A legendary Colorado artist, heated public clash and exquisite mural returned to glory

  • Article by Scott Reiman and Dan Jacobs
Reiman
After years of restoration, Thompson’s mural in the Reiman Theater has been restored to near original condition
Photo: University of Denver

Lost for nearly a century, we are pleased to announce that an incredible work of art was recently restored with the re-opening of the Reiman Theater in historic Margery Reed Hall at the University of Denver (DU). Formerly known as the Little Theatre, the venue was renamed in honor of DU trustee and arts patron Scott Reiman.

Painted by leading Colorado artist John Edward Thompson in 1929, the large proscenium arch framing the theater stage features a vibrant mural highlighting characters from Shakespeare plays. Thompson, often called the “Dean of Colorado Painters,” is largely credited for introducing Colorado to modern art in the 1920s.

In early 1931 -- barely one year after its unveiling -- Thompson’s mural was covered with layers of black paint by then-theatre director Walter Sinclair, and was believed to be destroyed.

The public clash following the mural’s defacement was heated. Thompson was quoted in the January 27, 1931, Denver Post as saying, “I know now why some men, otherwise law-abiding, sometimes commit murder.”

Despite the initial controversy, this artistic treasure faded from memory and was lost for 76 years. When architects began planning for restoration of the theater space, they hoped to replicate Thompson’s work based on an old black and white photo of the mural.

It was then, in 2007, that the surviving mural was discovered beneath countless layers of black paint by DU Art Collections curator Dan Jacobs. After a significant fundraising effort, a team of DU students worked alongside professional art conservators, including a team from the Western Center for the Conservation of Fine Arts on the lengthy and painstaking restoration process. As a result of this effort, this exquisite frame to the Reiman Theater has now been restored to near original condition.

Restoration of the Thompson mural is the latest chapter in this incredible journey of creation, loss and return to glory as one of the University of Denver Art Collections’ most prized assets.

We are honored to share the remarkable story of this piece of Colorado history.

Scott Reiman is Founder and President of Denver-based private-investment company Hexagon and a longtime patron of the arts. He serves as a University of Denver trustee and was pleased to support the Thompson mural restoration.

Dan Jacobs is Curator of the University of Denver Art Collections and Director of the University’s Vicki Myhren Gallery. In the course of research on artist John E. Thompson, he discovered the Shakespeare mural in 2007 and directed its restoration.

 

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