Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art
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Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art  
Frequently Asked Questions

There are many questions often asked about Vance Kirkland or the museum and its history. We hope to answer some of those questions in this section. However, if you do not find the answers you are looking for, or would like to share your opinion, feel free to contact us.

Q: Who was Vance Kirkland?
A: Vance Kirkland (1904–1981) was among the most important Colorado and regional painters of the twentieth century. His work can be divided into five 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 54-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. The Kirkland School of Art was highly successful, and in 1946 the University of Denver (DU) enticed Kirkland 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.

Q: 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 7,933 square foot museum expansion that adjoins the south side of the studio building. Kirkland Museum, now nearly 11,000 square feet, opened to the public in April 2003.

Q: Did Vance Kirkland collect everything at the museum?

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 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.


Q: How is the museum funded?
A: Kirkland Museum receives financial support through two main sources of funding: 1.) earned income from admissions, gift shop sales and memberships and 2.) donations from individuals and foundations.

Q: What is the history of the art school and studio building?
A: 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.

Q: Did Vance Kirkland live at 1311 Pearl?

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.

Q: 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.


Q: 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.

Q: Why is there such a large collection of decorative art?
A: 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.”