If you go
What: "American West: Selections from the CU Art Museum's Permanent Collection"
When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday, noon-4 p.m. Saturday, through May 10
Where: CU Art Museum, 1085 18th St., in the Visual Arts Complex near Broadway and Euclid at the University of Colorado-Boulder
Info: 303-492-8300 or cuartmuseum.colorado.edu
I recently visited the current exhibit at the CU Art Museum and unexpectedly learned some Boulder history. The show features an excellent selection of pieces from the museum's permanent collection.
Art & Art History Department chair Kirk Ambrose and recent interim museum director Stephen V. Martonis, the co-curators, chose works that explore "how artists documented, as well as mythologized, the western United States."
Ambrose recognized the strength of art of the American West in the permanent collection. Formed in 1939 with a small group of objects intended for use in teaching, the collection now includes more than 8,000 works of art.
Before entering the gallery, a large oil on canvas titled "Boulder Falls" dominates the wall. Created in 1891 by Boulder resident Elmer P. Green, the painting indicates that artists were interpreting the landscape early on in Boulder's history.
The exhibition stars are Muriel Sibell Wolle and Eve Drewelowe, contemporaries who were longtime Boulder residents. Ambrose said his admiration for the two artists grew throughout the process of assembling the exhibition. Both curators became intrigued by the strength of women artists in Boulder's past.
Muriel Sibell came to Boulder from New York in 1926 and fell in love with the West. An artist, professor and department chair, Sibell often had a student or friend drive her around Colorado and the Southwest so she could sketch the remains of mining towns. She did a great service by documenting these structures, as many of them have since been demolished.
"I had known that Muriel Sibell Wolle was an important part of this institution and local history, but I wasn't aware of the breadth of her endeavors until we began exploring. I don't know how she had time for it all, but she was extremely prolific," Martonis wrote in an email interview.
The show features two groups of Wolle's works, 17 pieces in all. Included are some never-before-exhibited watercolors of Indians of the Southwest.
Eve Drewelowe, arguably this town's most important artist, arrived in Boulder in 1925. Her husband had been hired as a political science professor at the university. Drewelowe's early works in travel sketches and landscapes gave way to bold and colorful modernist paintings. The six Drewelowe works in the show make a striking impact against a slate-gray colored wall in the gallery.
Other local history gems in the show are two photographs, one of "Jimtown" (now Jamestown) by P. F. Mabee, who was a member of the Boulder Lens Club. Label text explains that the Boulder Lens Club was formed in the 1920s and was active in the '30s and '40s.
Donation notes reveal some interesting tidbits, as well. "Mount Moran, Grand Tetons," 1886, by American painter Ralph Davison Miller, was a gift from Quigg Newton. Newton was CU's president from 1956 to 1963.
On my visit, a woman stopped to let staff know she would be spreading the word about the exhibit. She said she had seen a lot of western art but was taken with some of the very unique pieces in the CU display.
"There is a buzz in the air around this exhibition," Martonis wrote. "In addition to enjoying some regional history, visitors are surprised by the breadth of the collection, one in which Muriel was instrumental in starting."
Carol Taylor and Silvia Pettem write about history for the Daily Camera. Email Carol at email@example.com, Silvia at firstname.lastname@example.org or write to the Daily Camera, 5450 Western Ave., Boulder 80301.