Below are some helpful digital resources for visitors, several of which are also available at the Welcome Desk. Use this page to prepare for your visit, or bookmark the page on your smartphone for use in the galleries!
Welcome to Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art!
In order to best enjoy Kirkland Museum, please:
- Leave coats, bags, backpacks and water bottles in a complimentary locker
- Be aware of your personal space
- Take photographs for your personal use, without flash
- Only sit on benches marked “Visitor Seating”
- Ask questions and give us feedback
- Touch the artwork or objects
- Bring food or drink
- Sit on furniture (unless marked “Visitor Seating”)
- Take flash photographs or use images for publication without express permission
Kirkland Museum was founded by Director & Curator, Hugh Grant, with extensive support from Merle Chambers, philanthropist and Vice President of the Kirkland Museum Board.
- Hugh Grant was a close family friend of Vance Kirkland (1904–1981), an important Colorado artist and the Museum’s namesake.
- At Kirkland’s death in 1981, Grant inherited most of his estate, which included Kirkland’s own paintings, his small collection of decorative and Colorado art and the studio & art school building.
- Nearly all of the artwork and objects were collected by Hugh Grant and Merle Chambers, with a small number from Vance Kirkland. Others were gifts or donations.
- The Museum originally opened in 2003 at 13th Avenue & Pearl Street. The current location opened in March 2018.
- Funding for the building was generously provided by Merle Chambers Fund.
Kirkland Museum has three principal collections
International Decorative Art
- Decorative art includes functional objects such as furniture, ceramics, tableware and glassware.
- All of the major modern design movements are represented from about 1870 to the present: Arts & Crafts, Aesthetic, Art Nouveau, Glasgow Style, Wiener Werkstätte, De Stijl, Bauhaus, Art Deco, Modern, Pop Art and Postmodern.
Colorado & Regional Art
- We show the full arc of Colorado and the surrounding states’ art history with works from about 1845 to the present.
- The collection includes the work of many painters, sculptors and ceramists Kirkland knew or taught.
Vance Kirkland (1904–1981)
- In Vance Kirkland Gallery 1, see all five of Kirkland’s painting periods spanning from realism to surrealism to abstraction.
- Vance Kirkland’s paintings anchor the Museum on both ends; in the Vance Kirkland Gallery 1 and in the studio & art school building, where all of the paintings are by Kirkland.
- Kirkland completed about 1,200 paintings during his 55-year career. Kirkland Museum owns about half of his known paintings and many of his prints and drawings.
All three collections are displayed in salon style to allow visitors to view fine art alongside decorative art and time travel through about 150 years of art.
- Salon style means fine art (paintings and sculpture) is shown with decorative art.
- Each gallery includes groupings of furniture, lamps, phones, radios, glassware and textiles alongside fine art from the same era.
- The central Promenade Gallery 2 features vignettes or groupings of furniture and paintings that represent the art and design movements or styles featured in the closest room. The first gallery on the right is Arts & Crafts Gallery 3.
- Galleries 3 through 8 are displayed in roughly chronological order, allowing visitors to time travel from the Arts & Crafts Movement in the 1870s (with paintings in the style of Realism by Colorado artists) all the way to more recently made work in Postmodern Gallery 8.
- Next visit the Indoor Sculpture Gallery and the Temporary Exhibition Gallery.
The brick building at the end of the Promenade Gallery 2 was used by Vance Kirkland for over 50 years as a studio & art school.
- 1904 – Vance Kirkland was born in Convoy, Ohio and studied at the Cleveland School of Art.
- 1929 – Kirkland moved to Denver to serve as the director of the current school of art at the University of Denver (DU).
- 1932 – Kirkland parted ways with DU and opened the Kirkland School of Art on Pearl Street.
- 1946 – Kirkland returned to DU until his retirement in 1969, using the Pearl Street building as his personal art studio until his death in 1981.
- Throughout his life, Kirkland was influential in the Denver arts scene, served in a number of capacities at the Denver Art Museum and created an extensive body of work.
The brick studio building is the heart of the Kirkland Museum experience.
- To honor its significance, the entire structure was moved from its original location at 13th and Pearl Street in 2016. Merle Chambers provided the inspiration to move the Kirkland studio building.
- The studio is oriented in the same direction as in its former location. For example, the skylights still face north, letting in optimal light for painting, as they did in Kirkland’s time.
- Built in 1910–1911, the studio building was commissioned by artist Henry Read to house his Students’ School of Art.
- Kirkland Museum joins the studios of artists such as Jackson Pollock & Lee Krasner, Thomas Hart Benton, Grant Wood, Charles Russell and Georgia O’Keeffe as a member of Historic Artists’ Homes and Studios, a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
- Though the studio may look and feel like a residence, it was never a home.
