Welcome back to the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum

Welcome back! As announced last week, today’s tour will afford further glimpses of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, located in the historic El Paso County Courthouse. As it reopened on July 9, 2020 after being closed for over 3 months, you don’t have to limit yourself to a virtual visit (but please wear your mask and keep a safe distance from other visitors).

Once you walk up the front steps and through the front door into the lobby of the 2nd floor, you will behold one of the most arresting pieces of equipment inside the building—the 1917 Bird Cage elevator, fashioned by the same Otis Company still in the elevator business today. The interval between the courthouse’s opening in 1903 and the elevator’s installation was presumably due to a lack of funds.

Unless you suffer from claustrophobia and/or agoraphobia, let’s ride the now-automated contraption (it used to have an operator in the early days) to the third floor with its Division I Courtroom, restored to its original splendor. If you paid attention last week, you might have picked up on my description of “the seemingly central clock tower.” It was actually offset 8 feet to the west to allow this courtroom to be built large enough for its needs, but the asymmetry is discernible only from the outside.

Today I will focus on our museum’s “permanent” exhibits (whose lifetime is about 10 years). It is impossible to do them justice with a few photos and words, but I will try my best without overwhelming you with too much information (my apologies if you have already fallen asleep 😊). One of the reasons I enjoy volunteering here is the fact that our museum director, curator, and staff are committed to providing an honest view of the history of Colorado Springs and the region, while questioning long-held notions about “Manifest Destiny” and the settlement of the American West. The displays are inclusive and avoid the one-sided point-of-view that has proven so divisive and destructive for our society.

In The Story of Us, each letter of the alphabet commemorates a significant person, place, or event in Colorado Springs, from A for Antlers Hotel, one of the most famous and enduring guest accommodations (the other is the Broadmoor) , to Z for Zoo Park, the first zoo. S celebrates local Sankofa culture as shown in the diorama.

Cultural Crossroads honors the rich legacy of Indigenous peoples. The Front Range of the Rocky Mountains represented not only a geologic intersection between the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains, but a cultural one as well, where the Utes (known as The Mountain People) interacted with numerous Plains Tribes, among them Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Kiowa. Objects here represent more than 30 different tribes.

A Home of One’s Own pays tribute to author and American Indian activist, Helen Hunt Jackson, whose life and achievements I have described in a previous post. Visitors tend to be fascinated when they learn that the structure visible in the background represents a portion of Helen’s actual residence, not a replica. It was dis- and re-assembled not once, but twice, as it was also showcased in the museum’s previous home.

Any Place That is North and West (also the title of a Langston Hughes poem that makes me tearful each time I recite it) tells the inspiring stories of African-Americans who came to Colorado during the Great Migration, in which millions of Blacks left the Jim Crowe South to find freedom and opportunity for themselves and their loved ones. Fannie Mae Duncan, founder and operator of Colorado Springs’ own Cotton Club, was the focus of an essay I wrote in honor of Black History Month earlier this year.

From Paris to the Plains retraces famed potter Arthur Van Briggle’s journey. A gifted artist from Ohio whose talent was fertilized by a sojourn in Paris (whose isn’t?), he came to Colorado Springs seeking a cure for his tuberculosis—in vain. He died at the age of 35, but not before having recreated a matte glaze dating back to the Ming dynasty which became all the rage. His accomplishments would have been impossible without the tireless support of his wife and fellow artist, Anne, who continued to create Van Briggle pottery after his death. His death mask and their intertwined hands on a vase of their making are among the most affecting artifacts.

Last but not least, the remarkable life of General William Jackson Palmer—Quaker, abolitionist, volunteer Union soldier in the Civil War, railroad builder, founder of Colorado Springs in 1871, and generous benefactor—is explored in Evidence, which opened in 2019 as the first of three new displays designed to celebrate our city’s approaching sesquicentennial. A new Cultural Crossroads exhibit scheduled to open this year was postponed until autumn 2021, and Colorado Springs@150 will open in January 2021.

If you live nearby and have never, or not for a long time, visited the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, or if you are traveling through the Pikes Peak region, please drop in. Something interesting and stimulating is certain to await you, so come and come often, especially since the museum is free (donations are gratefully accepted). For further information, follow the link to the museum’s website: https://www.cspm.org/

Welcome to the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum

West side of the building with entrance, July 2020.

Welcome to the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. Allow me to introduce to you one of my favorite home-grown institutions, where I have happily served as a volunteer docent for over five years.

Our local history museum is located in the former El Paso County courthouse. The building was commissioned in 1899 and completed in 1903, then served as the county courthouse until the early 1970s. It was clearly built to last, but very nearly fell victim to urban renewal during the 1960s and -70s. If it weren’t for a group of engaged (and enraged) citizens, this gem would have been reduced to rubble, like other iconic downtown Colorado Springs structures.

