In 1932 Vance Krikland rented and later bought 1311 Pearl Street for studio space and his own art school. At the time, Margaret “Molly” Brown was still living around the corner. Kirkland occupied the building for almost fifty years and created over 1,100 paintings during his career. Both an innovator and a visionary, Krikland is recognized as one of the century’s great modern painters.
Kirkland’s studio stood steady as Capitol changed around it, moving out of its Victorian period as a haven for the elite, into a sometimes gritty beacon for the Beat Generation in the 1950s. Beat icon Jack Kerouac, author of On the Road, spent some evenings at the Kirkland, listening to the Jazz musicians who passed through Denver and conversing with other artists and bohemians.
Vance Kirkland is remembered as both an independent painter and an educator. Kirkland first arrived in Denver at the age of twenty-four in 1929, becoming the founding director of the Art School at the University of Denver. He stayed at the school until 1932, when he got into a dispute over the degrees the university was willing to give to the art students. He instead opened the Kirkland School of Art. Kirkland eventually returned to the University of Denver (DU) as head of the art school and chairman of the arts and humanities department. It is rumored that he was paid more than the chancellor and promised the stipulation of reporting directly to the chancellor, to avoid debate with administrators. He successfully created a curriculum that focused on breeding artists, rather than training students how to teach art in an elementary school.
Although Western art was popular during his time, he found the landscape tradition unimpressive. Instead, he sought to present the west in a realist and surrealist perspective. He found great critical and commercial success. However, being opinionated and unconventional, he decided to change his style and painted more abstracted works in oils during his later years.