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Vance Kirkland

Kirkland’s Original Studio & Art School Building

Built 1910–1911: Denver’s oldest commercial art building; Second oldest in Colorado, after the Van Briggle Memorial Pottery building in Colorado Springs (1908)

Architectural style: Arts & Crafts
Architects: Maurice Biscoe and Henry Hewitt

English-born artist Henry Read (1851–1935) commissioned architects Maurice B. Biscoe (1871–1953) and Henry H. Hewitt (1875–1926) to design 1311 Pearl Street for his Students’ School of Art. Biscoe originally came to Denver to supervise the construction of Saint John’s Episcopal Cathedral (14th & Washington, begun in 1904). Although both were trained in the Beaux-Arts style, the Pearl Street building is in an Arts & Crafts style. Among the best known of the Biscoe and Hewitt collaborations are the Clayton College for Boys (Martin Luther King Jr. & Colorado Boulevards, 1909–1911) and gold magnate Guilford Wood’s mansion (later Helen Bonfils’ home, 707 Washington Street).

Read was one of the 13 founding members of the Denver Artists’ Club (1893) which later became the Denver Art Association (1917) and then the Denver Art Museum (1923). Kirkland recounted that Read and other members used their homes and the Pearl Street building for meetings of the Denver Artists’ Club from 1911 until 1922, when this organization was deeded Chappell House (1300 Logan, razed 1970).

Vance Kirkland (1904–1981), originally from Ohio, became Director of the University of Denver’s School of Art at Chappell House in January of 1929. However, in 1932, Kirkland left the university because it would not give full academic degree credit for its art courses. He rented and later purchased the building at 1311 Pearl Street and started the Kirkland School of Art (1932–1946) with classes accredited by the University of Colorado beginning in 1933. The Kirkland School of Art was highly successful with over 100 art students, so in 1946 the University of Denver enticed Kirkland to return with a salary equal to the university chancellor's. Kirkland again became Director of the School of Art on the university campus. When Kirkland finally left the university in 1969, his was the university’s largest undergraduate school with more than 500 students. Kirkland painted at 1311 Pearl Street from 1932 until his death in 1981 (using it solely as his studio after his return to DU in 1946).

The entire Pearl Street building was built with northern-facing skylight windows for painting by natural light. 12 of the original ribbed chicken-wire glass windows have been saved in the workroom, while the first two rooms have newer, smooth, chicken wire glass. Behind the original building was a garden and outhouse with no running water, so one had to go out the back door and across the garden to enter the outhouse. Each of the three main rooms had a coal and wood burning stove for heating. There was no electricity in the first two rooms or the hallway and only the third and last room (Kirkland’s workroom) had some minimal electrical lighting (one or two Art Deco chandeliers). Gaslights lit the front exterior, and each room had a gaslight fixture. Also, many candlesticks and oil lamps were used. This was a true bohemian existence in the middle of Denver. The three lions on the front of the Vance Kirkland Studio were acquired about 1950 when the Flatiron Building (16th & Court Place) was remodeled, and they were added to Kirkland’s studio in 1980. The lions were made by the Denver Brick and Terra Cotta Company circa 1900.

Kirkland died in May 1981. Since Kirkland’s wife had already died and they had no children, family friend Hugh Grant became executor of the estate. Kirkland Foundation was established in 1996 to preserve and promote the works of Vance Kirkland and the other collections. Grant has continued to do exhibitions, hold the collection together and further build upon it. Kirkland Museum opened to the public on April 2, 2003, displaying a celebrated international decorative art collection, a survey of Colorado and regional art and the work of distingished Colorado painter Vance Kirkland, all shown together in an intimate, salon-style atmosphere.

In 2000, a 8,830 square foot addition to the original building was completed. This addition was built to the immediate south of the original art school and 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.

Click here for information about the studio building’s relocation to Bannock Street.