Arts and Culture / Magazine Feature

Graffiti inspires heart art exhibit

In honor of the season of love, the Women’s College will host a special Valentine’s exhibit of 26 oil pastel paintings at the Hirschfeld Galleries in the Chambers Center.

“Cheaper Charlie’s” is a collection of paintings of hearts by Helen Davis (EdD ’61).

Davis’ works were inspired by paintings found on Cheaper Charlie’s shed, a Longmont, Colo., landmark at the corner of 9th Avenue and Hover Road.

“Cheaper Charlie’s was an old garage. When the county denied the owner’s request to put an ad on the side of the building, he painted it purple and invited his friends to cover it with graffiti,” Davis says.

Over the years, Cheaper Charlie’s became a place for people to paint their messages to family and friends —from birthday wishes to proposals to political messages. 

“I was fascinated with the place, and began taking photos of the artwork,” Davis says. “I didn’t care about the messages; I was just interested in the abstraction.”

Over the years, Davis took more than 1,000 photos of Cheaper Charlie’s. When the building was torn down in 1990, she wanted to memorialize it. She selected 28 photos of hearts and used them as inspiration for a series of oil paintings. The heart series will be exhibited weekdays throughout February.

Davis headed the Colorado Women’s College art department in the 1960s. After retiring from the College (now the Women’s College), she began hosting a monthly gathering of artists in her Boulder home. The group began in 1979 with eight women and had grown to nearly 60 when she stopped hosting it at age 80. 

Knowing her passion for women’s education and her interest in DU, her artist friends approached the Women’s College about creating a scholarship in Davis’ honor. They raised more than $80,000 to endow the Helen B. Davis Scholarship program.

Besides the scholarship and heart exhibit, Davis’ mark can be seen on the Women’s College. When she moved into a small apartment, Davis donated the majority of her extensive art collection to the Women’s College and the Vance Kirkland Museum. 

Women’s College Dean Michele “Mike” Bloom and DU art curator Dan Jacobs selected pieces from Davis’ collection. Those works — paintings and pottery by Davis and other Colorado female artists — will be displayed throughout the Chambers Center.

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