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Anne Evans' gift to Denver: A legacy of art, music and books

She was behind some of the city's most beloved institutions.


Published:

THEN

Anne Evans gave her heart to the heart of Denver: Civic Center Park. The Denver Public Library. The Byers-Evans House.

But nowhere is her legacy more apparent than in the galleries of the Denver Art Museum (DAM), to which she gave an extensive collection of Puebloan and Spanish Colonial art in 1925, making DAM one of the first art museums in the nation to collect the genre.

“She was the original startup girl,” says her great grand-niece, Barbara Rumsey. “What was so wonderful is that all her startups lasted. It wasn’t just a business that was on the scene for 10 years and then gone. And not only lasted, but then increased in value.”

Anne Evans was born in London in 1871, daughter of John Evans, Colorado’s second territorial governor, and his wife, Margaret. She grew up splitting her time between Europe and Colorado. She attended the Art Students League of New York, and her love of all things artistic pervaded her life.

Evans biographer Barbara Edwards Sternberg described Evans as a highly skilled, can-do businesswoman. Evans and her mother served on the board of what started out as the Denver Artists’ Club and eventually became the Denver Art Museum. She was also involved with the creation and expansion of the Civic Center as part of Mayor Robert W. Speer’s Municipal Arts Commission.

In 1932, the art museum needed to grow, but no room was available in existing buildings. Then the City and County of Denver Building was proposed.

“And suddenly, there was this wonderful idea that came as if from nowhere: ‘Why don’t we give galleries to the Denver Art Museum in the brand new City-County Building?’”

Evans built a house on land bought by her father and Samuel Elbert, near the house where she grew up, but higher up – to take advantage of the incredible view.

On the wall hangs a painting by the Western artist Allen Tupper True, who eventually became known for murals in the Colorado, Wyoming and Missouri state capitol buildings.

“One of the things Anne did throughout her life was very quietly, without any blowing of trumpets – she championed talented young artists,” Sternberg says. “And this was Allen Tupper True’s first commission. She is often known as the patron of Colorado artists. It wasn’t because she talked about it in any way. She just did it.”

At the end of her life, Evans took on the task of reviving and saving the Central City Opera and starting a summer festival there.

In 1932, Evans and her team of volunteers oversaw the extensive restoration of the Opera House and the inaugural summer festival.

Evans managed what seemed nearly impossible, and did it while continuing her work on the library commission and the art museum.

“She was juggling all these balls in the air – successfully,” Sternberg says.

Evans never married, but spent her adult life in the home of her brother, William Evans, at 1310 Bannock St. and died there in 1941.

NOW

Anne Evans’ legacy includes some of Denver’s most beloved and enduring institutions.

The Denver Art Museum’s Native American art collection now includes nearly 20,000 pieces of Native American art, representing virtually every North American tribe.

The Denver Public Library system – the Denver Central Library and 25 branches – has a $41.4 million budget; it welcomed 4.4 million visits last year, and more than 11 million online visits.

The Central City Opera’s Summer Festival has announced its 2016 productions: “The Ballad of Baby Doe” (60th Anniversary Production) by Douglas Moore; “Tosca” by Giacomo Puccini; “Later the Same Evening” by John Musto; and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “The Impresario.”

The house where Anne lived with her brother from 1897 to 1941 is now the Byers-Evans House Museum, restored to its former glory and showcasing the history of Denver and Colorado.

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Lisa Ryckman

Lisa Ryckman is ColoradoBiz's managing editor. Contact her at lryckman@cobizmag.com.

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