Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art

Vance Kirkland, b 1904- d 1981
1201 Bannock St., Denver, CO 80204 - view on Google Maps
“It is more important what my mind can see. Any development I have achieved has been done entirely from imagination and not by limiting myself to what my eyes can see.”
—Vance Kirkland
Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art, housed in an historic Arts & Crafts style building, displays the work of abstract painter Vance Kirkland in vignettes composed of artwork by other Colorado artists, and a major collection of international decorative art from the modern era. Vance Kirkland’s studio space regularly inspires exclamations of awe from visitors, who are able to see his painting table and the straps Kirkland sometimes used to suspend himself above his paintings to create his large oil paint and water compositions, and later his Dot paintings.


Kirkland Museum is partially housed in the studio and art school building that Vance Kirkland used from 1932-1981. His original studio is the oldest commercial art building in Denver and the second oldest in Colorado (after the Van Briggle Pottery in Colorado Springs). Designed in a distinctive Arts & Crafts style and completed in 1911, it was built by Henry Read, one of thirteen founders of the Artists' Club. The building served as Read's Students' School of Art, and, until 1922, was a meeting place for the fledgling Denver Art Museum.

In 1929, Vance Kirkland moved to Denver from Ohio to found the current School of Art at the University of Denver. In 1932, he leased Read's property, later purchasing it, and opened the Kirkland School of Art. He used the studio until his death in 1981.

Vance Kirkland had five painting periods:
1. Designed Realism (primarily in watercolor)
2. Surrealism (primarily in watercolor)
3. Hard Edge Abstraction / Abstraction from Nature (primarily in oil)
4. Abstract Expressionism (oil paint using Kirkland’s signature mixture of oil paint and water as the top layer)
5. The Dot Paintings (oil paint & water mixtures with dots of oil paint as the top layer)

Vance Kirkland said: “The paintings may suggest ideas of time and space….I am trying to paint something I do not know exists in a tangible way. If I am looking at space, who is going to say it never existed: It has existed in my mind.”

The museum also has one of the most comprehensive international decorative art collections on view in the nation, including furniture, ceramics, glass, and textiles from the 1870s through the present. It also displays a representative sample of paintings from Kirkland’s many styles, as well as hundreds of artworks by other Colorado artists. Such combinations allow visitors to time travel through about 150 years of art and give them a picture of art and design as it might have been seen through the eyes of Vance Kirkland himself.

The Vance Kirkland Foundation was established in 1996 to preserve the legacy of this distinguished Colorado painter. Kirkland Museum’s original location in Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood opened in 2003 but the museum outgrew that space due to increased attendance and expanded art holdings. The museum relocated in March 2018 to a larger building designed by Jim Olson of Olson Kundig, situated within a block of the Denver Art Museum and Clyfford Still Museum. Funding for the new Kirkland Museum building was provided by Merle Chambers Fund.

Moving the building that housed Vance Kirkland’s studio & art school was central to the project. With support from the historic preservation community, the three-room Arts & Crafts structure was meticulously moved to Kirkland Museum’s new location on Bannock Street. The 1,384 square-foot brick building, detached from the original museum, was moved eight blocks west and placed on the north side of the new building in the same orientation as it originally sat on Pearl Street. Moving the studio building allowed for the removal of later additions and provides a visitor experience much more authentic to that of Vance Kirkland’s lifetime.

Did you know...?

By the age of 28, Vance Kirkland had founded three art schools.


  • Self-guided tours and guided tours
  • Sculpture garden


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