One of the premier museums in Denver: Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art
Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art, in Denver, Colorado, allows visitors to time travel through about 150 years of art. The evolving collections contain over 30,000 works by more than 1,500 artists and designers, with about 4,400 works on view. The three principal collections are all shown together in salon style:
- A celebrated international decorative art collection from about 1870 to the present with examples of every major design period from Arts & Crafts through Postmodern
- A Colorado & regional art collection from about 1845 to the present
- A retrospective of Colorado’s distinguished painter, Vance Kirkland (1904–1981)
Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art is dedicated to promoting Colorado’s distinguished art history. The museum is rediscovering, documenting, collecting, preserving and exhibiting Colorado art, with an emphasis on the 1840s onward, and holds the estate of Vance Kirkland (1904–1981) as its foundation. Colorado fine and decorative art are shown in context with one of the most important national and international decorative art collections in North America from about 1870 to the present. The museum serves scholars and the general public through exhibitions, the loan of works, public programs, lectures, tours, publications and the assembling of permanent archives.
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 Vance Kirkland's Pearl Street studio & art school 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, which became the first home of Kirkland Museum.
Kirkland Museum opened to the public on April 2, 2003, displaying the works of Kirkland, his Colorado and regional colleagues and international decorative art. Merle Chambers and Hugh Grant were married from 1989–2017. Chambers was influential in the growth of Kirkland Museum and Merle Chambers Fund provided the funding for the new museum building. Chambers is a founding member of the Kirkland Museum Board of Directors and provides ongoing support and guidance. Her 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.
Grant has continued to mount special exhibitions, hold the collection together and further build upon it as the museum’s Founding Director & Curator. 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 relocate the museum to a new building at 12th Avenue and Bannock Street in Denver’s Golden Triangle Creative District. Funding for the new home of the museum is an investment by Merle Chambers and Merle Chambers Fund in the further development of the vibrant Golden Triangle Creative District and Denver’s nationally important art scene.
Vance Kirkland’s studio & art school building is the heart of the Kirkland Museum experience and was relocated to Bannock Street in November 2016, and oriented in the same direction. The new facility is an opportunity to increase the public’s exposure to the museum’s three collection areas.
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 7,000 works by more than 700 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.
Merle Chambers Fund
Merle C. Chambers is an entrepreneur, business executive and attorney, philanthropist and art collector, whose broad mix of personal interests and commercial ventures have resulted in achievements in business, philanthropy and the arts. She created Merle Chambers Fund to strengthen justice, equality and opportunity, enhance democratic values, and support systems change and policy reform efforts that improve women’s economic security and children’s early care and education. Merle Chambers was a founding member of The Women’s Foundation of Colorado, its board chair in 1992, and was the first woman to serve on the Buell Foundation Board of Trustees. She provided the lead gift to establish the Merle Catherine Chambers Center for the Advancement of Women at the University of Denver.
Her business endeavors include managing Axem Resources, where she pioneered women’s leadership and family friendly practices in the oil and gas industry. Chambers is president of Merle Chambers Fund, a private foundation, and Leith Ventures, a private investment company. She holds degrees from the University of California at Berkeley, Hastings College of Law and a Masters in Tax Law from the University of Denver. Chambers is the third woman to have reached both the North and South Poles.