Artbeat

Brief sketches of what's happening in the Denver art scene.

Renowned sculptor George Rickey died last month at the age of 95. Born in America, Rickey became interested in art in England in the 1930s, when he attended Oxford University and the Ruskin School of Art. After graduating from Oxford, he went on to Paris, where he became friends with Alexander Calder, the dean of twentieth-century kinetic sculpture.

During most of Rickey's post-war career, he lived on a farm in upstate New York. Over the past sixty years, however, he also maintained connections to Denver. In the 1940s, Rickey was a GI stationed at what was then Lowry Army Base. He taught at the Army's technical school at Lowry, which would later become the first Air Force Academy.

Denver was a lucky assignment for Rickey, because an old Oxford pal, Caleb Gates, lived here. Gates was an heir to the Gates Rubber Company fortune, and he gave the newly enlisted Army private entree into the top ranks of Denver's high society. Rickey also entered the city's art world and started to hang out with the likes of Mary Chase (Robinson), Otto Bach and, of course, Vance Kirkland. In addition, he was a predecessor of Mary Chandler's, having worked for several years as the art critic at the Rocky Mountain News in the 1940s.

Rickey left Denver in 1945, and though he never lived here again, he visited regularly, especially in the 1980s and '90s, when he was the subject of no less than five solo shows at the now-closed Inkfish Gallery. It was on the occasion of the final one, in 1996 (the piece seen above was in that show), that I had the honor of meeting him.

Inkfish director Paul Hughes fondly remembers his relationship with Rickey. "He sent us $300,000 worth of work on a handshake," says Hughes. "We didn't do much for him -- he was famous already -- but he sure did a lot for us. We sold so many of his sculptures since we started showing them back in the 1970s."Nancy Hughes, the gallery's former business manager, remembers Rickey the way I do. "He was a wonderful artist," she says. "And he was such a great guy, too." -- Michael Paglia

 
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