Favorite Things

Western art stays home on the range for the holidays.

Even on an ordinary day, the Foothills Art Center is uncommonly picturesque. It's situated in an old red-brick church and a pair of adjacent -- and matching -- Victorian houses in Golden; this charming assemblage perches on a steep hill, high above the street, with the mountains in the background only blocks away. For the holidays, the nostalgia effect has been kicked way up, too. The buildings are covered with twinkling white lights, bedecked with evergreen boughs and wreaths, and dusted with snow.

Gosh, right now Foothills looks like a quaint, pre-sprawl setting for one of those Dickens-meets-John Denver Christmas specials from the 1980s. And all this romantic Western imagery makes it the perfect setting for Horse & Rider in the Harmsen Collection of Western Art, an exhibit of early twentieth-century paintings and sculptures of cowboys and Indians -- all of which feature subjects mounted on a horses.

The show isn't located in the main part of Foothills, though; all those galleries have been converted into the annual Holiday Art Market, which features a wide variety of artworks and craft items, all with a seasonal theme, all offered for sale. While the main galleries are serving as salesrooms (the Market ends Saturday), the former gift shop located in one of the houses has been drafted into service as a gallery and lightly remodeled with a fresh coat of paint and the installation of some track lighting.

Walter Ufer, "Return From Winter Pasture," oil on canvas.
Walter Ufer, "Return From Winter Pasture," oil on canvas.

Details

Through January 14, 303-279-3922

Portraits From the Old West...Selected Pieces From the Harmsen Museum Foundation
Through February 2
Civic Center South Gallery, 480 Allison Parkway, Lakewood, 303-987-7866

Colorado and the West: Works on Paper 1900-1970
Through January 31
David Cook Fine American Art, 1637 Wazee Street, 303-623-8181

Foothills Art Center, 809 15th Street, Golden

"I'm calling it Foothills II, and I plan to use it for exhibits from now on," says Foothills director Carol Dickenson. "There's so many things in the 'Only Colorado Art' show (coming up later this winter), it's going to spill over into Foothills II -- it's got to -- and other shows will, too."

"Horse & Rider," the first exhibit to be presented in this newly re-dedicated space, features a dozen works lent by Dorothy and Bill Harmsen, nationally renowned art collectors now in their eighties. The Harmsens moved to Colorado in the 1940s and soon after opened an ice cream shop in downtown Golden called the Jolly Rancher. "It was right next to the arch," says Bill Harmsen Jr., the eldest of the three Harmsen sons, and executive director of the not-yet-built Harmsen Museum of Art and the force behind "Horse & Rider."

The Jolly Rancher ice cream shop itself is history. It soon gave way to the Jolly Rancher candy company, which gave the couple the necessary funds to pursue their real passion, collecting, an endeavor they took up full-time after selling their company to Beatrice Foods in the 1960s. Over the years, the Harmsens have acquired more than 5,000 works, including paintings, sculptures and a wide range of artifacts.

"My parents were driven to collect," says Harmsen. "Their collecting stemmed from an innate sense for finding adventure. Plus, my father loved to do a deal, and my mother has a wonderful eye. They loved the chase, they loved negotiating with artists and dealers, and we kids encouraged them because it was really fun."

Their timing was right, because prices were low in those days. Only over the last ten years or so has Western art begun to hit market heights, and the Harmsen collection has been essentially static during that time. "There will be no new acquisitions until the museum is up and running," Harmsen explains. Although he hopes to see the 60,000-square-foot building completed in a year and half, construction has yet to begin: The museum was conceived as part of the Denver West shopping center, and that project has been on hold for years.

The delay is one reason that Harmsen recently returned to Denver from his home in Mexico. "My mother e-mailed me and asked me to come back and help," he says, adding that he's optimistic that Denver West is finally coming back on line. But since there was nothing he could do to speed up construction, he decided to get the Harmsen collection out into the community now by placing exhibits at existing venues. He worked with Dickenson to put together "Horse & Rider."

As you enter Foothills II, the first object that catches your eye is a tabletop bronze with a monumental quality. Adrien Voisin's "Happy Hunting Ground" depicts an Indian on horseback bearing down on a charging buffalo. Done in 1930, Voisin's tableaux was old-fashioned even when new -- which is particularly interesting because the piece was not made in some prairie backwater, but in Paris, where Voisin lived and worked. Next to the Voisin is a painting that was actually created out west: Walter Ufer's "Return From Winter Pasture," an oil on canvas painted in Taos, undated, but likely from the 1930s. Some of the best pieces in the Harmsen collection are by the masters of Taos. On the other side of Foothills II's entrance is another fine example of this New Mexico town's formidable artistic history, Oscar Berninghaus's "Morning Shade," also undated but probably done in the '20s or '30s. And in the tight hallway between the two front galleries is a tiny modernist gem by John Marin; don't miss "Near Taos, #5," a watercolor from 1930 that should be more prominently displayed.

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