The museum relocated from its previous, far smaller quarters into these more spacious surroundings, and reopened its doors in 1979. The building not only houses myriad fascinating artifacts, but represents the most elaborate showpiece of the entire collection. Though few people today fail to be impressed by its commanding presence, it has not always enjoyed favorable sentiments. Rather, it was embroiled in a series of controversies from the start.

Southeast corner with surrounding Alamo Square Park, June 2017.

Similar angle in February 2018. What a difference 8 months can make!

Situated in the middle of Alamo Square Park, the site was originally known as South Park and was the counterpoint to North Park (present-day Acacia Park) several city blocks north. Against the wishes of many lawyers, who would have preferred their future work place nearer their elegant homes in what is now called The Old North End neighborhood, the more southern location was chosen. Local residents protested the felling of trees from South Park, which had been painstakingly planted and raised. And, to add fuel to the fire, the appointment of the architect, Augustus J. Smith, with his what some considered an inadequate résumé, ruffled feathers among the architectural establishment, who were aghast that an outsider would get credit for what promised to be a prestigious project. But no gnashing of teeth or maligning resulted in the reversal of the county commissioners’ choice, and Augustus immortalized himself by erecting the 9th incarnation of the El Paso County courthouse in the then-popular Italian Renaissance Revival style, modeled after imposing Renaissance residences in Italy.

Characterized by flat or low-pitched roofs, wide eaves, central cupolas, vertical and arched windows, the design of the courthouse also pays homage to Greek antiquity by incorporating, in order of increasing complexity, Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian columns. This classification is based on the elaborateness of the columns’ capitals (or crowns), not the shafts. While the building base is solid and square and adorned with sturdy Doric columns, the architecture becomes more detailed and elaborate before culminating in Corinthian columns in the seemingly central clock tower. Not unlike a wedding cake, to which it has been compared, its most eye-catching features adorn the top.

To honor its rootedness in the American West, the edifice incorporates Manitou Springs green sandstone in its foundation, and Platte Canyon granite and lava rock in its walls, materials all quarried in Colorado. The ornate if not slightly ostentatious enterprise came at a cost, but $420,000 seemed an appropriate price to pay for the then 30-year-old community of Colorado Springs. By the turn of the 20th century, not only did it enjoy a growing reputation as a health resort for sufferers of tuberculosis, it also benefitted from the river of gold flowing down the slopes of Pikes Peak, where the precious metal had been discovered in 1891.

View from the northwest corner with reflection in the adjacent building, July 2019.

In case you are surprised at the opulence you see before you, a recent article in our newspaper suggested that of all the historic courthouses in Colorado’s 64 counties, our local El Paso County example is by no means the most lavish or luxurious (though it might afford the most stupendous view).

April 2016. Westard view from the clock tower, showing the Front Range with Pikes Peak in the distance, and in the foreground, the 10th El Paso County courthouse, successor to its much more attractive antecedent.

If you enjoyed today’s tour, which highlighted some of the building’s history and exterior, I hope you will join me again one week hence, when I will give you a glimpse of the museum’s interior treasures.

[Dis]information

Definition of disinformation:

False information deliberately and often covertly spread, in order to influence public opinion or obscure the truth (according to Merriam Webster’s online dictionary).

What thoughts go through your mind when viewing these photographs? Do you find them beautiful? Interesting and intriguing? Romantic and dreamy? Peaceful and serene?

How about stylized and stilted?

All of these impressions might coexist when looking at portraits of Native Americans, taken by photographer Roland Reed (1864-1934) at the beginning of the 20th century. He was genuinely interested in American Indians, even living with and photographing the Ojibwe on their Minnesota reservation for two years, but his pictorialist style of photography interpreted his subjects in a certain way, by staging scenes with props and artifice, rather than documenting their actual lives and reality.

Roland Reed’s idealized art represents the core of a seminal and challenging exhibit, “[Dis]information,” which opened at the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum in the spring of 2019. Co-curated by Native American Gregg Deal, a member of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, and by Leah Davis Witherow, the museum’s Curator of History, it attempts to raise awareness of how Native Americans were depicted through a white lens, how these photographs presented a version of native life that no longer existed, by pigeonholing the people portrayed, and by implying that they were part of America’s past, and not of its present, or its future. With this problematic characterization American Indians take issue, as they are very much alive and part of America today. While Roland Reed might have been well-intentioned, his oeuvre is yet one more bitterly ironic example of the way in which the same nation, that killed or confined the First Americans on reservations, began to romanticize them not long after expelling them from their ancestral lands.

