Magazine Feature

Suzanne Shapiro: Remembering Chappell House

Suzanne Shapiro. Photo by Wayne Armstrong

Suzanne Shapiro. Photo by Wayne Armstrong

In 1936, where was DU’s School of Art located? In Chappell House.

In 1936, where was the Denver Art Museum located? In Chappell House.

This stately brownstone mansion stood at the northeast corner of Logan Street and East 13th Avenue. It became a second home to me when I enrolled as a freshman at the University of Denver.

The Denver Art Museum used the first and second floors as galleries to display exhibitions and temporary art shows. The basement was the bailiwick of Frederick Douglas with his extensive collection of Native American crafts and artifacts.

The third floor had been transformed into an “artists’ garret” that was the DU School of Art. The largest classroom was crowned by a huge north-facing window angled into the roof to supply the north light coveted by artists. The art school office was in the round room of a turret rising above the castle-like building.

Our faculty was led by John Edward Thompson, the influential artist known as “Colorado’s First Modernist.” His murals and other works can still be seen in several Denver buildings. Our other teachers included Watson Bidwell, Carl Fracassini and Marvin Dieter.

Sharing the spaces of Chappell House at that time seemed to work out well for both the DU art school and the Denver Art Museum. The DU students were exposed to the diverse exhibits in the DAM galleries. For me, personally, it was a bonanza in that I was able to work for pay in both places, between my classes. I did clerical work for the school’s secretary, Constance Perkins, and, at times, the museum employed me as a receptionist.

Chappell House proved to be a pivotal location from which I could observe the vibrant art scene of the time. I became acquainted with many of the Rocky Mountain region’s leading artists. I could study their works and influences. Vance Kirkland, although not affiliated with DU then, had his studio only two blocks away.

Since we in the student body at Chappell House were isolated from the main DU campus on Evans, we felt like a family. We drew art together, we grew in maturity together, we lunched together, we joked together, and we made many warm memories together.




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