Our Story: The History of Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art
In May 1981, artist Vance Kirkland died, willing his estate to family friend Hugh Grant who had been curating exhibitions for Kirkland. Since Kirkland’s wife had already died and they had no children, Grant became executor of the estate. From 1981 to 1996, Grant mounted exhibitions of Kirkland’s work and that of other artists such as Edgar Britton and Otto Bach. By 1996, Grant realized that Colorado fine and decorative art was not being shown in depth in any museum setting. Many exceptional artists of the past were being forgotten.
Using the 1311 Pearl Street art school and studio building, the Vance Kirkland Foundation was granted nonprofit, 501(c)(3) status as an operating foundation. In the late 1990s, while Grant took Kirkland’s paintings throughout Europe, construction began on an addition to the studio building. The brick closely matches the original building, as does the exterior and interior design. The architects were (Richard) Chip Melick, Jr. (born 1956) and Rachel Rouiller (born 1969) of Melick and Associates, Inc.
Grant has continued to mount special exhibitions, hold the collection together and further build upon it as the museum’s Founding Director & Curator. Kirkland Museum opened to the public on April 2, 2003, displaying the works of Kirkland, his Colorado and regional colleagues and international decorative art. Since that time, the museum’s hours, programming and exhibitions have continued to expand, as have the museum’s collections which now total over 30,000 objects.
In January 2014, Kirkland Museum announced plans to move the museum to a new building to be built at 12th Avenue and Bannock Street in Denver’s Golden Triangle Museum District. Vance Kirkland’s art school & studio building at 1311 Pearl is the heart of the Kirkland Museum experience and will be relocated to Bannock Street and oriented in the same direction. The new facility, scheduled to open fall 2017, is an opportunity to increase the public’s exposure to the museum’s three collection areas.
Profile of Hugh A. Grant
Founding Director & Curator
Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art
Grant established the Kirkland Foundation in 1996 to document, rediscover, collect, preserve, exhibit and publish Colorado artists. The Colorado and regional art collection is concerned with a period from 1820 to about 1990 (traditional through modern), with an emphasis on the 1850s onwards, and contains about 6,000 works by more than 600 Colorado artists.
Grant built the majority of Kirkland Museum’s celebrated international decorative art collection—recognized as one of the most important displays in North America which includes notable examples of every major design period from Arts & Crafts through Postmodern. Kirkland Museum has the estate collection of Vance Kirkland (1904–1981), the distinguished Colorado painter, whose works have received more than 350 exhibitions at 70 museums and 35 universities encompassing 13 countries, many organized by Grant.
Grant and Kirkland Museum have loaned many artworks to institutions in Colorado as well as nationally and internationally. Grant has authored numerous articles on art for books, magazines, catalogs and brochures.
Grant won the Heartland Emmy Award for Best Entertainment Program of 2000 for his role as Executive Director of The Artist and The Muse, a ballet that aired on PBS stations, also winning 11 other awards. Grant wrote the scenario for this ballet, chose the 20th-century classical music, and dovetailed the scenario and music together, which was then performed by Colorado Ballet. Grant has also been Executive Producer of two other art documentaries airing on PBS stations. Grant has appeared in three HGTV “Hey Remember” decorative art programs. Grant has won two bronze (2nd) Chris Awards and a Silver CINDY (2nd). Antiques Roadshow, the PBS television series, taped at Kirkland Museum for two days in July 2009.
Other awards Grant has received include the 2015 Citizens of the Arts Award from the Fine Arts Foundation, the 2009 Bonfils-Stanton Foundation Award for Contributions in the Field of Arts and Humanities, the 2000 Historic Denver—Ann Love Award for Historic Preservation, the 2000 AFKEY Award from the Alliance for Contemporary Art (AFCA) at the Denver Art Museum and the 1999 Mayor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts.
He received an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Denver (2003) and a BA from Colorado State University in Ft. Collins (1967). His first two years at college were at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts. He is married to Merle C. Chambers.