I lost track of Chaesdegango. One day my letters and phone calls to his house on Humboldt Street went unanswered.
He became a presence in my life in the early 1980s, when my pretty new girlfriend and I visited one of my favorite haunts, the funky Muddy Waters coffeehouse (named after the nearby Platte River and, I imagine, the blues legend) located in the dilapidated far reaches of lower downtown. Hanging on the walls was a collection of colorful acrylic paintings that put me in mind of my favorite moderns of Europe’s “whimsical school” — Klee, Kandinsky and Miró — but infused with a decidedly contemporary air, à la Keith Haring, say.
I purchased my first Chaesdegango there. The price was right. Chaesdegango marked his paintings with prices such as $29.95 or $34.50. Bigger, later paintings might go for as much as $45. He said he just wanted to earn enough money to buy more supplies so he could make more paintings. And that’s what he did; the walls of his Humboldt Street house were covered with them. Chaes had a liberal exchange policy: If you wished, you could trade in an older painting straight across for a newer one.
I married that pretty girl in the back yard of my house on West 29th Avenue near Sloan’s Lake. She took a job teaching seven kids in a one-room school in Rico, a tiny mountain hamlet located across Lizard Head Pass from Telluride, and we moved to southwest Colorado, where I built us a house with a long horizontal wall in the living room and installed track lighting to illuminate our collection of five Chaesdegangos. Later, we moved to the high desert between Durango and Cortez and built another house with a long horizontal wall and track lighting.
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From time to time, we kept in touch with Chaesdegango (his name came to him in an African dream). We visited him occasionally on trips to Denver — maybe exchanged a painting or two. Later, he transferred his collection of paintings from his house to a permanent gallery space above a used bookstore on East Colfax Avenue. In 1992, a profile in Westword noted that “Chaesdegango’s work defines the Denver School,” which the article defined as “innocently dangerous, romantically pragmatic, brainy, and a shade wacky.”
He and his wife divorced. He made his living by doing electrical work, and eventually his hands became so shaky that he had to give up painting. He tried his hand at making small movies, and then the day arrived when he was just no longer there.
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For nearly four decades now, Chaesdegango — the artist and his work — has been part of our lives and the lives of our two children, who grew up under the benevolent glow of his paintings. We owe him much for enhancing our lives for so long, and I would hate to see his memory disappear without a trace.
After a recent trip to Denver and an opportunity to tour our old bungalow on West 29th, memories of those earlier days flooded back, and I tried once again to find some evidence of Chaesdegano. A Google search turned up nothing, and I had no luck using those people-finding services on the Internet. I even tried the obituaries, but drew a blank.
Surely, someone in Denver knows what happened to Chaesdegango (his taken name) or Ron Chidester (his given name). If you know something, please let us know.
Mike Maxwell lives in Montezuma County Colorado and is writing a book titled Future Focused History: Rethinking the Role of History Education in Society. Have information about Chaesdegango? Share it in a comment or email firstname.lastname@example.org.