Favorite Things

Western art stays home on the range for the holidays.

Foothills II is not an ideal exhibit space. The character of the original house, while very nice, is still fairly emphatic. The small, residential size of the rooms is the building's principal limitation; it's impossible to put large pieces in these spaces, and contemporary work of any size will have a hard time competing with all that traditional woodwork. But for the exceptional group of small historic paintings and sculptures in "Horse & Rider," Foothills II works just fine.

Other parts of the Harmsen collection are highlighted in Portraits From the Old West... Selected Pieces From the Harmsen Museum Foundation, now on display in Lakewood's relatively new Civic Center South Gallery. Although this space isn't far from Foothills, it's a world away in character.

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


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

If Foothills exudes charm, CCSG eludes it. It's located in the recently constructed Lakewood civic center complex, not so picturesquely located on South Allison Parkway right behind a Cub Foods store. (I hope this isn't what the Harmsen Museum will look like.) And not only does the space lack a certain je ne sais quoi in terms of its atmosphere, it has functional problems, too. For example, it's not easy to see an art show there -- and I'm not referring to that pair of annoying traffic circles on the way in, but the fact that once you do get to the place, it's closed. CCSG has absurdly limited weekday hours -- the lights are turned off at 2 p.m -- and it's shut down completely on weekends.

But "Portraits" is worth the effort it takes to see the show. It's even better than "Horse & Rider," with several important paintings by the biggest New Mexico names. "I think these are the finest portraits in the collection," says Harmsen. "I love being a curator, because I can pick what I want to include. For this show, I chose some of my favorite things."

His favorites also happen to be some of the strongest and most significant items in the collection, including Robert Henri's "Tom Po Qui," a three-quarter portrait of a festively dressed Indian woman wearing a squash-blossom necklace. The 1914 oil painting is forward-looking and expressionistic, and anticipates the modernism of later, more abstract paintings, such as Nicolai Fechin's "Mexican Cowboy" from 1935 and Howard Cook's "Pueblo Chieftain," undated but probably from the 1940s.

"Portraits" and "Horse & Rider" are mere teasers for what we someday will be able to see at the Harmsen Museum; we'll get a more substantial look at the collection this summer at the Arvada Center. That show, which will be organized by Arvada exhibition director Kathy Andrews, will later travel to Europe.

What with the Harmsen shows and the Anschutz collection blockbuster now on display at the Denver Art Museum ("Pilgrims' Progress," November 23), it would appear that all the interesting Western art was snapped up long ago by millionaires like the Harmsens or billionaires like Anschutz. But as Colorado and the West: Works on Paper 1900-1970 at David Cook Fine American Art demonstrates, that's not entirely true -- because everything displayed here can still be bought.

The large show installed on Cook's ground floor and its two lower-level galleries includes more than a hundred pieces, mostly fine prints, by a trio of noteworthy artists: George Elbert Burr, Ross Braught and Gene Kloss. Although the three artists do not have their own individual sections -- their prints and other works on paper are all mixed together -- it's not hard to distinguish one from another. Each artist has a distinctive, signature style.

Burr began his art career in the late nineteenth century. When he came to Denver in 1906, he was already an internationally known etcher; he continued his work here until his death in 1939. As revealed by this show, Burr had an impressive technique, and his specialty was the use of ultra-fine lines to convey atmospheric conditions in the landscape. Several wonderful examples of Burr's color etchings, an extremely rare type of print for an artist who typically limited his palette to black and white, are also displayed here. "Before I found this group, I'd only seen a handful of color etchings by Burr," gallery owner David Cook says, "and all of these in this show are from the same collection." That would be the Gano estate; Denver collectors Pauline and Merritt Gano had originally purchased many of the works directly from Burr.

Although Braught never lived in Colorado, he did travel extensively through the state and the rest of the West. His brawny, regionalist style is reminiscent of the work of his mentor, Thomas Hart Benton, with whom he studied in Kansas City in the 1930s. Braught didn't copy Benton's style; instead, he pushed it to its surrealistic limits. But unlike Benton's most famous student, Jackson Pollock, Braught did not push it all the way to abstract expressionism. In addition to a large selection of Braught prints, the exhibit includes a couple of his handsome oil paintings.

The last of the featured artists is Kloss, the famous Taos printmaker who recorded the life of the Indian pueblos and the Hispanic villages and also created one stunning landscape after another. Kloss's characteristic style is lyrical and expressive, with an innocent quality that's reminiscent of the illustrations in a children's book. Her works are enchanting, as is the entire exhibit.

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