By Raymundo Muñoz
“Every little thing we do helps broaden us out as a cultural community,” says Denver philanthropist and art enthusiast Frederic C. Hamilton. The scale of Hamilton’s own contributions to the art scene, however, is anything but little. For this reason as well as his entrepreneurship, the Institute of Classical Architecture and Art – Rocky Mountain Chapter (ICAA RMC) is honoring him with The Clinton Family Fund Medal at the Robert and Judi Newman Awards come September 17.
In support of University of Colorado Denver College of Architecture & Planning Classical Architecture Scholarship Fund and Denver-Ace Mentor Program Scholarship Fund, the second annual event honors excellence in classical and traditional design in seven award categories. Hamilton, explains ICAA RMC President Don Ruggles, was selected for “his ability to meaningfully change every institution in which he invested his time and energy.” And there are plenty.
Regarding the art community, however, Hamilton’s baby has always been Denver Art Museum. Since joining the Board of Trustees in 1977; becoming Vice-Chairman in 1984; and then Chairman in 1994; Hamilton has led two major endowment campaigns, resulting in more than $100 million in assets and most notably guided the museum through the planning, financing, and construction of the $110 million 146,000 sq-ft Daniel Libeskind-designed Frederic C. Hamilton Building.
Frederic C. Hamilton Building
Hamilton beams, “I’m very proud of the Hamilton Building and the architecture–I think it’s fabulous! It’s great for the city and the community, and it shows that museums can be lively.” Covered in titanium and jutting sharp angles in every direction, the extension is a visual spectacle that stands out among major art museums across the country. Hamilton adds, “That’s going to be there for a long time. It’s a great building and a drawing card. People love it, and it will be enhanced,” he humbly notes, “a little bit by my collection that’s there.”
Frederic C. Hamilton Building, Detail
Frederic C. Hamilton Building, Detail
The collection–comprised of 22 Impressionist masterworks from the likes of Claude Monet (Hamilton’s personal favorite), Berthe Morisot, Camille Pissarro, Alfred Sisley, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and others–was gifted by Hamilton to DAM this past January. Persuaded by Board Director Christoph Heinrick, Hamilton explains, “It was the one area in the museum that we were deficient in, so the more I thought about it, I thought it was very appropriate, and it would be a wonderful thing for the community to enjoy.”
Thanks to acquisitions like these, Hamilton notes that–while not in the same category as New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles–DAM has gained status in the second-tier of museums and art centers around the country, which “for a city our size is remarkable.” He adds, “We’re recognized, and people respect us for what we’ve done and what we’re doing, so we’ve been taking everybody’s attention and notice which really builds up the Colorado community and the city of Denver […] We’re all really very proud of that.”
Denver Art Museum
Having made Denver his home and base of operations for the past 50 years, Hamilton has seen many changes in the arts community and only sees it getting stronger. “Culturally, there have been great changes throughout the system, certainly in the Denver Art Museum, and the Museum of Nature and Science, and the Botanic Gardens has now jumped up.” Concerning the smaller venues, he says, “I think they’re important. They add another dimension: different art appeals to different people.”
Regarding the boom in architectural developments, Hamilton notes, “We’ve got a new library building in our campus, and we’ve got the Clyfford Still Museum which is on our property, and now the new office building.” He adds, “We’ve seen a lot of architectural changes during this period of time, and I’d say all of them are positive.”
Having handed the reins of Board Chairman to J. Landis “Lanny” Martin in 2013, Hamilton has since become Chairman Emeritus, acting now, he jokes, as “sort of the wise old owl that sits there and nods his head.” He explains, “I was on the board for 35 years, and the chairman for the last 20 odd, and it was time. […] I felt that I’d done everything I wanted to do [there].”
“Denver Monoliths” by Beverly Pepper, Frederic C. Hamilton Building in background
Having contributed so much time, effort, and funds to Denver’s art scene over the years, Hamilton muses: “I just think it’s vital to the community, and I think it’s very important that people who have been fortunate and lucky and have the wherewithal to step in and do the things that charitably are important to the community.” He adds, “You can’t take out all the time; you gotta put something back […] and I think it’s my way to put something back into this wonderful country that I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy.”