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Martin Saldaña, 1953
Martin Saldaña painting for a group of children at the Denver Art Museum, ca. 1953.

Martin Saldaña: Once Upon a Time

Dec. 1, 2012 – Aug 25, 2013

 

Martin Saldaña, Cowboy with Two Pink Calves
Cowboy with Two Pink Calves (detail). Oil on board. Gift of Jeanette S. Fowler of Tacoma, WA, FA 1995.11.1


“There is an undeniable charm to these works, making it easy to understand their international popularity.”

—Joy Armstrong, Assistant Currator, Fine Arts Center

In 1950, Martin Saldaña was invited to try an art class by mistake. Nevertheless he decided to sign up and attend a children’s art class at the Denver Art Museum—he was the only 76-year-old in the class.

At about that same time, he visited his sister and learned that he was actually several years older than he believed himself to be.

For the next 15 years, Saldana imaginatively documented whimsical memories from his childhood in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, portraying ranch life, landscapes, and his great love of animals. The prolific artist painted every day, completing a new piece about every three days and amassing an impressive body of work for the former cook at the Denver landmark, the Brown Palace Hotel. Saldana died in 1965 at the age of 91.

Saldaña’s vibrant palette and geometric figures are reminiscent of the tapestries of his Mexican heritage and the paintings, primarily in oil, are innocent and endearing. Saldaña is considered to be a “naïve” or “outsider” artist, a folk artist who is self-taught, whose work is simple, direct, and highly personal. 

“As it is with memory, Saldaña’s paintings blur the line between imagination and reality, they are fond rememberances of an idealized boyhood from the mind of a kind elderly man,” says Joy Armstrong, the FAC’s Assistant Curator. “There is an undeniable charm to these works, making it easy to understand their international popularity. There is nothing intentionally political or critical, they convey nothing but the artist’s joie de vivre.”

Martin Saldaña’s work was featured in Life magazine in October, 1953 and exhibited after his death at the Grosvenor Gallery in London in 1968.  His paintings are in private and museum collections worldwide, and were favored by collectors Lester and Dorothy Bridaham, who acquired more than 200 works, including the 18 featured here from the Fine Arts Center’s permanent collection. These paintings were generously donated to the Fine Arts Center from the Estate of Jeanette S. Fowler in 1995. The exhibition will occupy the Manley Gallery on the first floor of the museum.

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