Denver Artists Guild

The Denver Artists Guild is one of Colorado's best-kept cultural secrets. Founded in 1928, leading Denver artists joined together to form what has become one of the oldest, continually-functioning art organizations in Colorado, along with the Denver Art Museum (1893) and the Boulder Art Association (1923). In 1990 the Guild renamed itself the Colorado Artists Guild, expanding its membership beyond Metro Denver. In 1948, some of its more modernist members resigned to form the Fifteen Colorado Artists (Colorado 15).

The Guild's founder members were a diverse group. More than half of them trained at prestigious art schools in Paris. Those not able to study in Europe attended well-known American institutions such as the Arts Students League in New York, Corcoran School of Art in Washington, DC, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Broadmoor Art Academy in Colorado Springs. Six of the fifty-two originals were born outside the United States, while only sixteen were native Coloradoans. Many were attracted by the state's fabled natural beauty, educational opportunities, an affordable and relaxed lifestyle, marriage prospects, and the restorative powers of its climate. More than half of the fifty-two originals were women, in contrast to some of the Taos and Santa Fe art societies active in the 1920s in neighboring New Mexico where the Guild's founder members occasionally painted.

The organization's 1928 mission statement, publicized in the Rocky Mountain News, underscores the organization's service to its members and to the community at large: To promote a spirit of professional cooperation and maintain a high standard of craftsmanship among the artists of Denver and vicinity, and to bring to the attention of the public representative works of these artists in painting, drawing, sculpture, ceramics and the graphic arts.

Besides their own art, the founder members engaged in the embellishment of public buildings in downtown Denver. The Denver National Bank (renamed the Colorado Business Bank) has sculptures by Clara Dieman, Nena de Brennecke and Arnold Ronnebeck, and ceiling paintings by John Thompson. Muralist Allen True created Indian Memories for the Colorado National Bank addition and did other murals which can be viewed in the Colorado State Capitol rotunda, Denver City & County Building, Brown Palace Hotel, and the Mountain States Telephone and Telegraph Building (now Qwest). Enrico Licari sculpted four large angels for the bell tower of St. Thomas Seminary, while Arnold Ronnebeck did reredos for two Episcopal churches in Denver, the Church of the Ascension and St. John's Cathedral. As participants in the various Federal Government art projects assisting artists during the Depression in the 1930s, Vance Kirkland executed post office murals for Eureka, Kansas, and Sayre, Oklahoma; Louise Ronnebeck for Grand Junction, Colorado, and Worland, Wyoming; and Gladys Caldwell Fisher sculpted Kiowa Travois for the post office in Las Animas, Colorado.

The fifty-two founder members likewise participated in regional and national art exhibitions, such as the First National of US Art held at New York's Rockefeller Center in Manhattan in 1936 and the Gallery of American Art Today at the New York World's Fair in 1939. These and other exhibitions achieved recognition for Colorado art beyond the borders of the state.

Guild founder members held positions at the Denver Art Commission, Denver Art Museum, Denver Public Library Commission, and the Central City Opera Association. They served as jurors for exhibitions at the Denver Art Association and later the Denver Art Museum, and also taught art in area high schools, colleges and universities. To foster an awareness and appreciation of art, they initiated annual, outdoor summer exhibitions in Denver's Civic Center in 1933 and sponsored a monthly publication, The Denver Artist (renamed The Western Artist) that from 1934 to 1937 covered art-related news from Colorado, its neighboring states, and those on the Pacific Coast.

In addition to the Guild members' extensive community service, one of the remarkable things about them is that they worked in so many different media and pursued such a variety of styles: realism, impressionism, modernist regionalism, surrealism and different degrees of abstraction. In addition to oils and watercolors, there are pastel paintings by Elsie Haddon Haynes, photographs by Laura Gilpin, sculpture by Gladys Caldwell Fisher and Arnold Ronnebeck, ceramics by Anne Van Briggle Ritter and Paul St. Gaudens, collages by Pansy Stockton, and masterful prints by many of the founder members.
Whether Colorado natives or adopted residents, they applied their talents and personal resources to further the general acceptance of art in a relatively young Western city that frequently considered it an elite pursuit. The art they created in the process and their multi-faceted cultural pursuits continue to remain an integral part of the cultural heritage of Colorado and the Rocky Mountain West. It has been documented and now made accessible to all through The Denver Artists Guild: Its Founding Members; An Illustrated History.

© Stan Cuba

Old Church, Central City Colorado (12/50), 1934
woodcut (Woodblock),
9 ¾ x 7 ½ inches
Reference: 23076
Irene Fowler 1884-1967
Untitled (Ranch House)
10 x 14 inches
Reference: 21768
Irene Fowler 1884-1967
Grand Teton, Wyoming, circa 1930
9 ¼ x 7 ½ inches
Reference: 28137
Elisabeth Spalding 1868-1954
Blue Spruce, Colorado Springs (Trees in a Colorado Mountain Landscape), 1942
7 ½ x 9 ¾ inches
Reference: 28138