The art at Union Station has been one of the surprise hits of the $54 million renovation project. The building holds more than 600 pieces of art, a collection so extensive that the Crawford Hotel, which fills the upper three floors, has both an electronic and a published guide to the artwork so that you can take your own self-guided tour (pick it up at the Crawford Hotel desk). Sorry, the hotel-room displays are off limits to all but guests (although tours are offered twice a month), but there's still plenty to see in the public areas -- and the people-watching in the Great Hall alone -- billed as "Denver's living room" -- is worth the trip.
"I like to sit there and watch all the people," says developer Dana Crawford, the inspiration behind the hotel's name. "There's just every stripe, and everybody who walks in is having such a good time. If they haven't been there before, their jaws just drop. It just makes me so happy. It's civic theater." See also:Photos of the restaurants of Union Station
And soon another artwork could make a dramatic comeback: "Winter Crossing," a stunning mural by Denver artist Stephen Batura (one of our 100 Colorado Creatives). More than a decade ago, there was an earlier renovation project that focused on the tunnel that once connected the station to the trains; Batura won a commission to create a piece for the area at the top of the tunnel, and RTD installed "Winter Crossing" there in 2002.
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"I usually work from historical photographs, and I spent weeks poring over the digital archives at the Denver Public Library," Batura told us. "I didn't know what I was looking for, exactly, but something dramatic and unusual. The original black-and-white photograph was taken in 1951 by Robert W. Richardson. DPL approved the use of the image, which I mechanically cropped and stretched. Then I did various color studies before beginning the mural."
Ten years later, RTD packed up the piece when the station renovation project started in 2012. And while other pieces have come out of storage, "Winter Crossing" has yet to reappear. But it could soon have a spot: Joyce Meskis wants to see if it could work on the north wall of her Tattered Cover store in the station. First, though, the staff has to find the piece, then figure out how to hang it high above the bookcases.
Like the art that's made it into the station, Tattered Cover has been a big hit there, too. "It's almost the exact same size as the original Tattered," says Meskis, who opened her first store in Cherry Creek thirty years ago. It has the same cozy ambience of the original, too, and is adding more Colorado-centric books -- a development that would be welcome at the three Tattered shops at the airport, too.
As for the Union Station art collection, can't-miss pieces include original linens -- think blueprints, but older, dating from the 1914 construction of the Great Hall in the center of the station -- as well as a wall full of framed found objects, including Hollywood movie star playing cards from the '40s, discovered when the old waiting-room benches were taken apart. Those benches were also found to contain so much asbestos from the heating system that most could not be saved -- although two may make it to the back wall of the Great Hall.