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Photos: Denver diorama finds new home in History Colorado Center lobby

Photos: Denver diorama finds new home in History Colorado Center lobby

Lovers of the Denver diorama, rejoice! On Friday and Saturday, visitors to the History Colorado Center can watch the Lilliputian tribute to circa-1860 Denver being reassembled in the museum's lobby. The much-loved exhibit, which was crafted in the 1930s by federal work programs workers, was cut apart in order to be moved when the museum relocated to a new building. Now that the impressive piece -- and its impressive tiny cats -- has been put back together, conservator Judy Greenfield is working to carefully disguise the seams.

But before the reassembly began in the lobby, Westword got a rare up-close-and-uncovered look at the diorama. Check out our photos below!

See also:

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Giant haaaaaaand!
Giant haaaaaaand!
Melanie Asmar

The photo above gives a good sense of the size of the diorama. Crafted at a scale of one-sixteenth of an inch to a foot, the diorama is astoundingly detailed. Using materials such as baby's breath for shrubbery, matchsticks for fences and twine dipped in white lead to imitate cottonwood logs, the artists recreated pioneer life. The diorama depicts Denver's main business district, Auraria and parts of the Platte River and Cherry Creek.

How bazaar.
How bazaar.
Melanie Asmar

"It's the most phenomenal piece of artwork and craftsmanship," says Greenfield, taking a break from laying acid-free tissue paper that she's dyed brown to cover the seams.

Greenfield has been working on the diorama off and on since November. Years of display had caused dust to accumulate, and the vibrations created when the display was cut apart toppled some of the tiny figures. Greenfield used a fancy vacuum with a very narrow tip to suck up the dust; to make sure she didn't suck up a tiny chicken by mistake, she covered the tip with a fine cloth. She also made some minor repairs, including re-covering one of the minuscule covered wagons, taking pains to make sure her work was reversible.

"I don't want to leave my fingerprint on it," she says.

Continue for more photos of the diorama.

See the tiny cat sitting on the fence -- and the even tinier chickens in the yard?
See the tiny cat sitting on the fence -- and the even tinier chickens in the yard?
Melanie Asmar

The diorama had to be cut into pieces in order to move it at least once before, in the 1980s. But the conservators back then didn't keep careful records of how they did it, Greenfield says. When they reassembled it, they did so permanently, necessitating another round of cuts.

This time, she says, the reassembly won't last forever. The seams she's laying will be held on by a weak glue that can easily be removed. And they'll need to be. Unlike in the old building, the museum plans to keep the diorama on only temporary display in order to protect it from deterioration. To shield it from sun damage, the museum will cover it with SmartGlass, which darkens as the sun brightens.

Another tiny cat! Greenfield estimates it's three millimeters wide.
Another tiny cat! Greenfield estimates it's three millimeters wide.
Melanie Asmar

The diorama will be unveiled to the public in February. But today and tomorrow, visitors can get a sneak peak -- albeit from several feet away. As Greenfield works on her finishing touches, the diorama is surrounded by a temporary curtain and a movable fence. Still, even from a distance, its sheer size and detail are astounding.

Continue for many more photos of the diorama and of Greenfield working.

Those tiny dots in the yard are chickens. Amaaaazing!
Those tiny dots in the yard are chickens. Amaaaazing!
Melanie Asmar

Wagons pass the long-gone Rocky Mountain Herald building.
Wagons pass the long-gone Rocky Mountain Herald building.
Melanie Asmar

Colorado's first governor, William Gilpin, "first addressed the people" from the Tremont House balcony, according to an old map that accompanies the diorama.
Colorado's first governor, William Gilpin, "first addressed the people" from the Tremont House balcony, according to an old map that accompanies the diorama.
Melanie Asmar

Tiny oxen.
Tiny oxen.
Melanie Asmar

Continue for more photos.

Circling the wagons.
Circling the wagons.
Melanie Asmar

That's a big (tiny) ball of hay.
That's a big (tiny) ball of hay.
Melanie Asmar

Objects on the seams where the diorama was cut had to be reattached.
Objects on the seams where the diorama was cut had to be reattached.
Melanie Asmar

The wagon wheels are Greenfield's favorite. "You can see every spoke," she says.
The wagon wheels are Greenfield's favorite. "You can see every spoke," she says.
Melanie Asmar

Continue for even more photos of the diorama.

To replace some of the loose dirt, Greenfield gathered sand from Cherry Creek.
To replace some of the loose dirt, Greenfield gathered sand from Cherry Creek.
Melanie Asmar

The tiniest construction site.
The tiniest construction site.
Melanie Asmar

Gerrish & Co. was a grocery store where Denver City Council met in November 1860, according to the map. Kerr & Soule was a grocery and hardware store.
Gerrish & Co. was a grocery store where Denver City Council met in November 1860, according to the map. Kerr & Soule was a grocery and hardware store.
Melanie Asmar

The Rocky Mountain News!
The Rocky Mountain News!
Melanie Asmar

Continue for photos of the diorama in the lobby.

Greenfield works on the diorama in the lobby.
Greenfield works on the diorama in the lobby.
Melanie Asmar

Some of Greenfield's tools.
Some of Greenfield's tools.
Melanie Asmar

Greenfield kneels beneath a photo of Eunice Welch, one of the original artists.
Greenfield kneels beneath a photo of Eunice Welch, one of the original artists.
Melanie Asmar

A volunteer stands watch over the diorama in the lobby.
A volunteer stands watch over the diorama in the lobby.
Melanie Asmar


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