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If you’re not involved in the Denver art scene—or your family hasn’t lived here for generations—you can be forgiven for not knowing about the Denver Artists Guild. But you may recognize the names of some of its most prominent members: Allen Tupper True, Vance Kirkland (we have a whole museum in his former studio), and Elsie Haddon Haynes among them. Still not ringing a bell? A brief history: Founded in 1928, the DAG brought together artists with backgrounds in various mediums and styles. In 1948, they were at the center of the traditional versus modern art debate; the modernists split and formed Fifteen Colorado Artists. (In 1990, the DAG was renamed the Colorado Artists Guild.)
The 52 original DAG members contributed a great deal to Colorado’s cultural history. You can still see members’ work around town, including Allen Tupper True’s murals in the Brown Palace Hotel (and, really, all over town) and three sculptures by Enrico Licari outside Holy Ghost Church at 19th and California streets. And until September 26, you can view a small selection of DAG members’ work at the Byers-Evans House Museum.
The exhibition was put together in conjunction with the July release of The Denver Artists Guild: Its Founding Members; An Illustrated History, a beautiful collection of member biographies and works combined with a historical look at DAG’s founding and enduring impact. “They were a very vibrant group; they are part of the fabric of our city and state. A lot of them taught the next generation of students,” says Stan Cuba, who wrote the book and is associate curator of the Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art. “They would open up their studios long before First Friday walks were fashionable. They used the radio early on to have discussions and to inform the public about art. The idea of the group was to make art accessible to the public, not an elite pursuit, which many people perceived it to be.”
A few years ago, Cuba was approached by Cynthia Durham Jennings, daughter of deceased DAG member Clarence Durham. “She was concerned—and rightly so—that the accomplishments and public record of the guild would disappear,” says Cuba, who also curated the Byers-Evan exhibit. With a team, they reached out to surviving family members—some as far away as Europe—to pull together a comprehensive history of the prominent group.
Cuba says he learned a lot during the five-year process of completing the book, but one particular fact stands out: More than half of DAG’s members were women—a unique situation among early 20th-century arts organizations. Says Cuba: “It wasn’t quite the culture backburner people thought it was.”
Get the book: The Denver Artists Guild: Its Founding Members; An Illustrated History costs $39.95. You can purchase it at the Kirkland and Byers-Evan House museums, as well as History Colorado Center.
—Book jacket photo by Sarah Boyum