About the Architecture
- Jim Olson, FAIA, founding principal and owner of Seattle-based Olson Kundig, designed the Museum. Learn more here!
Click on a location below to learn more about the styles and movements shown. The name of each style or movement is a link to more information.
Vance Kirkland (1904–1981)
The Museum’s namesake is among the most important Colorado and regional painters of the 20th century. Kirkland created all the paintings in this gallery, as well as in his studio & art school building at the north end of the Museum.
Kirkland was born in Convoy, Ohio, graduated from the Cleveland School of Art and moved to Denver in 1929 as the Founding Director of the present School of Art at the University of Denver. He also founded the Kirkland School of Art, as well as the Art Program (now the Department of Visual Arts) at the University of Colorado Denver (UCD). He painted and resided in Denver for the rest of his life.
Kirkland’s work can be divided into five major periods (with over 30 series):
Kirkland painted primarily in watercolor for the first half of his career, and oil paint for the second. His career began in the mid-1920s with realist watercolor paintings of Rocky Mountain landscapes, which evolved into surrealist deadwood worlds. As he moved into abstraction, Kirkland developed three unique textures, initially mixing watercolor and denatured alcohol together, then subsequently mixing oil paint and water together to create another signature technique. His third texture derived from placing thousands of dots, (mostly) on top of the oil paint and water mixtures, for his final vibrant period of Dot Paintings. In addition to his 55-year career as an innovative and successful painter, Kirkland was a remarkable educator and collector.
To create abstract paintings with his unique oil paint and water mixtures and later dots, Kirkland had to place the canvases flat on his worktable. Since he then could not reach the center of the larger paintings (he was about 5’ 2 ½”), nor could he bend over a painting for 10 hours a day, he would lie across straps that were strung from the ceiling, about 1 ½ feet above the painting. [See a mock-up of the straps in his workroom in the studio building.]
Perhaps the strangest aspect about Kirkland’s paintings is that many of his color combinations are derived from classical music. Kirkland was synesthetic meaning, as he applied it, that he could hear color. While he could sense color when he listened to most music, only certain classical compositions with moderate but not extreme dissonance would provide Kirkland with a desired alloy of colors. In 1978, Kirkland responded in an interview: “I have always interpreted sound as color. Mahler, Schoenberg, Bartok, Berg, Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Ives all explored new tonalities that aided me in transposing sounds into colors.”
There have been three one-hour television documentaries about Kirkland for PBS stations. Vance Kirkland’s Visual Language , included directors and curators from six American museums. The Artist and The Muse is a ballet based on Kirkland’s life, with the scenario written, and music—loved by Kirkland—chosen by Hugh Grant. It was choreographed and danced by Colorado Ballet and won the Heartland Emmy Award for Best Entertainment Program of 2000. MuseumMuseum, West of the Mississippi: Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art; explores the collections of Kirkland Museum .
Kirkland’s works received an international traveling exhibition from April 24, 1997 through February 25, 2000. Selections of Kirkland’s paintings and drawings traveled to 13 institutions (11 museums and 2 exhibition halls) in 10 European countries. All 5 of Kirkland’s painting periods were represented in all 13 exhibitions, demonstrating the strength of his entire career. 11 of the 13 exhibitions were accompanied by a published catalog or book.
International Decorative Art in Vance Kirkland Gallery 1
This gallery also has international decorative art. The center table was designed by our architect, Jim Olson, as were the tables in the Visitor Lounge. The other furniture in Vance Kirkland Gallery 1 are things Kirkland liked, primarily Modern designs, and all made during Kirkland’s lifetime. Kirkland owned some Frank Lloyd Wright Henredon and Eames furniture (both on view here), and he loved the whimsical design of Pop Art.
Style and Movement Decals
Find each style listed above on gallery wall where style or movement begins. Each style or movement continues around the rest of the room until there is another sign.
These decals are color-coded by collection. Decorative art movements and styles are orange. Colorado & regional art styles are purple and Vance Kirkland’s periods are turquoise.
What is the “Architect” tag on the object labels?
This blue “a” signifies that the designer of the work was also an architect.
Did you know that many designers were trained as architects? Some architects designed furnishings for their buildings in order to create one unified look. In German this is called Gesamtkunstwerk, a total work of art.
Currently more than 650 objects by 100 architects are on view.
The architects with work in the collection come from 25 different countries and span all of the design periods represented in the Museum, from Arts & Crafts to Modern and Postmodern.
Search Collection Highlights by Gallery
Did you know that you can search collection highlights featured on our website by their location? On the search page, select a gallery or room under “Filter by Display Location” to see featured works in that room!