Original or not, art adds to local business scene

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This work by local artist Phil Lear greets visitors to the Rabbit Hole restaurant downtown.

You have an office — or a restaurant, a retail store, a hotel or a hospital. You design it, build it and get ready to open the doors — but wait a minute.

The place looks dreary and bare. You need something to liven it up, make it pop, engage the eye and delight your customers.

You need art.

You may opt for artworks that are inexpensive, inoffensive and soothingly bland. Why not go for a nicely framed color photo of Pikes Peak at sunrise, a reproduction of an 1874 town map of Colorado Springs (available on eBay for $8.99 unframed), or a suitably saccharine view of elk browsing beneath a golden aspen grove?

That’s what many do, but a surprising number of businesses in the Pikes Peak region have chosen a different path. Organizations as varied as Penrose-St. Francis Health Services, Wooglin’s Deli and Cafe, The Famous Steak House, the Blue Star and the Olive Branch restaurants, among others, display original works from local artists on their premises.

Now that the original Antlers and the Burns Opera House are landfill, the main building of The Broadmoor may be the most gorgeous commercial space in Colorado Springs. It continues to have a quirkily interesting art collection on display, including portraits of Spencer and Julie Penrose, a Maxfield Parrish oil of The Broadmoor (which, curiously enough, puts the hotel on the western shore of the eponymous lake), photographic memorabilia and Toulouse-Lautrec prints.

Since Phil Anschutz bought the hotel last year, paintings that appear to come from the Anschutz Collection of historic western art have popped up on the walls. Thomas Moran’s magisterial 1866 “Children of the Mountain” hangs in the Terrace Lounge, while Alfred Jacob Miller’s 1845 “Breaking Camp at Dawn” is displayed in the downstairs lobby.

Are they real? Is Anschutz really displaying 19th-century masterpieces worth millions in a lightly guarded hotel lobby? What happens if a tipsy hotel guest lurches into Moran’s iconic painting?

“They’re almost all reproductions,” said Broadmoor communications director Allison Scott. “One or two are real, but I don’t know which ones. I think the real ones are in private meeting rooms, which are kept locked.”

“Giclee prints on canvas can look very good,” said Eve Tilley, a passionate collector who chaired the Pikes Peak Arts Council for decades. “I’m not surprised you were fooled.”

So what about the Toulouse-Lautrec prints that have hung forever in the Broadmoor Tavern? Are those real?

“The originals were removed when the hotel was sold to (Ed) Gaylord years ago,” Tilley said. “They’re now in the El Pomar board room. The ones that are there now are repros.”

Other examples

But there’s no monopoly on fine art at The Broadmoor. Hundreds of original works, many by local artists, adorn the newly renovated Mining Exchange Hotel downtown.

“We have four major pieces by Ron Apgar on the main floor,” said owner Perry Sanders, “and I think we have at least 200 original oils by (Louisiana artist) Eddie Mormon. We have one of his pieces in every single room. His stuff is very collectible — I’ve been buying it for years. And I love Ron’s work — I think he’s our best local artist.”

At least 20 of Mormon’s splashy, neo-impressionist paintings are hung in Springs Orleans, the Sanders-owned restaurant adjacent to the hotel. A big, dynamic horse painting by Apgar hangs in the hotel’s east lobby, greeting guests as they first arrive. Other local artists are either in the hotel’s collection or soon will be.

“I’m still buying,” Sanders said. “I don’t think I’ll ever stop.”

A block north on Tejon is The Famous, a long-established downtown steakhouse. Two substantial metal collages by Brooke Johnson, an equally long-standing local artist, enhance the restaurant’s traditional wood and leather décor with greenish tints of oxidized copper.

Across the street, an underground restaurant, the Rabbit Hole, uses art to define itself. It’s located in the basement of a 19th-century building, with a street-level entrance that mimics a stop on the Paris Metro. Descend a steep metal staircase, and you’re in another world, a stylish bar enclosed by a massive stone foundation. At the end of the narrow space, a monumental painting by Springs artist Phil Lear shows Alice and the world that she discovered — down the rabbit hole.

Evolving to more

The Poor Richard’s complex on Tejon Street, founded by Richard Skorman in 1977, has served as a de facto gallery for local artists for 35 years. Currently, works by three artists are on display in Poor Richard’s restaurant and next door at Rico’s, Skorman’s slightly more upscale café and wine bar.

One of those artists, Tim Davis, is grateful for the opportunity to show his work.

“It’s much better to have your work out in public than sitting in your storage unit,” he said. “I’ve shown at Rico’s for two years, and I’ve sold a couple of works, but lots of people have seen my work there, and that’s helped.”

“We used to be very informal about it,” Skorman said. “Someone would come along and we’d say sure, we’ll show your art. But now we’re going to move to a different model, with a juried process and quarterly shows — and the restaurants will take a cut of the sales, just like a gallery.”

Will that formal process be as successful in attracting unknown artists as yesterday’s unstructured sort-of-but-not-quite gallery?

Twenty years ago, Lamar native Don Coen exhibited his paintings at Poor Richard’s. They were harshly realistic depictions of life on Colorado’s eastern plains, spare and unfashionable. They were modestly priced — $200 and you could have walked off with a nice piece.

Coen is still painting, but he’s hardly unknown. You’ll find his paintings in major collections and you can buy one right off his website, doncoen.com. A pastoral 6-foot by 9-foot piece titled “Hay Bales on I-25” can be yours tomorrow, if your banker’s in a good mood.

The price: $53,000.

It’d look great in your business.