Art News

Denver Diorama Comes Up From Underground at History Colorado

Welcome to 1860 Denver.
Welcome to 1860 Denver. History Colorado
When the shiny, $110 million History Colorado Center opened at 1200 Broadway in April 2012, the David Tryba-designed building garnered great reviews. The contents of the museum, not so much.

Where were all the displays that had filled the old Colorado History Museum just two blocks away? Where was the timeline? And above all, where was the Denver Diorama?

History Colorado, the revamped brand for what had started as the Colorado Historical Society back in 1879, has been making some history of its own in the past few years, with a management overhaul, new exhibits that focus more on local culture and heritage and, yes, the installation of the Denver Diorama in the basement.

click to enlarge The Denver Diorama in its current home; this is not the conservation crew. - HISTORY COLORADO
The Denver Diorama in its current home; this is not the conservation crew.
History Colorado
Now the diorama is about to get more attention: Starting March 3, it will be undergoing regular conservation work under the direction of conservator Judy Greenfield; when that's done, the display will be moved to the second-floor "Colorado Story" galleries, where it will be installed in a clear glass case that improves viewing.


The diorama was created in the 1930s, funded by the Federal Emergency Relief Administration and its successor, the Works Progress Administration, to give jobs to out-of-work historians, artists, architects and craftspeople. (Other WPA projects here included the formal creation of Red Rocks Amphitheatre.) The diorama depicts Denver as it looked in 1860, barely a year after its founding, and includes 350 miniature structures: cabins, frame and brick buildings, tents, bridges, outhouses, saloons, hotels, theaters and an encampment of Arapaho people.

From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, March 9, museum visitors can get up-close and personal with the diorama as the conservation team works on the uncovered display. The Denver Diorama will reopen to the public in its new spot on Saturday, March 16, as the focal point of Boomtown: Denver, 1860, an exhibit that centers on the diorama but adds additional background and other information.

And this isn't the only update coming from History Colorado. The museum is slated to open Beer Here: Brewing the New West in May. That's just one example of the homegrown exhibits that the organization is focusing on these days.

As for other popular topics rumored to be the inspiration for upcoming History Colorado exhibits, Colorado music will indeed be the focus of a display that will open in the summer of 2020, according to History Colorado director Steve Turner. Also on the list of possibilities, but not on the schedule, is a “very small cannabis exhibit,” he says. “We don’t have any firm plans right now.”
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