Denver's evolution from a vast prairie to a bona fide big city has been closely chronicled by photographers. Shutterbugs started snapping in the mid-1800s, and they haven't stopped since. And an exhaustive archive of their work -- more than 600,000 historical images -- has been compiled by the Denver Art Museum, the Colorado Historical Society and the Denver Public Library's Western History/Genealogy Department. The grainy black-and-white photos are a portal through time, reviving everything from Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show to women in big, weird hats on Larimer Street at the turn of the century. The images are arranged in galleries searchable by keyword at www.photoswest.org or in person on the fifth floor of the Central Library. For about twenty bucks, DPL staff will print and ship a nice digital copy of any photo in the collection; all you have to do is slap on a frame, and you've got grown-up-looking art that's picture-perfect for your wall.
Can't afford a real Monet, Chuck Close or Czanne? BetterWall.com has you covered: Instead of a cheesy framed poster by an Old Master or modern maestro, BetterWall.com specializes in museum-exhibit banners. Remember the Denver Museum of Contemporary Art's controversial show Will Boys Be Boys advertised with the banner featuring Chloe Piene's topless Little David? The seven-foot-by-two foot original can now be yours for $549. BetterWall.com founders Nick and Nora Weiser run their company out of Denver, but they get old exhibit banners from more than a dozen high-profile museums all over the country, including the Denver Art Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, so customers can look well-traveled and art-conscious even if they only point and click. The couple splits the proceeds of sales with the museums, so buying here helps fund future exhibits -- and keeps remnants of the old ones out of landfills.
Whether you like Ike or hang with the Rat Pack, Room is the perfect introduction to mid-century style -- like a trip to the set of The Dick Van Dyke Show. Vintage credenzas, new-but-retro chrome-and-glass coffee tables, overarching floor lamps suitable for Beat-poetry jams, sprawling sofas, martini-ware and mobiles galore. It's all sooo crazy, cat.
Whether it's pimpin' out your house or turnin' out your club, National Speaker and Sound has set the standard for sound quality in Denver for more than two decades. Head salesman Neil Grudzen has sold, cajoled, referred and deferred advice to the brightest lights on the Denver music scene since the mid-'80s. An independently owned store, National Speaker continues to thrive in a business dominated by chains. Nobody has a better vibe or a better deal than National Speaker.
Carolyn Shaver and Steve Thurston have been in the Asian import business for years, traveling to the Orient and shipping back trunks, wardrobes, ginger jars, old baskets and more. They took their passion a taste further, however, when they opened their small store on South Broadway and added a self-packaged line of high-quality teas from from China, Sri Lanka, Taiwan and India. Shaver leaves out samples of the whole-leaf teas so that customers can touch and smell them while also fondling her elegant assortment of teapots, books and accessories. Be sure to try the Jasmine Silver Peach with Pink Blossom -- the tea globes flower when steeped -- the pale Silver Needle white tea or the therapeutic Orangic Puerh Ginger tea with orange peel.
Truong An is a humongous jumble of Asian imports that spill out of the doors and onto the sidewalk, everything scented with the exotic aroma of smoky fountains, peculiar herbs and stacks of fragrant joss sticks. Kids love picking through the origami kits, puffy stickers and Pucca and Mashimoro cartoon-character stationery, while adults can't get enough of the Buddha statues, brocade bags, tea sets and Qi Pao dresses. It's love at first sight.
T-Trove Asian Decor is the kind of place people visit just to hang out and relax. Buoyed by the sweet odor of incense and the sound of trickling indoor fountains, this is an oasis of calm. And if you're there to buy, T-Trove encourages you to think grandiosely large or infinitesimally small, since it sells everything from miniature Chinese folk-art paintings to antique drums as wide as a room and tall as the ceiling. Or try a pair of Great Wall bookends, a branched lamp hung with individual rice-paper lanterns, an array of satin slippers or a shining cloisonne teapot. It's all within your grasp.
DecorAsian
There are a million stories to be told at Boulder's DecorAsian, where the artifacts breathe with history. Owner Rusty Staff stocks the place with a traveler's eye -- he owns Asia Transpacific Journeys, after all -- personally bringing back much of his stock from the exotic places he visits. There are temple doors, carved ceiling panels and gilded monks' chests from Thailand; inscrutable Buddha figures from old Burma; baskets, carved gamelan xylophones and elaborate shadow puppets from Indonesia and Java; and bamboo birdcage lamps and tribal ancestor figures from Vietnam. And that's just a fraction of the journey. Such treasures cost a pretty penny, but the browsing is free -- and that's a fine price to pay for an extended trip through the Orient.
Italian majolica pottery is like a priceless drug. Oh, to own a wall of classic Deruta platters hand-painted with roosters and peacocks and patterns done in such vivid colors they'll make you cry. Vario is majolica central, simply brimming with grapevine-encrusted bowls, lemon-embellished plates, terra cotta horse heads, shimmery lead-crystal goblets, clocks, elephants, birds and cats, each one a true treasure -- even the little floral refrigerator magnets. Ooh. Aah.
Tibetan refugee Palden Yangsto Hester is the real thing, a forced emigree whose heart still burns with love for her birthplace, even though her family was persecuted and some members killed. Now settled here, Hester imports wares from Tibet, Nepal and India, selling them in a richly appointed Cherry Creek North emporium under a banner that roars "Save Tibet." The store is ringed with a stock of fierce tiger rugs, intricate thangkas, antique furniture, prayer flags and Buddha figures, but Hester's main focus is the kind of jewelry that really must be called objets d'art: heavy strings of breathtaking natural coral, amber and turquoise hung with beautifully etched silver pendants. Glorious.

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