Denver – On Nov. 5, the building that was Vance Kirkland’s studio was lifted from its foundation and began its move – whole – to a new foundation on the campus of the new Kirkland museum. Our video – Moving Space – gives a quick view of the 1911 building making the 10-block trip.
In the fall of 2017, the Kirkland Museum will reopen with this building incorporated into expansive new construction at 12th Avenue and Bannock Street. The Kirkland has always been a mix of old and new: featuring the work of Denver abstract painter Vance Kirkland, making use of the brick building that served as his studio until his death in 1981, as well as specializing in new and historical Colorado art and showing an incredible collection of international decorative art.
Members of the Denver Art Club commissioned the building in the second decade of the 20th Century to be an art studio and to house an art school. Kirkland continued those uses of this space and also founded the art school at the University of Denver. He retired in 1969 – a few years before I was an art student there.
Steuart named the video Moving Space while standing behind the camera questioning why it was important to move the space that had housed all this art learning. We’d heard talk about the cost of this move and suggestions that it may have been cheaper to take the studio apart and rebuild it.
Is it still Lincoln’s Axe?
Ship of Theseus is a paradox found in Plutarch’s writings and is called the Identity Problem in philosophy. It goes something like this: if a ship has, over time, had every single part replaced, is it the same ship?
To bring this thought problem to America and the current era it has been re-framed as Lincoln’s Axe: is an axe that had belonged to Abraham Lincoln, on display in some historical museum, still Lincoln’s axe if it had its head replaced and subsequently its handle?
In relation to the Kirkland Studio, it seems that when repairs are made on a building (or the ship) the idea is to try to match what exists. If the building has historical importance – the axe belonged to President Lincoln – then restorers are usually more careful to consider the original and compromise as little as possible. If restoration is completed from the ground up, there is no whole that is being matched. Restorers are more likely to use another kind of mortar, for example, and not worry so much about matching the original exactly.
While in the crowd waiting for the building to move, we talked with Rachel Rouiller , the architect who designed the building that sits – or rather did sit – next to the Kirkland Studio. Build in the 1990s, this new building has bigger rooms, larger spans and wider doorways than the 1911-built studio. Like many people who thought about historical preservation in the 1990s, Rouiller designed this part of the Kirkland Museum to be compatible with the style of the studio and other homes in the neighborhood. It wasn’t designed to pretend to be old, or to fool us. It isn’t Disneyland (or Westworld).
History or Making
But the caves at Lascaux2 are like Westworld. They were recreated so that people could have the experience of seeing ancient cave paintings and not destroy the actual paintings, which are closed to public view. Is it equally satisfying to look at Lascaux2 when we can’t actually imagine the hands of cavemen or cavewomen applying the paint?
Last fall, we worked on a project that we’ve yet to finish about my great grandfather who lived from around 1839 until 1919. I never knew my grandfather, let alone anything about his father until recently. From census records I learned that Simon Talty had been a stone mason from around 1870 and also found his various addresses. Using these records, we could visit his homes and see stonework that had been done nearby during his time there. The masons and bricklayers had a motto something like: the men may be gone but their buildings remain.
Relatives of mine or not, I’m certainly curious about how people built Chartres, Mesa Verde, the Mona Lisa.
Is there something in the air?
Or something else that is historic? A few years ago, we were touring Harvey’s brewery, established in 1790 in the south of England. That year we had the opportunity to drink beer made from what they thought might be 200 year old yeast. The building had just gone through renovations and one area that hadn’t been used for a while was taken apart and reassembled. Between the floorboards, this old yeast was found and rekindled. The brewery has cultivated this strain of yeast since its founding so we were able to sample this special beer, a product of the frozen-man yeast and Harvey’s Sussex Best Bitter made from its descendants, side-by-side.
We can’t remember anything historically memorable about this beer – it wasn’t much different that what we’d be drinking in Harveys today – but we were drinking it with Steuart’s grandfather, and could imagine what Steuart’s family for generations in Sussex had drunk.
Why is it important to preserve the space of the Kirkland Studio? If we took the building apart today, we might not know that something important is there, that we might throw away without knowing.