FAC West Facade ca. 1948 from the FAC Archives
The beautiful Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center building, designed by architect John Gaw Meem, opened its doors for business on April 20, 1936. A year-long celebration will ensue at the FAC to mark this 75th Anniversary with special events, classes, lectures, exhibitions and performances.
Boardman Robinson teaching a nude painting class ca. 1940 from the FAC Archives
The Fine Arts Center legacy begins well before that fateful spring day. Prior to the 1930s, the Fine Arts Center went by a different name. The former home of Julie and Spencer Penrose on the corner of Dale and Cascade was called the Broadmoor Art Academy, which thrived from 1919 to 1935 and attracted many of the nation’s finest artists as instructors and students.
Colorado Springs became an art colony similar to those in Provincetown, Mass., Woodstock, N.Y., and Taos and Santa Fe, N.M. Indeed, the Broadmoor Art Academy and later the Fine Arts Center were ahead of the curve; the Academy as an art school of national reputation and the Center for its concentration on all of the arts under one roof.
The New York Times commented on the Broadmoor Art Academy on June 6, 1920: “An art school with competent instructors in a place remote from centres of art exhibitions and teaching has a more direct influence (on a community). People always are more interested in what they do than in what they see, and there is an admirable chance to develop a fresh and strong school of landscape painting in the Western part of the country.”
Muralist, cartoonist and illustrator Boardman Robinson arrived in 1930 from the Art Students League of New York. He began as an instructor and became the BAA Director in 1931. Instructors during this decade included Willard Nash, Ward Lockwood, Kenneth Adams, Tabor Utley, Laurence B. Field, Ernest Fiene, Warren Chappell, George Biddle, Paul Burlin, Charles Locke, Henry Varnum Poor, and Frank Mechau.
These instructors taught inside the Penrose mansion and out in the field in Monument Valley Park and Garden of the Gods and elsewhere. Students would take five-hour long “Life Classes” five days a week. During this time, Robinson, Mechau and other BAA/FAC instructors and students were commissioned to paint many WPA murals. In fact, it was Broadmoor Art Academy instructor George Biddle who wrote to his former classmate, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, proposing a program for artist relief through murals.
Alice Bemis Taylor Courtesy of Special Collections, Pikes Peak Library District, (002-5831).
The Broadmoor Art Academy was the cultural heart of Colorado Springs. The school hosted many organization’s events, like the American Music Society and the Drama League, as well as exhibitions in the Greenhouse Gallery, garden parties, social teas, and celebrated costumed balls.
In the mid-1930s, led by three community leaders, Julie Penrose, Elizabeth Sage Hare and Alice Bemis Taylor, the decision was made to replace the Penrose residence with a new facility with galleries, a performing arts theatre, educational studios for classes, a music room, library and more. In December of 1934, the Broadmoor Art Academy became the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center and the John Gaw Meem-designed building opened in April of 1936.
Alice Bemis Taylor not only footed the cost of the construction of the new building of $600,000, but she gave the institution her Southwestern art collection and 6,000 volumes of Americana for the library. Julie and Spencer Penrose, who built the Broadmoor Hotel, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo and the Pikes Peak Highway, provided the venue, by giving the land to the project. And Betty Hare, who founded the Fountain Valley School as well, served as the first Board of Trustees Chair and directed a gala opening week of events.
In the middle of the Great Depression in the budding town of 30,000, over 5,000 people visited the Fine Arts Center in that first week to see Martha Graham dance on our stage, a violin recital by Albert Spalding, stage design for Erik Satie’s symphonic drama Socrate by Alexander Calder as well as an exhibition of French painting by Paul Cezanne, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Fernand Leger and Vincent Van Gogh.
Robinson continued at the FAC School until his retirement in 1947. Instructors during his final years included Otis Dozier, Arnold Blanch. Peppino Mangravite, George Vander Sluis, Adolf Dehn, Edgar Britton, Rico LeBrun and Lawrence Barrett, who put the Fine Arts Center school on the map for lithography.
