The Mural of the Story

The holiday decorations at the Denver City and County Building weren’t always such an orgy of bad taste. Back in 1935, just three years after the grand building was completed, the city hired muralist Louise Emerson Ronnebeck to create a 76-foot-long Christmas painting — a Nativity scene that fit into the neo-classical pediment at the top of the building. Sadly, that mural was only displayed one year, then lost to history — but you can see more of the pioneering Denver artist’s work at Louise Emerson Ronnebeck: A New Deal Muralist in Colorado, now at the Byers-Evans House Gallery through February 28.

The exhibit includes color sketches and architectural studies that Ronnebeck submitted for New Deal art-program commissions — two of which she won. Ronnebeck was hired to create murals for the post offices in Grand Junction and Worland, Wyoming; today the Worland mural is in a federal building in Casper. The Grand Junction piece is still in that building, “but it was lost for about thirty years,” says Kaitlyn Mellini, the gallery’s assistant director, who organized this show. “Everyone had forgotten about it. Ultimately it was located in New York City, were it was sent in the ’50s to be conserved.”

So could Ronnebeck’s Nativity scene still exist? “It could be hidden in some nook and cranny,” Mellini concedes. “We just need an organized effort to track it down.”

Start the hunt by seeing Ronnebeck’s existing treasures at the Byers-Evans Museum, 1310 Bannock Street, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Visit www.historycolorado.org/be or call 303-620-4933.
Dec. 10-Feb. 28, 2010

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun