One woman’s passion for the arts sparked a cultural landmark that will celebrate its 100th anniversary this year.
Julie Penrose, wife to The Broadmoor hotelier Spencer Penrose, was the driving force behind the Broadmoor Art Academy, now known as the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College.
“Scenes from Life,” No. 27, Bernard Arnest, collection of Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College.
“Mrs. Penrose was determined there would be a school,” said muralist Eric Bransby, one of the academy’s many famous students and teachers. “She was behind the arts 100 percent.”
New Colorado Springs exhibit celebrates artists from Broadmoor Art Academy era
A century later, the FAC is still home to galleries, a theater and the Bemis School of Art. The institution will celebrate its centennial throughout the year, with a free day-long kick-off celebration Saturday and other events including a birthday party Oct. 12.
Artist Bernard Arnest instructs a class in the 1950-’60s at the Fine Arts Center.
It was 1919, and Spencer had opened The Broadmoor the year before. The Penroses left their mansion at 30 W. Dale St., site of the FAC, and moved into the Penrose House near the hotel. Julie decided to turn their former digs into the BAA, inviting important artists from across the country to teach at the school and exhibit center.
Robert Reid, John F. Carlson, Ernest Lawson, William Potter, Francis Drexel Smith and Birger Sandzén strutted the halls in BAA’s early years, as droves of students came from across the country, seeking instruction from the accomplished artists during summer.
Artist Robert Reid teaches a class in the garden of the Broadmoor Art Academy. Photo by Laura Gilpin, ©Amon Carter Museum, courtesy Fine Arts Center
“It was a small world of art colonies that were sharing their mentors and ideas, and Broadmoor Art Academy and later the Fine Arts Center were in the thick of it,” said Blake Wilson, owner of The Art Bank and an authority on the Academy. “It was the most important time in American art, and we were instrumental in some of the ideas and changes.”
In 1930, acclaimed artist Boardman Robinson arrived to head the school, which was quite a coup. His students called him “Uncle Mike” and his wife “Aunt Sally,” according to Bransby.
Eric Bransby is one of the last living members of the Broadmoor Art Academy and the Fine Arts Center School. The 102-year-old still lives south of Colorado Springs.
“Mrs. Penrose practically loved the guy,” said Bransby, 102, who also has fond memories of Robinson. The famous artist was generous to Eric, his wife and artist, Mary Ann Bransby, and their young daughter, who moved to the Springs after World War II for the school.
“He took us down to the bursar and said, ‘If the Bransbys run out of money, you are to give them a check for what they need.’”
Transforming a Colorado Springs neighborhood through art
The academy thrived and soon outgrew its space. Julie and two other wealthy philanthropists, Alice Bemis Taylor and Betty Sage Hare, dreamed big, imagining one complex that housed an art school, galleries, a theater, art studios, music rooms and a Southwestern museum.
The entrance to Julie Penrose’s house and Broadmoor Art Academy in 1919. Photo by Laura Gilpin, ©Amon Carter Museum, courtesy Fine Arts Center
The BAA was razed, and in its place sprung up the John Gaw Meem-designed FAC, which opened to great fanfare in 1936.
It was a staid institution, though its students never fit that description, said Eve Tilley, whose famous artist father, Lewis Tilley, studied under Robinson and lithographer Adolf Dehn and later taught at the school.
“The Fine Arts Center used to let students party in the little patio in the enclosure,” said Tilley. “It was a beautiful lily pond, and the parties were so drunken, they’d throw each other in the pond. The FAC had to ban them. They were brilliant people, and when you’re around beautiful, creative juices, your juices flow along with them.”
Boardman Robinson teaches a class.
BAA ended when its name changed, though similar art classes continued through the late 1940s, said Wilson. Robinson left in 1947, which is considered the official end of the BAA era, though famous lithographer Lawrence Barrett continued to work at the FAC School, along with other nationally known artists.
At least 150 artists studied and exhibited at the BAA and FAC through the ’40s, said Wilson.
“Many of them go on to become well-known professional artists,” he said. “The quality of work is extremely good. We may see, during the 100th anniversary year, some of those lesser-known artists come to light.”
If you go
COLORADO SPRINGS FINE ARTS CENTER AT COLORADO COLLEGE 100TH ANNIVERSARY KICK-OFF CELEBRATION
With guided tours of exhibits "O Beautiful! Shifting Landscapes of the Pikes Peak Region" and "Scenes of Everyday Life: Drawings by Bernard Arnest," at noon and 12:30 p.m.; one-act play readings of "Suppressed Desires," first play performed by Academy Players in 1919, at 1 and 3 p.m.; hands-on art activities and demonstrations, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.; free beverages and treats; 10 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Saturday, CSFAC at CC, 30 W. Dale St., free; 634-5581,
csfineartscenter.org Eric Bransby
Renowned muralist Eric Bransby is one of the last living Broadmoor Art Academy students and teachers in the Pikes Peak region.
The 102-year-old still lives south of Colorado Springs in the home he once shared with his wife and fellow artist Mary Ann Bransby. She died in 2011 after almost 70 years together.
Once dubbed the "latrine painter," due to his secret midnight forays to paint the bathroom walls at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., where he was stationed during World War II, he took advantage of the G.I. Bill after his service ended, and headed west to Colorado Springs with his wife and daughter.
"Mary Ann said to me, you’re getting G.I. Bill, who do you want to study?" said Eric. "I’d seen the book about him (muralist Boardman Robinson) the Fine Arts Center published, and we were both hooked on Colorado because we’d been out here teaching. We thought we’d be very much at home here. It was wonderful."
Eric studied under Robinson and muralist Jean Charlot, who later helped oversee Eric's 1947 mural in Colorado College's Cossitt Hall. He later occasionally taught at BAA.
"I was on and off the faculty," said Eric. "It was like a little family."
Eric's love of painting figures in his murals took a hit when the end of the war brought about a dramatic shift the artistic aesthetic of time, and shifted to a focus on abstract expressionism. He felt lost, but decided to stay true to his style, which he's been lauded for over the years.
His murals still dot the country and Colorado Springs, including the Air Force Academy, Pioneers Museum, Cheyenne Mountain Country Club and the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College.
In 1985, the FAC commissioned Eric to restore Robinson’s mural on the building's facade, and in 2012 he finished a mural that celebrated the FAC’s 75th anniversary.
Bernard Arnest liked to draw whatever was in front of him.
"He was a compulsive sketcher," said his son, Mark Arnest, a local musician.
Born in Denver in 1917, Bernard was a student of Boardman Robinson and Henry Varnum Poor at the Broadmoor Art Academy and Fine Arts Center in the 1930s. By '39, he'd graduated from the FAC and become Robinson's assistant, and eventually taught at the institution.
Mark has a postcard made from a Laura Gilpin photo of a group of people working on a 1937 Robinson mural that hangs in the Department of Justice Building in Washington, D.C.
"On the back, my dad wrote 'Hi, Mom, that's me on top,'" said Mark. "It's my father working on the murals. They were Robinson's murals, but other people had a hand in them."
After winning a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1940, he studied in San Francisco and had his first solo show at the San Francisco Museum of Art. An artistic crisis followed, said Mark, and his father joined the U.S. Army shortly before the attack on Pearl Harbor.
During World War II, he served as a chief war artist in the Army war artist program, and in 1944, went to Iceland and Europe, where his job was to paint and draw war-related images.
After the war, he exhibited across the country, and took a job as chief instructor at the Minneapolis School of Art in 1947. A decade later, he was lured back to Colorado Springs, where he became the director of the FAC School and the head of Colorado College's art department. He retired in 1982 and died in 1986.
"He was an extremely funny person, but his art is never funny," said Mark. "It's always about penetrating the surface and seeing the meaning of a scene, even with landscapes."
What has struck Mark about his father's work is the regularity with which he and his brother and sister appear in the paintings, and in particular, Mark himself, thanks to his rock 'n' roll aspirations.
It was 1971, and Mark's high school band practiced in his parents living room. His father would sit and sketch the band, and eventually assembled a major series of oil paintings based on the group that were "not terribly popular," said Mark.
"He was doing something he really enjoyed, but at the same time he was being a parent," said Mark. "He would have really rather painted, but if he painted kids, then he’s being a good responsible parent and also enjoying himself."
"Scenes of Everyday Life: Drawings by Bernard Arnest" is up through June 2 at the FAC, and features 51 large drawings that depict the artist's feelings about the world later in his life.
"He grew up in the Depression and went through WWII," said Mark. "He saw the world seemed to be getting better for while. He hated (Richard) Nixon, who figures prominently in some of these drawings. He was rather depressed as he got older, and these drawings are about his disillusionment with the world."
As with many artists who came to Broadmoor Art Academy and the Fine Arts Center School, Lewis Tilley sought out the knowledge of Boardman Robinson.
He arrived in 1938, went home to Georgia at some point, and returned as an instructor in 1940, with the intent to also study alongside renowned printmaker Lawrence Barrett, said his daughter, Eve Tilley.
"The best of the best would come out to the Springs in the summertime," said Eve. "A lot of these artists, especially after World War II, came on the G.I. Bill. Herman Raymond came out — he was brilliant. There was a talented faculty because the FAC School had such a great reputation for instruction and its lithography press. It was a happening place."
When Lewis' and Barrett's positions were terminated in 1952, the former spent a year in Mexico, where his work was "very different from what he'd done at the FAC," said Eve.
"Everybody imitated Boardman because he was the head of the school, and you imitate the style of the times and the head of the school," she said. "Every time I see a piece done by any of the people who worked at the FAC at that time, it looks just like Boardman."
After Lewis returned from his travels, he worked as a freelance filmmaker and designer and part-time teacher at Colorado College. He died in 2005.
"He was larger than life," said Eve. "He lived life to the fullest."
Francis Drexel Smith
Francis Drexel Smith came to Colorado Springs in 1900 for the same reason many others migrated to the Pikes Peak region in the early 20th century: to regain his health.
The painter put down roots, and became a founder of the Broadmoor Art Academy, and eventually the school's president and a founding trustee of the Fine Arts Center.
"He was a professional artist for his entire life, starting in the early 1900s," said Smith's grandson, John Hazlehurst. "He was quite successful as an artist, very prolific. He had one man shows throughout the country and maintained a studio at the Fine Arts Center for many years."
The exhibit "Francis Drexel Smith: A Legacy on Canvas" is up through Dec. 28 at the Pioneers Museum.
As Hazlehurst grew up in the late 1940s and early '50s, he met some of the BAA artists through his grandfather, including Boardman Robinson and painter Archie Musick, who studied under Robinson.
"Archie and others have told me how generous Frank (Francis) Smith was to his fellow artists," said Hazlehurst. "He would buy works by his contemporaries and help them out financially. He was a wonderful guy."
Smith died in 1956 at 82, leaving behind 60 to 70 paintings, many of which were distributed throughout the community.
"His was an interesting artistic and civic history," Hazlehurst said. "I only knew him as an old man. He was a sweet gentle man, and it has been a revelation to discover this fun, young guy."
One of Hazlehurst's favorite pieces of art is a sketch done by Robinson. After Smith told Robinson about his grandson's imaginary dog, Robinson asked for its breed, and Smith said a German shepherd or wolf. The famous artist did a quick sketch of a dog lying down.
"He gave it to my grandfather, and said give this to John," said Hazlehurst, "and tell him I ran into his dog. That sketch still hangs above my desk."
Why these four artists
Of all the artists who attended or taught at Broadmoor Art Academy and the Fine Arts Center School, one is still living (Eric Bransby), and a few others still have children (Bernard Arnest, Lewis Tilley, Archie Musick) and grandchildren (Francis Drexel Smith) living in Colorado Springs.
They were able to provide colorful stories and historical information about the arts in the Pikes Peak region, and shed some light on their famous relatives, who helped Colorado Springs earn its reputation as a thriving arts colony in the early-to-mid 20th century.