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Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art  

Chronology for Vance Kirkland (19041981)

1904    Born November 3 in Convoy, Ohio, a small country town west of Cleveland, near the Indiana border.

Attended the Cleveland School of Art, Cleveland, Ohio. On June 1, 1928, he received a diploma in painting and a Bachelor of Education in Art degree.



Attended Western Reserve University, Cleveland, and Cleveland School of Education.




Summer, Kirkland arrived in Denver in June to find a residence and meet with the University of Denver about plans for the new School of Art.  He then took a painting trip to New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado (including Mesa Verde).






June, Kirkland signed on to become a charter member of the Denver Artists Guild. There were 52 founding artists (and 23 patrons to help fund exhibitions); the three principal organizers were artists Albert Bancroft, Dean Babcock and David Spivak. See entry under 1948 when 15 modernist artists staged a competing exhibition, including Kirkland, with the still conservative Denver Artists Guild at the Denver Art Museum.









January 3, 1929, opened and became founding Director of the current School of Art at the University of Denver, with a grant from the Carnegie Foundation of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The school was originally called the Chappell School of Art because it was located in Chappell House at 13th Avenue and Logan Street on the top floor. The first and second floors served as quarters for the Denver Art Museum at that time.



May 29, Certification by the Department of Education, State of Ohio.











In June, Kirkland left the University because the University decided not to give art courses full academic recognition toward a degree, which was the original agreement. He intended to paint full time, but his students prevailed upon him to also continue to teach. He then established the Kirkland School of Art at 1311 Pearl Street in Denver (now Kirkland Museum), where classes were accredited by the University of Colorado, Denver Extension (UCD), 1933–1946, thereby founding the Art School of UCD—his third art school by age 28.














Kirkland began to give salon recitals and chamber music concerts (until 1959) at his studio, particularly to introduce people to modern music such as Barber, Bartók, Hindemith, Ives, Janacek, Mahler, Milhaud, Nielsen, Piston, Prokofiev, and many others. He coordinated his concerts with the Allied Arts, an organization founded in 1920 in Denver that generally gave concerts at Chappell House. Kirkland had a slightly larger space, and he hosted some of the Allied Arts "Moments Musicales" evenings at his studio. He helped endorse the grant for Orville Moore, after whom the vocal competition is now named.








Became President of the Denver Artists Guild for a year term, 1941–1942.  Kirkland had been one of the original 52 founding artists in 1928, and in 1948 would later be one of the 15 modernist artists to be in a competing exhibition at the Denver Art Museum with the still conservative Denver Artists Guild (see entry under 1948).





July 26, married Anne Fox Oliphant Olson, a librarian.  They had no children and were able to travel widely. They remained married for 28 years until she died February 3, 1970.











Served at the Denver Art Museum, Denver, Colorado; Curator of American and European Art (various times and 1953–1958), Honorary Curator of Contemporary Art (1958–1965); also member of the Board of Trustees (January 1944–1956), Chairman of the Accessions Committee, 1943–1953 (appointed member 1942), member of the Exhibition Committee (starting April, 1944), Honorary Curator of Painting and Sculpture (1955–1958).




Kirkland was shown at the prestigious New York gallery Knoedler & Co., receiving three one-person shows (1946, 1948 and 1952); a co-show with Max Ernst (1950); a co-show with Bernard Buffet (1952).



Returned as Director of the School of Art at the University of Denver. He was also appointed Chairman of the Division of Arts and Humanities for the College of Art and Sciences there (1946–1955) and Professor of Painting (1946–1969). He served on committees of Honorary Degrees, of Curriculum and of Budget.



November 6, 1947 to January 11, 1948, Kirkland included, with a surrealist painting, in the Abstract and Surrealist American Art exhibition at The Art Institute of Chicago, with a 64-page catalog of a who’s who of American art.

1947–1959    Member, Board of Trustees, Gilpin County Arts Association, Central City, Colorado.  




December 3–January 1, 1949: a widely publicized and landmark exhibition for modernism in Colorado, 15 COLORADO ARTISTS, was given at the Denver Art Museum (Chappell House Branch, 1300 Logan Street).  Fifteen artists broke from the conservative Denver Artists Guild (founded in 1928, with Kirkland one of the original 52 founders).  Each group was given an exhibition, across from one another simultaneously. The 15 were, alphabetically, Don Allen, John Billmyer, Marion Buchan, Jean Charlot, Mina Conant, Angelo di Benedetto, Eo Kirchner, Vance Kirkland, Moritz Krieg, Duard Marshall, Louise Ronnebeck, William Sanderson, Paul K. Smith, J. Richard Sorby and Frank Vavra. Subsequently many other artists joined the 15 until the group disbanded about 1970.


Member, Board of Trustees, Allied Arts, Denver, Colorado.

1954    Chairman, Museum Committee, Central City Opera Association, Central City, Colorado.


Kirkland is included in the Reality and Fantasy 1900-1954, exhibition at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, with a 57-page catalog.

