Saturday, March 03, 2007

John Edward Thompson: Colorado Leader of Vision

John Edward Thompson was an artist and a Colorado leader of vision. He founded the Chappell School of Fine Art which was later incorporated into Denver University. He organized Denver's equivalent of the controversial and influential Armory show.

Born in Buffalo, New York, Thompson came west for a visit in 1915. He spent 7 months at Pine Colorado turning out numerous landscapes. In 1915 he married a Denver girl and returned to Buffalo where he held an exhibition of his work. In Buffalo, he attracted a group of Polish students who also became exhibitors. Among these first students who also became exhibitors were Alexander Korda, Jozef Bakos and Walter Mruk, who went on to achieve fame in Santa Fe and Taos.

In 1917, Thompson came back to stay in Denver. He was followed by his Polish students and with them, in 1919, held the first exhibition of modern art in Denver. The exhibition caused an uproar in Denver and paintings such as Thompson's "Organization of Rocks and Trees" were ridiculed and shocked citizens wrote letters to the papers. Editorials appeared under the heading "Lenin and Trotsky in Art."

In 1921 he taught at the old Denver Academy of Applied Art and formed a second group of students who, when he resigned from the Academy, left to study under him and later to assist him in executing his numerous mural comissions. among this group were audrey gross, Thomas Aarak, Charles F. Ramus, Frank Vavra, Abbie Candlin, Josephine Hurlburt, Walter Schmitz and Donald Bear.

Controversy did not deter Thompson. He fought for freedom of expression in art his entire life. For his personal talents, dedication to art and to the community, John Thompson came to be know as the "Dean of Colorado Painters."

"I have never in my life met anyone or talked to anyone who knew so profoundly, so thoroughly and yet so simply and directly what constituted great painting. . . I have never met anyone either, that could convey what he knew with such clarity."

----Donald Bear, Director of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art

(sources: Charles F. Ramus, Katelyn Cain on behalf of the Savageau Gallery)

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