Twentieth-century art history often focuses on the Coasts, but here in Colorado a colony of artists, many of them well-schooled abroad before settling in the West, were producing quality — and in some cases, world-class — work. More than fifty of them, including such names as Paschal Quackenbush, Louise Ronnebeck, Albert Byron Olson, Elisabeth Spalding, Waldo Love, Allen True and Vance Kirkland, banded together in 1928 to form the Denver Artists Guild.
About nine years ago, collectors Deborah Wadsworth and Cynthia Jennings (the daughter of Clarence Durham, one of the group’s charter members and a four-term guild president) began the arduous task of digging up work and histories of the original DAG members. Eventually, Jennings brought Kirkland Museum associate curator Stan Cuba aboard to help finish the project. The result of that collaboration, a beautifully illustrated new book called The Denver Artists Guild: Its Founding Members; An Illustrated History, will be celebrated tonight with a reception and accompanying exhibit at the Byers-Evans House Museum.
“Cynthia’s parents collected these heavy scrapbooks about the guild that were religiously preserved,” says Cuba of the project's genesis. “We needed to do something about this whole period, much of it forgotten, and had so much archival material. These were not just provincial artists. They studied at great institutions, had exhibits in Santa Fe and in all the major cities and were recognized by their peers outside of Colorado.” Guild members, he adds, staged summer shows in Civic Center during the Depression, left behind WPA-era mural work and even hosted radio discussions on art trends. “In the present, people walk by their work every day and don’t know what it is.”
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Finishing the task Jennings started, Cuba was able to track down work by all but one of the founding members, and has organized the book in a way that focuses on each individually, while also documenting guild anecdotes and history, including the polemics of a post-war split-up among guild factions, resulting in the formation by modernist members of the Colorado 15. After the artist bios and full-color examples of their work, Cuba concludes the book with a walking tour of “Denver and everywhere else in state where work by Denver Artist Guild members can be found in public buildings.”
Meet Cuba at tonight’s reception for the exhibit Denver Artists Guild: Its Founding Members from 5 to 9 p.m. at the Byers-Evans House Museum. Copies of the book will be available for purchase during the event, before it officially hits the shelves at the History Colorado Center and local book stores in July. See the exhibit through September 26.