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!

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[jump] 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. "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.

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.

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.

Continue for more photos.

Continue for even more photos of the diorama.

Continue for photos of the diorama in the lobby.

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Melanie Asmar is a staff writer for Westword. She joined the paper in 2009 and has won awards for her stories about education, immigration and epic legal battles. Got a tip? She'd love to hear it.
Contact: Melanie Asmar