Art Al Fresco: Four Seasons of Henry Moore Sculptures at the Denver Botanic Gardens

Henry Moore’s "Mother and Child" heralds spring at the Denver Botanic Gardens. Photo: Laurel Kallenbach

I’ve had the privilege to see the exquisite sculptures by 20th-century British sculptor Henry Moore (1898–1986) at the Denver Botanic Gardens in spring, summer and winter. (I missed fall because I was traveling elsewhere.)

Moore’s iconic, modernist masterpieces have been incorporated into the lovely garden settings since last March.

But hurry: the Moores leave Denver after January 31, 2011, and they shouldn’t be missed.

Evergreen Art

The beauty of viewing art al fresco is that the sculptures reflect moment by moment what’s happening in the landscape. (And Moore, who was heavily influenced by the natural world, surely meant for his bronzes to be enjoyed outdoors.)

Moore’s smooth surfaces and organic lines transform by the hour as the light shifts. The sculptures transmogrify by the season as the foliage around them blooms or withers.

“Mother and Child” during December’s Blossoms of Light display. Photo: Scott Dressel-Martin

Compare the outdoor experience to seeing a piece of art in an indoor museum, where the artificial light is static and the surrounding walls do not change shape or color.

And, even though they’re abstract, Moore’s sculptures feel very human and tactile. The smooth surfaces, although bronze, have a skin-like quality.

Green in the Gardens

“Oval with Points” with April crabapple blossoms. Photo: Laurel Kallenbach

You should visit the Denver Botanic Gardens to enjoy its plants, flowers, fountains, pools and outdoor art—but here’s another benefit: the nonprofit organization is also committed to sustainability.

  • In July 2009, the Gardens started installing solar panels to generate renewable electricity from the sun. The solar array currently in place produces 10,000 watts, one third of the Gardens’ planned total array of 30,000 watts, which will be enough to completely power six Denver homes.
  • Denver Botanic Gardens’ research staff collaborates with organizations and agencies to protect and conserve many of Colorado’s rarest plant species.

    “Large Reclining Figure, 1984” in summer. Photo: Laurel Kallenbach

  • The research staff also works to control and eradicate invasive plants, considered second only to habitat destruction in causing species extinctions. The staff conducts research on the impacts of invasive species such as tamarisk, saltcedar, Russian olive, and cheatgrass.
  • The Gardens are an invaluable resource for gardeners who want to learn more about low-water, high-altitude growing.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

“Large Reclining Figure” in winter.      Photo: Scott Dressel-Martin

King Tut Exhibit at Denver Art Museum Captures Spirit of Ancient Egypt

I celebrated the new year by getting tickets to the King Tutankhamun exhibit during the last days of its stay at the Denver Art Museum. (It closes January 9, 2011).

This canopic coffinette is a miniature of the gold coffin King Tut was buried in. About 15 inches tall, this one held his stomach.

What a way to indulge the senses! As a longtime ancient Egypt lover, I was dazzled, but even more important, I felt the exhibit embodied the artistic spirit of the Nile region 3,300 years ago—and in 1922 when Egyptologist Howard Carter opened the boy pharaoh’s tomb.

Witnessing stunning jewelry, solid-gold sandals, and even gold finger and toe coverings, I got a sense of how much the ancient Egyptians cared about the afterlife of their pharaohs, who were considered human embodiments of the gods.

Each time a pharaoh came into power, he (or she, in a few cases) immediately began building a tomb and commissioning the best Egyptian artists to carve statues, create fine beadwork, paint exquisite frescos and generally make beautiful items that would accompany the pharaoh in the afterlife. The result is a treasure trove of incredibly fine art that has endured for millennia.

This gilded-wood leopard head was worn during a ritual in which a priest magically opens the mummy's eyes, nose, ears and mouth so the owner could use his senses in the afterlife. Photo: Matthew Prefontain

The irony is that Tut took the throne at age 9 and died when he was 19—so he was just a youth who didn’t have time to become politically powerful—or to amass much funerary art.

One can only imagine the riches buried with pharaohs with more longevity and historical clout—yet their tombs have been plundered over the millennia. In fact, it was probably Tutankhamun’s obscurity that protected his tomb.

Fine Art for All Time

Though the King Tut exhibit bears just one famous pharaoh’s name, on display were artifacts from other Egyptian royals, courtiers and even tomb builders.

This collar necklace is a fraction of the jewelry buried with the pharaohs.

I had expected the gold items to be breathtaking, but I was also captivated by the graceful stonework and carving, including statues of Queen Hatshepsut and a sarcophagus of Prince Thutmose’s cat.

(Cats were much revered in ancient Egypt as my own purring feline likes to remind me.)

Suspense in Finding Tut’s Tomb

Also effective was the exhibit’s emphasis on Howard Carter’s experience of discovering and excavating Tut’s tomb in 1922—as it was the archaeological find of the 20th century. Vintage photos of how the tomb appeared when it was opened gave me the feel of how excited Carter’s team was at having found a relatively untouched site. Seeing the glimmer of all that gold must have been incredible.

Archaeologist Howard Carter examines King Tut's mummy in 1922.

Now my desire to visit Egypt’s wonders has intensified—the thought of going to the source of all this wonderful art pulls me there.

If you go to the museum exhibit—and you must—be sure to rent the audio tour, narrated by actor Harrison Ford (because of his film character Indiana Jones).

A canopic stopper found in Tut's tomb.

And if you can’t catch the exhibit in Denver, it travels next to St. Paul, Minn.

Don’t let long lines deter you! After all, if Tut’s tomb went unscathed for 3,300 years, can’t we moderns endure a few spellbound crowds?

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor