Elaine Calzolari, an important Denver artist known for her many public commissions in Colorado and nationwide, died November 8 after a long battle with ovarian cancer. Born in 1950 in Albertson, New York, she studied sculpture in France and earned her bachelor's degree in 1973 from Hofstra University, where she worked with David Jacobs.
Soon after that, she moved to Colorado and began to exhibit her pieces here; at one point, she was the subject of a show at St. Charles on the Wazee, a contemporary-art space founded by the late Bev Rosen that was arguably the forerunner of MCA Denver. Calzolari's work was also displayed at Sebastian-Moore Gallery, one of the city's premier commercial venues. By the mid-1980s, Calzolari essentially abandoned the exhibition world in order to pursue art commissions.
Stylistically, she was a conceptualist, creating environments that were often made principally of stone. For instance, the monumental "Hogback," installed on the bike path south of the Cherry Creek mall in 1989, comprises huge slabs of sandstone set on end. In 1994's "The Big Drop," Calzolari created a spectacular waterfall and courtyard at the Natural and Environmental Sciences Building at Colorado State University.
"The Welcoming Committee" (detail pictured), at the South Broadway RTD Station, is made up of three sculptures constructed using salvaged architectural elements; it won a Westword Best of Denver award in 1997. In 2002, Calzolari took a witty take on a homestead in Donovan Park in Vail with "Westward Ho," a fenced playground; nearby is 2003's "Mom and Kid," which is made up of a pair of kiosks.
In addition to her art career, Calzolari was part of the political system, serving as the first woman sergeant-at-arms of the Colorado State Senate, and later as the calendar clerk, a position from which she resigned last April.
The last time I saw her, about a year ago, she told me her cancer was in remission, but unfortunately, that changed. A memorial will be held at RedLine at 2 p.m. on Saturday, December 5.