Robinson’s departure brought an end to an era. With his 17 years, Robinson left the biggest impact on the legacy of the Fine Arts Center and also left the biggest shoes to fill. Jean Charlot followed Robinson as the art school director and kept the focus on traditional forms. In 1953, Emerson Woelffer introduced abstract expressionism to the school as its latest director and brought Robert Motherwell on board as an instructor, but the golden era was over.
John Singer Sargent, Portrait of Miss Elsie Palmer or Young Lady in White, 1889-1890
Oil on canvas, 75 1/8” x 45 1/8”
By 1957, the FAC School had become the art department of Colorado College with Bernard Arnest as director. The students moved out of the FAC studios and into new studios on the CC campus. Sadly, 1957 saw the death of Julie Penrose, the last of the remaining founders. Betty Hare left the Springs in 1937 and went on to write a book about the 1939 New York World’s Fair. She died in 1948. Alice Bemis Taylor died in 1942.
But the 1950s also mark great growth in the permanent collection, under FAC Director James B. Byrnes, who is two brief years, dramatically grows the Modern American collection by acquiring Iris by Georgia O’Keeffe, Fog Horns by Arthur Dove, From Mt. Desert by John Marin, Two Doves and Christ Evicted by Marsden Hartley, and Fisherman at Work by Milton Avery. An Imaginary History of the West, Walt’s Kuhn’s extraordinary suite of 29 paintings, was gifted to the FAC by Kuhn’s wife and daughter. Byrnes compared the Fine Arts Center to New York’s Museum of Modern Art, stating that such a modern center should have a strong modern art collection.
The Debutante Ball Committee began in 1967 and proceeds from this event benefited the FAC acquisition fund, which resulted in the purchase of many iconic FAC works by John Singer Sargent, Jamie Wyeth, Marisol, Laura Gilpin, Ansel Adams and more.
In 1967, the Fine Arts Center began construction to the Bemis School of Art for Children. The addition, designed by Dietz Lusk and John Wallace, was completed in 1968. The FAC added more gallery and administrative space in 1970 with another expansion.
The theatre underwent a $1 million renovation in time for the FAC’s 50th Anniversary in 1986.
Former Robinson student Eric Bransby repainted the original Boardman Robinson frescos over the entrance that had weathered over time. A book was published called The Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center: A History and Selections from the Permanent Collections.
In 1989, the Fine Arts Center celebrated the 70th Anniversary of the Broadmoor Art Academy. Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart and his wife Gloria, a former Colorado Springs resident, as well as many Broadmoor Art Academy artists and students, attended a lavish black-tie gala to support the exhibition: Pikes Peak Vision: The Broadmoor Art Academy, 1919 – 1945. Mary Armour and Margot Lane co-chaired a committee that coordinated the fundraising for both the exhibition and gala throughout the community. In addition, the Pioneers Museum, UCCS Gallery of Contemporary Art and the Manitou Springs’ Business of Art Center all ran companion exhibitions.
In 1996, the Fine Arts Center produced a career retrospective of works by Boardman Robinson for the 60th Anniversary called Boardman Robinson: American Muralist and Illustrator, 1876 – 1952.
Fine Arts Center expansion by Phillip Spears 2008
The Fine Arts Center hired Dr. Michael de Marsche as Director in 2003 and he oversaw a resurgence of the FAC with a series of blockbuster exhibitions featuring Dale Chihuly, Andy Warhol and Peter Max. The overwhelming popularity of the Chihuly exhibition in 2005 with over 71,000 attendees helped kick off an ambitious $28.6 capital campaign for a renovation and expansion of the facility.
The capital campaign, co-chaired by Kathy Loo and Buck Blessing, raised more money for one nonprofit endeavor than any in the city’s history; an undisputable success.
David Owen Tryba, a Colorado Springs native, designed the two-story, 48,000 square-foot expansion – bringing the building to a total of 132,000-square feet – that was universally praised for how it complemented the original building. For Tryba it was a dream assignment; his mother was a FAC docent and he had learned to ride a bike and drive a car in the FAC parking lot.
