Arts and Culture / Magazine Feature

Kirkland Museum founder wins arts prize

Hugh Grant, director of the Kirkland Museum, has received the 2009 Arts and Humanities Prize for his work preserving the artistic legacy of Colorado artists, including former DU art school director Vance Kirkland.

The prestigious prize is presented annually by the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation in the categories of science and medicine and community service in addition to art. Grant was honored May 7 for founding and guiding the Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Art, a Denver showcase for regional art since 2003.

“They made a good choice this year,” Grant jokes, then turns serious. “This is very important to Colorado artists who have been forgotten. People don’t have any idea how great Colorado artists are.”

That awareness, combined with Grant’s close connections with Kirkland and other luminaries of the Colorado art scene, spawned a drive to preserve and exhibit the state’s talent in a boutique museum complementing other sites. The result was the Kirkland Museum, an artistic beacon in an unlikely neighborhood at 1311 Pearl St.

The distinctive brick building today houses important pieces by 170 artists such as Charles Bunnell, Edward Marecak, Frank Vavra, Arnold Ronnebeck (a former DU adjunct professor), William Sanderson and Kirkland, DU’s art school director from 1946 to 1969. Kirkland produced many of his 1,200 career works at the location, some of which have hung in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

“I grew up inhaling art,” Grant says. “I have no degrees in art but a natural proclivity and draw [to museum work]. I just took to it.”

People are noticing. Attendance is up about 25 percent over last year, which was up 40 percent over the year before. The museum is featured in the May–June edition of American Art Review magazine and in July, the popular PBS production Antiques Roadshow will spend two days at the Kirkland preparing a broadcast feature on the museum.

“You can see the most important decorative arts collection in North America for seven bucks. In ambiance that feels like home,” Grant says.

The Bonfils-Stanton award carries a $35,000 cash prize, which Grant says he will use to purchase more art for the museum. “I’m about as good as anybody at preserving Colorado art.”

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