Temporarily closed. Grand Opening March 10, 2018 at 12th & Bannock. Learn More

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the staff doing while the museum is closed?

Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art will open our new 38,500 square foot building at 1201 Bannock on March 10, 2018. During this transformative phase of the temporary closure, museum staff are tackling thousands of tasks necessary to re-create the unique atmosphere of the current museum in a new facility nearly four times larger than the Pearl Street building. We are expanding our universe! 

Beginning in May 2016, Vance Kirkland's three-room studio & art school building was emptied, then detached and moved (November 2016) and connected to the new structure on Bannock. With approximately 65% more display space in the new museum, Hugh Grant, our Founding Director & Curator, is laying out detailed gallery displays to showcase more of the collection while ensuring that the charm and intimacy of the Pearl Street location carries over to the new building. Planning is also underway for temporary exhibitions.

Besides the monumental task of preparing, packing and moving the collection, work is underway to ensure an extraordinary visitor experience in the new building including an expanded museum store. Creating educational material including brochures, handouts, wallboards and more for the new space is paramount.

We are expanding necessary research and procedural care of our library and the museum's archive of rare documents related to artists and objects in our collection. Another high priority is regular communication with members and volunteers and planning off-site events and educational activities during the closure. Last but not least, implementation of a compelling marketing and outreach strategy in advance of the opening is critical.

Who was Denver artist Vance Kirkland?

Vance Kirkland (1904–1981) was among the most important Colorado and regional painters of the 20th century. His work can be divided into 5 major periods and over 30 series, beginning in the 1920s with realist watercolor paintings and evolving into his greatest works—Surrealism and also abstractions created with his signature oil paint and water technique, as well as the Dot Paintings. In addition to his 55-year career as an innovative and successful painter, he was a remarkable educator and collector. Born in Convoy, Ohio, Kirkland came to Denver in 1929 as the founding Director of the current School of Art at the University of Denver (DU). Aside from his influence as a professor, Kirkland was active in the local art community and worked to establish the Modern Art movement in Denver. He left DU in 1932 to establish the Kirkland School of Art (1932–1946) at 1311 Pearl Street. Kirkland’s school was highly successful, and in 1946 DU enticed him to return as director of its school of art until 1969. He continued to paint in his Pearl Street studio until his death in 1981.

How and why was Kirkland Museum founded?

Upon Kirkland’s death, Hugh Grant, Kirkland Museum Founding Director & Curator, inherited the estate, which included Kirkland’s own paintings, his small collection of decorative and Colorado art and the studio building. After many years of contending with estate taxes and struggling to keep the collection intact, Grant established the Kirkland Museum and Foundation in 1996 and began the process of building the major collections. In 1998 ground was broken for the museum expansion that adjoined the south side of the studio building at 1311 Pearl Street. Kirkland Museum opened to the public April 2, 2003. 

Merle Chambers and Hugh Grant were married from 1989–2017. Chambers was influential in the growth of Kirkland Museum, funding the construction of the original museum located at 13th and Pearl and providing ongoing support and guidance. Chambers’ support was instrumental in developing the international decorative art collection at Kirkland Museum, considered one of the most important design collections displayed in any North American museum.

Did Vance Kirkland collect everything at the museum?

No. The current collection continues to be inspired by Vance Kirkland’s appreciation for the artwork of his contemporaries in Colorado and decorative art from the Art Deco and Modern eras. Only a small portion of the collection originally belonged to Kirkland. Hugh Grant and the museum have acquired most of the objects on view through auctions, estate sales, art dealers and from individual collectors. The museum is also fortunate to receive estate gifts and donations of art objects.

How is the museum funded?

Kirkland Museum receives financial support through two main sources of funding: 1.) earned income from admissions, museum store sales and memberships and 2.) donations from individuals and foundations.

What is the history of the studio and art school building?

Built in 1910–1911, the original Arts & Crafts style building is Denver’s oldest commercial art building and the second oldest in Colorado, after the Van Briggle Memorial Pottery building in Colorado Springs. English-born artist Henry Read (1851–1935) commissioned architects Maurice B. Biscoe (1871–1953) and Henry H. Hewitt (1875–1926) to construct his Students’ School of Art. Kirkland rented and later purchased the building and started the Kirkland School of Art (1932–1946) with classes accredited by the University of Colorado beginning in 1933. After Kirkland’s return to the University of Denver, he used the Pearl Street building as his studio until his death in 1981. The studio is now incorporated into Kirkland Museum and was relocated to the new museum at 12th & Bannock on November 6, 2016. Read more about the history of the Studio Building here.

Did Vance Kirkland live at 1311 Pearl/in the studio building?

No. The studio building has been used exclusively as an art institution. Kirkland lived in a house nearby at 8th Avenue & Pearl Street, which is still standing and still used as a private home.

What is the purpose of the straps hanging from the ceiling in the studio?

Vance Kirkland sometimes suspended himself above his work with four straps in order to create his large paintings. The canvases needed to lie flat so that his oil paint and water mixtures, and later the dots, would not run. He often used wooden dowels to create the perfect round dots seen in his later paintings. Although the dots were made with tools, the compositions were created completely freehand.

How did Kirkland determine his unusual color combinations?

Perhaps one of the most intriguing aspects of Kirkland’s paintings is that his color combinations are partly derived from classical music. Kirkland was synesthetic, meaning, as he applied it, he could hear color. While Kirkland enjoyed a wide variety of music, including jazz, he derived different color schemes for some of his paintings from modern classical composers who had occasional dissonance in their music, including Bartók, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Ives, Mahler, Stravinsky, Berg, Ravel, Piston, Debussy and others. Read more about Kirkland's synesthesia here.

Why is there such a large collection of decorative art?

Having decorative art and other artists’ work around him wasn’t just important to Kirkland, it was essential to his existence. He incorporated pieces from the design movements of his time into his everyday life. Kirkland was known to comment: “If I am going to eat off of something, drink out of something or sit in something, it is going to be great design.”