The renovation took shape throughout the building, but most notably in the theatre, thanks to one individual’s donation of $3.5 million, which brought the sound, light and set capabilities into the 21st century. The name of the theatre was changed to the SaGāJi Theatre in honor of the donor’s three daughters.
In April of 2006, the FAC MODERN expanded the Fine Arts Center’s reach into the heart of downtown Colorado Springs with gallery space at the Plaza of the Rockies (thanks to the generosity of Chris Jenkins and Nor’Wood Development). The FAC MODERN was called the ‘best thing to happen to Southern Colorado business’ by the readers of the Colorado Springs Business Journal, hosting exhibitions by such notables as James McNeill Whistler and Annie Leibovitz.
The 2007 ‘Extremely Grand Opening’ featured many special guests including Colorado Governor Bill Ritter, international art icon Thomas Hoving, Broadway legend and photographer Joel Grey, outrageous film director and artist John Waters, New Orleans gallery owner Arthur Roger and Weisman Art Foundation Director Billie Milam Weisman. “The Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center has rich and intriguing roots,” said Hoving. “This rebirth is monumental and sets the stage for an infinite future for the arts in the region.”
In 2007, the FAC announced a promised gift of 63 Colorado landscape painting from the Katherine and Dusty Loo Collection, considered to be one of the most comprehensive and significant collections of historic Colorado paintings. Notable works include: Victor, George Biddle, 1937; Sunset, Point Sublime, Robert Reid, circa 1921; and Waterfall, Colorado, Ernest Lawson, circa 1927. Biddle taught at the FAC in 1936. Reid’s Sunset features the Broadmoor Hotel in the background.
That same year the FAC’s Latin American collection was strengthened by a gift of 56 artworks. The gift was presented by Claire Ellis to honor the wishes of her prominent stepfather William Thayer Tutt. All works are religious pieces, mostly retablos (paintings on tin or wooden panels) and bultos (carvings in the round) from throughout Latin America.
In 2009, the Fine Arts Center received a gift of 50 works of art from New York collectors Dorothy and Herbert Vogel, as part of a national program entitled The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection: Fifty Works for Fifty States with 50 works going to a selected art institution in every state. The FAC received works by Will Barnet, Adam Fuss, Michael Lucero, Sylvia Plimack Mangold, and Richard Tuttle.
A major emphasis for the Fine Arts Center beginning in 2010 has been multidisciplinary themes with all three FAC programming areas – education, performing arts, and visual arts – contributing to the theme, like exploration with NASA | ART: 50 Years of Exploration and Conflict | Resolution; partnering with dozens of organizations within the community.
Herta Moselsio "Lamentation,"ca. summer 1937 Silver gelatin prints Library of Commerce Music Division Purchase, 2001 (233.2)
As part of its 75th Anniversary celebration, the Martha Graham Dance Company will perform Lamentation Variations, a series of vignettes by contemporary choreographers that interpret the theme of the classic Graham piece, Lamentation, performed at the FAC in 1936.
The 75th Exhibitions will open on April 20, 2011. The FAC Permanent Collection galleries will feature masterworks by such American artists as Richard Diebenkorn, Georgia O'Keeffe, Walt Kuhn, John Singer Sargent, Dale Chihuly, and works by Broadmoor Art Academy artists, Hispanic and American Indian, lithography, Rocky Mountain regional, jewelry, textiles and Modern American.
“No comprehensive story of Colorado art, which for much of the 20th Century was centered in Colorado Springs, can be told without including selections from the Fine Arts Center’s extensive collection,” writes Kyle MacMillan of the Denver Post.
The second floor will feature The History of Commerce, a 10-panel mural by the internationally renowned Boardman Robinson. The mural was commissioned in 1929 by Pittsburgh businessman Edgar J. Kaufmann; this will be the first time all 10 panels have been displayed together in decades.
Also for the anniversary, the FAC commissioned Eric Bransby to paint a mural celebrating the arts to be installed during summer.