Denver art: Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Art, a hidden gem

Every city has its hidden gems. One of Denver’s is the Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art. Located in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, east of downtown, this compact museum opened in 2003. While there are museums with more important collections of decorative art, Kirkland, has been cited by some as having the best collection of decorative on view in the US. Art Knowledge Magazine called it “a nationally important display of international decorative art.”

Decorative arts: Kirkland Museum Denver, CO photo courtesy Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Art

The original part of the Kirkland Museum is on the right, photo/courtesy Kirkland Museum

The museum is crammed full of an eclectic collection of furniture, pottery, glassware, paintings, prints, fine art and more from the late 19th century through 1980. (The exception is their collection of Colorado paintings that contains current works.) The over 3,500 pieces of decorative art and over 500 pieces of fine art are housed in a 1911 Arts and Crafts-style brick building, originally designed and built to house Henry Read’s Student’s School of Art.

In 1932 renowned Colorado Modernist painter Vance Kirkland, left his position as founding Director of the School of Art at the University of Denver to open his own art school. The Kirkland School of Art was here until 1946 when he closed it and returned to the university. The building then became his studio.

decorative arts

Deco seating area featuring the settee from the luxurious SS Normandie, photo Billie Frank

While Kirkland began the collection, his friend and heir, Hugh Grant collected about 90 per cent of the museums treasures. It took Grant, Kirkland’s Founding Director and Curator, over 20 years to complete the collection and open the museum. He added almost 8,000 square feet to the original 3,000 square foot building to house and display his extensive collection.

decorative arts: pottery and glassware on display at the Kirkland Museum.

Glassware and pottery at Kirkland photo/Billie Frank

Going through the rooms, visitors are transported back in time. Rooms are filled with furniture and objets dart spanning over 100 years of art and design. The austere and functional Arts and Crafts period, with its Mission-style pieces, is represented by pieces from designers such as Gustav Stickley, Roycroft and Frank Lloyd Wright. Art Deco  furniture groupings take you back to a time of luxurious ocean liners (a settee from the SS Normandie is in the collection), sumptuous pre-war apartments and posh hotels There are Bauhaus pieces from pre-war German designers including Mies van der Rohe, Marcel Breuer and Herbert Bayer (who lived in Aspen in the late 1940s, designed the prestigious Aspen Institute). The collection of mid-century modern furniture features pieces designed by icons such as Herman Miller, Charles Eames, Eero Saarinen and Isamu Noguchi.

decorative arts: Art glass lamps on display photo Billie Frank

Stained. leaded glass lamps circa 1900 Lamps, photo/Billie Frank

Tables display Art Nouveau lamps from designers such as Tiffany and are cases upon cases filled with art glass from famous designers such as Lalique and Bianconi. You’ll also find examples of mass-produced items such as Depression glass and Fiestaware pottery (still produced today). The extensive pottery collection also includes production pieces from all the major Ohio pottery companies (as well as others that left their mark in the 19th and 20th centuries) and one of a kind pieces from various potters, known and unknown.

The museum’s collection of fine art, including Kirkland’s paintings and those of other Colorado artists, adorn the walls. Make sure to ride (or peek in) the elevator, yet another display space for Kirkland’s paintings.

decorative arts: 1930s telephone sits on an Art Deco fle cabnet, photo/Billie Frank

Sleek 1930s telephone sits on an Art Deco file cabinet, photo Billie Frank

In Kirkland’s studio at the back of the original building, visitors will encounter straps hanging from the ceiling. The artist used to suspend himself above his canvases from these. His later paintings were done from a paint mixture he invented that combined oil and water. As the two don’t mix, the paintings had to lie flat until the paint dried so that it didn’t run off. He came up with this ingenious solution.

If you time your visit right, you can take a tour of the museum to get an understanding of the treasures housed here. Tours are offered Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 1:30pm. With advance notice, special tours can be arranged for groups of 10 or more. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from11am to 5pm. They are closed Mondays and major holidays. There is an admission charge.

If you’re a lover of decorative art, the Kirkland Museum of Decorative & Fine Art should be on your bucket list. It should definitely be a stop on any art lover’s Denver itinerary. If you haven’t been exposed to the treasures found in this genre, there are few better places to start.


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6 Responses to “Denver art: Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Art, a hidden gem”

  1. Karen
    February 24, 2019 at 6:42 am #

    I’ll have to include this place on my next trip to Denver!

    • Billie Frank
      February 26, 2019 at 9:55 am #

      If you like decorative arts, you’ll love it here. It’s a real treasure. I can’t believe we didn’t know about it when we lived in Colorado. It really is a bit of a secret.

  2. Sheri
    February 28, 2019 at 11:20 am #

    Thanks for the tip. You just made Denver more attractive (for me) as an art/crafts/design viewing destination. I’ll be sure to visit this museum in April.
    Sheri recently posted..Part II Mexican Fashion — does the right thing!My Profile

    • Billie Frank
      February 28, 2019 at 6:26 pm #

      Thanks for the kind words. The Kirkland Museum is an amazing place. Santa Fe is also a great destination for someone interested in art and design. Enjoy Colorado.

  3. Deb Wadsworth
    April 14, 2019 at 7:30 am #

    We love coming to Santa Fe to explore the art veunues, but how fun to see information on Colorado art sources as well. Historically there were strong ties and healthy interchanges between NM and CO artists, and it’s pleasant to think they might continue. Thanks for the informative article. Deb

    • Billie Frank
      April 14, 2019 at 3:13 pm #

      I loved discovering this treasure. I lived in Northern Colorado for years and never knew about it. Sometimes tourists discover things that local folks miss. If you get to Denver, put this on your to-see list!

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