decade." But she credits Smith-Warren's judicious choices -- from turn-of-the-century Denver landscapist Henrietta Bromwell to '90s installation artist Virginia Folkestad -- for uniquely capturing their particular times as experienced by women.
And you won't have any problem following her reasoning. Gladys Caldwell Fisher's '30s-vintage sculptures, including a sleek, elegant black marble bear and powerful maquettes of the limestone bighorn sheep that grace the steps of the Federal Court building, reveal a woman who chipped away, remarkably, at heavy stone. The Magafans' regionalist works segue well into Eve Drewelowe's wavy landscapes that straddle realism and abstraction. The weavings of Eppie Archuleta, incredibly designed directly on the loom, cross bridges of time and tradition to make the most sophisticated of artistic statements. Every step through the gallery is an adventure, and every one of these women tells a story we're not used to hearing. Isn't it about time?