Photojournalist Viki Eagle’s portraits of American Indian students at University of Denver

In contrast to Roland Reed’s problematic images, Native American photographer, Vicki Eagle, presents fellow Native Americans, all of them students at Denver University, in the manner of their choosing, without artificial setting or attire. Each portrait is accompanied by a short biographical sketch, each poignant in its own right. I have chosen to share two.

Alexis writes: “I attend the University of Denver, where the mascot is the ‘Pioneers’ and the founder is John Evans [former Governor of Colorado Territory, and responsible for the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre, in which hundreds of peaceful American Indians were killed by Colorado militia in cold blood, despite having been assured protection]. Every day I see the words ‘Pioneers’ and 1864 plastered everywhere. Seeing these things is a constant reminder that I am not meant to be on this campus. Instead of letting it bring me down, I stay resilient and ensure that I make my mark on campus. I am not afraid or ashamed to embrace my Native identity because I know every day I walk on campus I am breaking the stereotype and making my family, community and tribe proud.”

Taylor says: “ I’m sure I made John Evans, founder of the University of Denver, turn in his grave knowing that an indigenous female is thriving in this institution. Being a Pueblo woman, I have defied all the odds just being here in college. The statistics will say that I’m a drug addict, an alcoholic, dropout, victim of abuse, missing, and even murdered. I’m blessed to say I’m NONE of those things. I am thankful to receive education and the opportunities it has given me for a better future, so that I can go back home and give back to my people. I am my ancestors’ wildest dreams. Sincerely, A Future Native Female Lawyer in the making.”

Wet-plate photographs of Northern Plains Native Americans by North Dakota photographer Shane Balkowitsch

A collection of wet-plate images completes the exhibit. Self-taught North Dakota artist Shane Balkowitsch, with his project Northern Plains Native Americans: A Modern Wet Plate Perspective, aspires to obtain portraits of 1.000 Native Americans. As with Vicki Eagle, his models choose in which way they want to be depicted, many of them opting for traditional apparel.

Native American Nations, circa 1590 through 1850 (pre-reservation period).

Native American land holdings today, representing about 3% of the contiguous United States.

Despite repeated attempts to integrate and assimilate indigenous Americans and to eradicate their native language and traditions, and despite the near-complete loss of their homelands, many American Indians continue to cherish and celebrate their legacy and heritage. 573 federally recognized tribes exist in the United States as of 2019. About 2.9 million individuals identify as American Indian or Alaska Native alone, and 2.3 million do so in combination with one or two more races (2010 US Census data). Most live off reservations and are our friends, our colleagues, and our neighbors. The portrayal of Native Americans in still and moving pictures, in commercials, and as sports mascots has engendered hard-to-break stereotypes and prejudice in the American psyche, but Native America and Native Americans are infinitely more complex than Hollywood ever allowed, and have their own version of history to tell.

Butterfly Fever

     Late summer and early fall brought an invasion of the Rocky Mountain region by legions of gossamer-winged Painted Ladies. Denver weather radar detected large swarms of these lovely lepidopterans undulating across the screen in what amounted to a seventy mile band. While this is not an unusual phenomenon in eastern states, it was a novelty for Colorado. Many were the reported sightings and resulting delight shared in newspapers, on television, and numerous blogs.

     Between the end of August and the latter part of October, Colorado Springs residents and guests were also treated to a winged visitation of another kind. Thanks to the 10th annual “Flight” event organized by the Rotary Club, twenty-four handcrafted butterflies landed on the lawn of our local Pioneers Museum, where they contributed color and whimsy to an active downtown arts scene. Those steely individuals with three foot wingspans alighted on seven foot tall poles after they were fashioned by Colorado artists. They were subsequently auctioned off at a special fundraiser and the proceeds will support arts and science programs in our largest school district, besides additional worthy causes.

     One of our incredible bluebird autumn days found me at my favorite museum. I benefitted from perfect climatic conditions and clicked away with my camera. Being encircled by a cloud of enchanting, enormous creations resulted in difficulty electing favorites. Each butterfly was named and each told its own story on its ventral and dorsal surfaces, the intricacies of which were impossible to capture. My photos show a small selection of these inspired labors of love.

Transformation-The Flight of the Phoenix

Tiger Passion

Sunset Silhouette

Harmonious Dream

Huichol Wilderness

Into the Light

Beauty and the Beast

The Four Seasons

The Four Seasons

     When, among those immovable creatures, I perceived the quivering of so many mobile wings, delicate in detail yet sturdy enough to convey their owners to distant lands, I was both humbled and exalted to witness this magical moment.

Click here for the German version/klicken Sie bitte hier für die deutsche Version:

https://tanjaschimmel.wordpress.com/2017/11/09/schmetterlingsfieber/