Saturday, September 19, 2015

Walker Home Ruins

I trudged up Mt. Falcon this afternoon to see the Walker Home Ruins.

A helpful placard gave the history of the ruins of the home built by John Brisben Walker (1847 -1931).

The main text reads:

John Brisben Walker
Devoted family man and visionary businessman

"John Brisben Walker is personally responsible for the way much of the front range looks in this area.  In his quest for the perfect place to build a home for his family, he preserved thousands of acres of land around Morrison.  As a well-rounded businessman, he launched many projects in the Denver area.  All of these ventures continue to impact people who live and play here now.

The ruins you see here are the remains of a grand home belonging to John B. Walker.  A self-made millionaire by 1905, he purchased more than four thousand acres of land in this area, including now what is Mount Falcon Park.  Tragedy struck the Walker family in 1916 when Mrs. Walker died.  Lightning struck the Walker home and it burned down in 1918, forcing John to leave the area.  These ruins are only the foundation of the craftsman-style chalet that once stood here.  His vision of preserving large pieces of land eventually became the foundation for Denver Mountain Parks and Jefferson County Open Space."

Let's take a brief digression to get a glimpse into Walker's character.

John Brisben Walker had been a journalist and editor early in his career. After he purchased the failing Cosmopolitan Magazine in 1893, in addition to his main duties as publisher, he would occasionally get back into harness as a journalist.  I was impressed with the clear and forceful style of his prose in his series of articles about the 1904 St. Louis Exposition (World's Fair).  As Buffon stated: the style is the man.  Here is an example from The Cosmopolitan's World's Fair edition, September 1904, which seems to summarize Walker's own credo.

XV.  Art at the Exposition

by John Brisben Walker

I confess to a feeling of profound disappointment with reference to the art displays at the Exposition.  To begin with, nine-tenths of the statuary is commonplace to a degree.  There is an absence of intellectuality; the work of copyists everywhere abounds.

An artist is called upon to represent "Transportation by Land," and he can think of nothing better than a woman with an expressionless face holding a toy locomotive on one arm as she would a poodle-dog.  Another artist, or probably the same one, when he comes to represent "Transportation by Water," has another woman, very likely the same model, but this time, in the astonishing versatility of his genius, he puts into her arms a toy ship – again held a la poodle-dog.  War-chariots do duty above buildings intended for the most varying purposes.

One searches almost in vain for originality of conception, or for the work of an artist behind whose molded forms lies a worthy thought.  Occasionally there is a statue which shows the intellect of the true sculptor, as in the case of Daniel C. French's "Napoleon," in which the world's greatest genius sits, map in lap, pondering the necessity of parting with his empire in North America.  It is an attitude of profound melancholy; the prophetic mind beholds clearly the great republic which will one day occupy the lands which he is turning over to the United States.  This statue will remain, after this World's Fair, one of the most notable "Napoleons."

Occasionally a sculptor escapes from his "beaux-arts" studies of Greece and Rome.  The result, however, is scarcely more happy, for in front of the Pike we have fixed in staff a drunken orgy – an inconceivable embodiment designed to perpetuate three of the lowest types of Western cowboy.  Certainly a misunderstanding, to say the least.

I took a committee of five, two of them selected for their knowledge of art, through the vast art-galleries of the Exposition – in which are displayed a greater number of square yards of mediocrity than have ever been brought together before in the history of the world.

It was my intention to pick out and reproduce ten really great paintings, or, at least, ten great enough for three of five of the committee to agree upon.  I have always entertained the theory that a truly great painting will be recognized as such by all classes of people.  It may require a connoisseur in art to tell the points of a moderately good work, but a subject which rendered in a really strong way stands out evident to all.

It was with surprise, then, that as my committee reached the last room I discovered that we had not secured the necessary three-fifths vote required to complete our list of ten.

Of those selected, three were taken from painters of other times recognized as great masters.  Yet here were thousands upon thousands of pictures, painted with laborious art, and these in turn selected from other thousands; and not ten really great paintings amongst them all, upon which three out of five persons would agree.  I went out in a melancholy frame of mind, determined to return and find the secret, if I could, of such vastness of commonplaceness.

Upon my next visit I wandered through the rooms alone.  Gradually it seemed to become clear.  The art-schools of to-day teach method, technique; they do not teach students to think, or to express thought in original ways.  The man or woman becomes a copyist or attaches himself to some fad.  There are many artists like unto those novelists who attempt to write without ideas.  They are not infrequently ignorant of pretty much everything except their own "art."  They know little of government, little of science, little of industrial life, little of those authors whose work has been most ennobling.  And endless number of them know the female figure; an endless number know of the city life of Paris, London, and New York.  A still greater number have copied the busts and limbs and the groups of Greek art.  And as a consequence you have in this Exposition hundreds of paintings that are base, thousands that are copies, and the great majority destitute of an elevating thought or of an idea that rises above the commonplace.  There are portrait-painters and copyists of nature; but we are almost destitute of great artists.

I should like humbly to submit this advice to the young man studying art: "To really succeed in art you must be able to think great thoughts; you must keep away from what is enervating as you would from a reservation of leprosy.  Blood cannot be taken from a vegetable; profound thoughts do not spring from ignorance.  Before an artist can paint great ideas, he must be capable of profound analysis.  He must lead a broad life, not merely that of the studios.  He must take an interest in the politics of his country and in affairs.  He should hang these words of Victor Hugo up over his doorway:

"For the world lets everything perish which is nothing but selfishness: which does not represent an idea or a benefit for the human race."

Here is a 1913 picture (stolen from Wikipedia) of John Walker and Ethel Richmond Walker, his second wife.  She looks like a jolly woman in her late thirties.  He is 66 years old and looks like a fiery, stern-jawed old coot. 

 Here is a picture of their home during construction in 1909.

Okay, here is the courtyard view of the north wing today.  The doorway and the first window to its right remain intact.

The ruins retain a rustic beauty.  However, the arches over the doors and windows disappointed me.  I had expected a bit more precision and a more graceful curve from craftsmen brought all the way from Italy.

The views from the home were marvelous.  Here is the view to the west.

Here is the view to the east – the foothills and the city.

John Brisben Walker was a talented, energetic, and restless man.  He raised quite a whirlwind in the early years of the twentieth century.

As I made my way back down the Mt. Falcon trail, I saw two deer and a fawn down below me in the bushes.  I took five photographs. Four were duds.  But one captured a deer in the photograph's very top left corner.  Here is the relevant blown-up portion of the photograph.  The deer appears to have a strange green nose, like some kind of inverse Rudolph.  

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