Between 1930 and 1960, the population of the Colorado Springs’ not-quite-Metropolitan area averaged around 40,000 souls. During that period, the region experienced a now legendary flowering of the visual arts.
Lured to the region by the availability of seasonal teaching gigs, nationally prominent artists came to Colorado Springs and often remained here for many years. The Fine Arts Center lived up to its name by providing modern, inexpensive studio space to artists, and Colorado Springs cheerfully welcomed the free-thinking libertines who made the arts community.
Springs residents did something besides welcome serious artists to town. They bought art.
In that small city, there were hundreds, if not thousands, of local collectors who provided a steady market for resident artists. Working from that base, the George Nix gallery became a nationally prominent showcase for regional artists. Here’s an excerpt from Time magazine, dated Sept. 13, 1948.
“There is a general and valid acknowledgment that the better the painter the dumber he must be, and out of this dumbness the critic is born and makes hay. French-born Jean Charlot wrote that bitter-seeming remark … Last week his paintings and colored lithographs were packing people in at Colorado Springs’ George Nix Gallery (including museum buyers from as far away as Washington, D.C. and San Diego), while Charlot himself expatiated (sic) on art in the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center School (which he directs)…”
“Charlot is content to stay within the few blocks that hold the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, a Roman Catholic Church, and his white frame house on Boulder Crescent. Colorado has, of course, other attractions for Chariot. “Since I came to this outdoor-loving land,” says he, “I am engaging in contemplating fishing. That is to say, I am contemplating it.”
Simple truth; artists can’t easily live in cities where there are few local collectors. We still have dedicated collectors of serious contemporary art, but nothing like the numbers that our present population of 500,000 would suggest.
That’s why two of our city’s most prominent painters, Tracy and Su Felix, left town several years ago and settled in Denver. Both Colorado natives, they were deeply involved in the local arts community. But, as Tracy told the Denver Post two years ago,
“There’s a great gallery community in Denver. People buy art here, and there are devoted collectors.”
The couple currently has a joint show at the William Havu gallery, a long-established contemporary arts venue in a spectacular post-modern building. I can’t afford Tracy’s work nowadays, but I’m glad that I was smart enough to buy a couple of his big, gorgeous landscapes back in the early 90’s when they were priced for the virtually non-existent Colorado Springs market.
Empty pockets notwithstanding, I went to the show’s opening last week with my daughter, a Denver attorney, and my son-in-law.
Tracy and Su have thrived in Denver. Their work has gotten deeper, richer, more assured, and assuredly more expensive. And, Bill Havu noted, they’re not the only Colorado Springs émigrés whom his gallery represents. Colorado Springs native Jeremy Hillhouse, who died last year, was featured in a retrospective exhibition during February and March.
“And do you see that mobile hanging from the ceiling?” asked Havu. “That’s by Robert Delaney. You must know Robert.”
Robert, like Tracy and Su, was once part of the Colorado Springs art scene. He moved to Denver during the 80’s where he and his partner, Colorado Springs native Michael Paglia, run an iconic South Broadway store, ‘Popular Culture.’
You must know Michael – he’s the art critic for Westword.
So, I asked Havu, who are the devoted collectors who sustain and support artists such as Tracy, Su, Jeremy, and Robert?
“It’s a very diverse group,” he said, “in fact, there are a lot of young lawyers like your daughter who come to the shows – and they buy art.”
So if you really want to have a lively, interesting and vital scene in our little burg, go buy some art! And if journalists were as well paid as lawyers, I’d buy some too…