1957    Received the "University Lecturer" Award, the highest award of the University of Denver.



President of the Board of Allied Arts.


Kirkland takes a sabbatical from the University of Denver and paints for 6 months in Italy, culminating in an exhibition at the Galleria Schneider in Rome near the Spanish Steps. He completes 41 paintings for the year.




June, appointed Professor of Art Emeritus, University of Denver. He later left the University of Denver. At this time, there were more than 500 students taking art courses, making the School of Art the largest undergraduate school at the university.


September, Kirkland received a bad blood transfusion in the hospital when having his gall bladder removed, giving him hepatitis B, which killed him in eleven years. During those eleven years, he nearly died several times, but continued to paint in the building he had used, since 1932, for the Kirkland School of Art at 1311 Pearl Street (now known as Vance Kirkland Studio and partly containing the collections of Kirkland Museum).  Vance and his wife Anne lived in a house exactly five blocks to the south at 817 Pearl Street, which is still there and still used as a private residence.

1970    Vance's wife, Anne, died February 3.

1971    Received the State of Colorado Arts and Humanities Award.

1972    Honored by the Denver Art Museum as receiving the first solo exhibition in the new building, designed by Gio Ponti and James Sudler.




The Denver Center for the Performing Arts purchased a large Kirkland painting, which was the first art work installed in the new Boettcher Concert Hall for the Colorado Symphony, which now has three large Kirkland paintings. Also within the Denver Performing Arts Complex, there are three large Kirkland paintings in the Quigg Newton Denver Municipal Auditorium, underneath the Ellie Caulkins Opera House.  Newton was a much admired Denver Mayor (1947–1955) who owned two Kirkland paintings with his wife Ginny and had one hanging behind his desk while Mayor.


August 18–October 1, retrospective at the Denver Art Museum, Vance Kirkland FIFTY YEARS, featured 83 paintings and a 47-page catalog.  When asked how he felt about having a 50-year retrospective, Kirkland replied with his usual flippant humor, “I’m just glad to be alive.” A few months later Genesis Galleries in New York opened a retrospective on Kirkland with an 81 page catalog.

1979    Donated his only signed, numbered serigraph edition to benefit the Denver Symphony Orchestra.

1981    Died May 24, Denver, Colorado, at the age of 76.

1993    Honored posthumously by Historic Denver as part of The Colorado 100 - "for contributions and lasting impact on the arts in Colorado."



January 30–26 March, 1995, Kirkland included in a museum traveling exhibition, The Informing Spirit, to the McMichael Canadian Art Collection (Kleinburg, Ontario, Canada), Vancouver Art Gallery (British Columbia, Canada), Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, Gibbes Museum of Art (Charleston, SC). Artists included Ernest Blumenschein, Marsden Hartley, Raymond Jonson, John Marin, Georgia O’Keeffe and Agnes Pelton; there is a 176-page catalog. 


August 14, premiered an hour television special, Vance Kirkland’s Visual Language, which was produced by Emmerich Oross and Rocky Mountain PBS and aired on over 100 affiliate PBS stations.  It featured eight directors and curators from The Art Institute of Chicago, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Dallas Museum of Art, Denver Art Museum, Museum of Art—University of Arizona and Kirkland Museum.


Hugh Grant, with his wife Merle Chambers, established the Kirkland Foundation.


Kirkland works were given a traveling exhibition held in eleven European museums and two European exhibition halls, in ten countries.  In each show, all five of Kirkland’s painting periods were represented, demonstrating the strength of his entire career.  Catalogs were published by most of the European museums for their Kirkland shows—eight dual-language catalogs in nine languages including English.  A Stemmle book on Kirkland was also published in association with the Frankfurter Kunstverein, Frankfurt, Germany in 1998.


May, a ballet based on Kirkland’s life, The Artist and The Muse—Dreamspace, was performed by Colorado Ballet eight times at the Denver Auditorium Theater.  It won the 2001 Heartland Regional Emmy for Best Entertainment Program. Choreography was by Martin Fredmann and Andrew Thompson; Hugh Grant wrote the scenario and constructed the music using Gustav Mahler, Walter Piston, Howard Hanson, Charles Ives, Samuel Barber, Francis Poulenc, Charles Ives, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Alan Hovhaness.  It was broadcast on two Denver PBS stations and on State Russian Television when the Kirkland exhibition was given at the State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg in 2000 (the first one-person exhibition in St. Petersburg for an American artist).


April 2, Wednesday, Kirkland Museum opened with public hours.


April, an hour television special about Kirkland Museum, MuseumMuseum, was produced by Joshua Hassel and Colorado Public Television, a PBS member station.  This documentary was broadcast to coincide with the public opening of Kirkland Museum and has been subsequently broadcast numerous times.



Two Kirkland paintings were exhibited in The Modern West, curated by Emily Ballew Neff at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, then traveling to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  In each museum Kirkland’s paintings were placed in the same gallery with Jackson Pollock and Clyfford Still. A 315-page catalog of the exhibition was published.