Dark Room

CPAC offers a final solo before shuttering its space.

Before coming to Denver, the Kohloffs seriously pursued their joint love of photography. Skip got his bachelor's degree in fine art at York College and then earned an MFA in photography at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Lisbeth also studied at RIT, but transferred to the University of Rochester after getting hooked up with the prestigious Eastman House, which had a relationship with the school. At Eastman House she was exposed to the masters of photography, even cataloguing the museum's Lewis Hine collection. She earned a BA in art history with an emphasis on photography, and after moving to Colorado, she completed the MFA that she had begun in Rochester. She chose to study at the University of Denver because it was the only institution in the state that would allow her to specialize in the history of photography. She then taught the subject at DU and at the University of Colorado at Denver. Like her husband, she retired from teaching a few years ago.

Both Kohloffs had high-powered photo credentials, making it predictable that they would become involved with CPAC and almost immediately rise to leadership positions. In 1981, Skip was elected to the board; the next year, so was Lisbeth. This was a troubled time for the group, being essentially broke and having little prospect of changing the situation. So in 1982, the Bannock Street location was closed; in 1986, Skip became CPAC's president.

Despite not having a permanent venue, the organization sponsored important shows during the rest of the '80s and for most of the '90s. A number of these were presented at the Shwayder Gallery (now known as the Victoria Myhren Gallery), which reflected Lisbeth's association with DU. But other places were also tapped, including the Art Institute of Colorado, the Colorado History Museum and the Emmanuel Gallery.

Untitled silver-gelatin print by Nikolai Kulebiaken.
Untitled silver-gelatin print by Nikolai Kulebiaken.
Untitled silver-gelatin print by Nikolai Kulebiaken.
Untitled silver-gelatin print by Nikolai Kulebiaken.

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Through November 12, Colorado Photographic Arts Center, 1513 Boulder Street, 303-455-8999

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The exhibits from this period often featured important photographers from around the country, such as Patrick Nagatani, Jerry Uelsmann and Richard Misrach. "With CPAC, we met a lot of great artists, and we would never have met these kind of people if we hadn't been involved. We've made so many friends," Lisbeth says wistfully.

In 1998, CPAC was offered gallery space at 1513 Boulder Street by Carol Keller. Since then, there have been four to six exhibits a year showcasing not only national art stars, but local luminaries, too. For the group's fortieth anniversary, in 2003, CPAC mounted a huge solo devoted to the work of New Mexico's Betty Hahn. Interestingly enough, Hahn was one of Skip's mentors back in his student days at RIT.

A new CPAC board is now being created. Some members, such as David Sharpe, will stay on, while others, including the Kohloffs, will withdraw after a transitional period. Other new boardmembers include Lincoln Phillips, John Davenport and Gifford Ewing. The new board hopes to get back out in the art world as early as February, and several places have offered them space, notably the Camera Obscura Gallery.

The new board really has its work cut out for it because -- and I say this with deadly earnestness -- Skip and Lisbeth Kohloff are absolutely irreplaceable. On the other hand, the Kohloffs have earned a rest, and I won't criticize them for their decision.

"I'm really going to miss it," says Skip, "but it's time." Adds Lisbeth, "We're not being selfish, we're just being realistic. I just don't want to be eighty and still doing this. The negative was that we'd find ourselves working 24 hours a day -- and we were only volunteers!"

I've been writing about art in Denver for a long time, and one of the many things I've learned is how one person -- or two people, in the case of the Kohloffs -- can make an enormous impact on the cultural life of our city and state. Yes, CPAC and the rest of us will somehow get along without them (well, maybe not CPAC), but it's too bad we've found ourselves in a position where we'll need to.

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