Colorado art world loses three leaders

· Jan. 13, 2014, 5:00 pm
The state’s art community suffered three losses in December.
Philanthropist Nancy Tieken and art dealers Bill van Straaten and Robin Rule died within days of each other.
Westword art critic Michael Paglia believes there are about 100 people in the state who have shaped Colorado’s art scene over the past two decades -- and these were three of them.

Nancy Tieken

Nancy B. Tieken was a curator at the Denver Art Museum, but as Denver Art Museum director Cristoph Heinrich says, that's the work she did publicly.

As a largely anonymous donor, she exercised significant influence at the DAM and within Denver.

Tieken, who died December 18, had inherited a fortune from her grandfather, Henry Babson, who made his money selling Victrolas around the world.  According to Paglia, her grandfather's wishes were that the fortune be used to "do good." She set up the NBT Foundation, through which she fostered artists and projects in Denver and the Front Range.

Tieken funded "Lao Tzu," the Mark di Suvero sculpture (pictured above) that sits between the Denver Art Museum and the Denver Public Library. Paglia calls this sculpture "the city's finest work of contemporary public art." 

She also funded Donald Lipski's "The Yearling," the well-known sculpture of the giant red chair and miniature horse at the library.

Heinrich credits her with funding many works of art within the museum itself, including James Turrell's "Trace Elements" and Alexander Calder's "Snow Flurry."

Bill van Straaten

Bill van Straaten made his mark not just in Colorado but around the world through Riverhouse Editions, a fine art press he ran with his wife, Jan van Straaten for more than two decades beginning in the late '80s.

"Colorado has had important print makers over the years, and it was one of them," Paglia says. "They were able to tap into internationally famous artists who would create prints there in a residency."

In 2008, the van Straatens bought Denver's Sandy Carson Gallery, then known as one of the best in the city for fostering local artists. "I was worried that they would get rid of the local artists and just concentrate on those who were internationally famous," Paglia says.

But the van Straatens proved him wrong. Paglia cites shows by local contemporary artists Homare Ikeda, Lorey Hobbs, Lorelei Schott, Quintin Gonzalez, Jeff Wenzel and Floyd Tunson as among the highlights. The gallery closed in 2013 when Bill van Straaten's health failed. He died on December 23.

Robin Rule

Gallery owner Robin Rule passed away only six days later, on December 29, of cancer; she was 55.

"Robin Rule was a powerhouse," Chrisoph Heinrich says.

A gallery owner with a bubbly personality and a penchant for connecting people, she was the first person to introduce Heinrich to many local artists when he first arrived from Germany to work at the DAM.

Over the years, and in several different galleries, Rule exhibited the work of local artists Clark Richert ("inarguably one of the most important artists of the last 50 years in Colorado," says Paglia); Kim Dickey, the late Dale Chisman and Margaret Neumann.

"I believe that Robin Rule should be counted as being among the top five exhibition organizers working in Denver during the past quarter-century," Michael Paglia writes.

Read Michael Paglia's Westword remembrance of Tieken, van Stratten, and Rule.

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