ARCHIE LEROY MUSICK
“Colorado Landscape”, c. 1940s | 16”x12” - tempera on board
Musick spent most of his time in Colorado Springs teaching at the Broadmoor Art Academy and Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center from 1920 – 1950. He was well known for his mural work for the Public Works of Art Project as part of the New Deal, during the Great Depression. For his work, Musick developed a signature style with egg tempera and colored pencil technique that he used for smaller paintings like this one throughout the rest of his life.
Painter, illustrator and author Archie Musick first came to Colorado Springs in August 1924 with a classmate after high school graduation aboard a Santa Fe freight train, realizing their plan to see some of America. He initially supported himself working on a road crew building a highway to Denver. In Colorado Springs he took Charlie Bishop’s tree-week Lightning Painting course aimed at producing bucolic wilderness scenes painted on cardboard or on slabs sawed from logs that proved popular with the tourists.
He soon became oriented to the fine arts, having been introduced by a student at the recently-established Broadmoor Art Academy to Francis Drexel Smith, one of its founding members. Smith had studied at the Art Institute of Chicago with John Vanderpoel and with John Carlson at the Academy, where he maintained a studio. After summer employment in 1926 at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, Musick returned to Colorado Springs for summer study at the Broadmoor Art Academy with Randall Davey and Ernest Lawson, respectively, in 1927 and 1928.
During that time he painted his first murals for the Oasis Room at the MacRae Restaurant on Pikes Peak Avenue in downtown Colorado Springs, later describing them as "scenic pot-boilers on restaurant walls, [which] were happily destroyed by fire." The class of 1928 at Northeast Missouri State Teachers College (now Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri, where that year he earned his Bachelor of Science degree) commissioned a painting from him of the snow-covered ruins of Old Baldwin Hall on campus destroyed by a fire in 1924.
In 1929 and 1930 Musick studied with Kimon Nicholaides and Thomas Hart Benton at the Art Students League in New York. He enjoyed a life-long friendship with Benton who periodically visited Colorado and whose treatment of regionalist subject matter guided him in his own choice of Colorado material in the 1930s and later. Beginning in 1930 Musick spent two years studying with Stanton Macdonald-Wright in southern California. The shapes and rhythms in his work later influenced the style of some of Musick’s creative output in Colorado where he spent most of his career.
Returning to Colorado Springs in 1932, he studied with Boardman Robinson at the Broadmoor Art Academy before going on to become art instructor for a number of years at the city’s Cheyenne Mountain School beginning in 1935. After World War II he taught for a year (1946-47) at the University of Missouri-Columbia where he met his first wife, Irene Kolodziej -- head of its ceramics department -- whom he married in 1947.
During the Depression era the Public Works of Art, the first of several such government-sponsored art projects, funded his first major mural, Hard Rock Miners (1934), installed in the foyer of the City Auditorium in Colorado Springs where it can be seen along with the mural of his colleague, Tabor Utley (The Arts, 1935). Four years later Musick slightly reworked the central figures appearing in his monochromatic lithograph with the same title that was displayed in the American Art Today Pavilion at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. In 1936 the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center commissioned from him an Oriental-inspired mural executed in dry pigment and pencil for its lower level lounge, which Mary Ann Bransby restored in 1985.
Under the U.S. Treasury Department’s Section of Fine Arts program he was selected to execute three murals for the post office in Red Cloud, Nebraska - Loading Cattle, Stockade Builders, and Moving Westward (1939-1940). Painted in the traditional regionalist style of the period, they depict the advent of white settlement, the movement of Indian tribes to the west, and the thriving industry of cattlemen. In the foreground of his Moving Westward mural he included young artist Ethel Magafan as a weathered squaw carrying a papoose over the rise behind Chief Red Cloud for whom the Nebraska town was named. Magafan and her twin sister were students of muralist Frank Mechau at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center who themselves painted a number of post office murals under the same government program.
Musick’s mural, Hunters Red and White, executed in 1942 for the Manitou Springs, Colorado post office draws on the theme of the Legend of Bubbling Springs. Native Americans considered them the sacred location where the great spirit Manitou came forth upon the earth. As part of the mythical tale Musick included the images of Zebulon Pike and John Fremont, important figures in nineteen-century Colorado history.
Unlike most of the post office murals of the day which artists painted on canvas in their studios and then had mounted at the intended location, Musick painted his composition directly on the wall of the Manitou Springs post office in his signature egg tempera/colored pencil technique which he developed and used for smaller paintings throughout the rest of his life. Some examples of them are his surrealistic images of a deer in the Garden of the Gods whose composition drew upon Oriental art, a standing female nude in the lyrical California Garden, and a mythical water creature from German folk tales – Nixie – whose partially unmasked face looks through the high waves at a drowned human figure floating in the water.
In addition to his New Deal-era murals, he produced a number of lithographs on Colorado subjects beginning in the mid-1930s. Some were humorous self-portraits, such as Milking a Donkey (1935) and a similar image, Chores on Pikes Peak (1940). He also treated the Colorado landscape and the 19th-century mining towns in the vicinity of Colorado Springs. His native Missouri similarly appeared in several prints including Missouri Pastoral (1937) and Memories (1941).
In 1937 Musick teamed up with four other artists in Colorado Springs to produce work for a limited edition folio of lithographs printed by Lawrence Barrett at the Fine Arts Center. Besides Musick the group included Guy Maccoy, Joseph Meert, Bernard Steffen and Jackson Pollock before his meteoric rise on the American art scene a decade later. They sought to generate some income during the Depression era by capitalizing on the popularity of Regionalism and the lithography medium promoted by the Association of American Artists in New York. Although Musick and his fellow artists were proud of their work, their folio project proved unsuccessful as a financial venture.
After World War II Archie and his wife Irene joined three other couples – the Guy Burgesses, Edgar Brittons and Lew Tilleys – in forming the “Guggenheimers,” also known as the “Lazy Eight.” A closed group, it had no officers, dues or roles of any kind. The group’s monthly meeting challenged each member to submit a project for a pretended Guggenheim Fellowship application, hence the group’s name. The other seven members would roundly critique the proposed project, leading to many experimental attempts in their own work.
Musick’s extensive involvement with the Colorado Springs art community occasioned his somewhat controversial article, “Transplanting Culture,” that appeared in the Magazine of Art in March 1937 and likewise led to his regular column, “Artist and Art,” in the Colorado Springs Gazette. It began in 1938 and ran for a number of years. Several years before his death he summed up his long association with the region in Musick Medley: Intimate Memories of a Rocky Mountain Art Colony (1971). It provides a personal view of the art world of the Colorado Springs region from the 1920s to the 1950s, including the Broadmoor Art Academy and Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center.
He also wrote and illustrated Oil Painting for Beginners (1929). He illustrated Jigger Flies First: United States Air Force Academy (1957), a children’s book, as well as several books written by his sister Ruth Ann Musick, author and folklorist specializing in West Virginia: The Telltale Lilac Bush and Other West Virginia Ghost Tales, Coffin Hollow and Other Ghost Tales, and Green Hills of Magic: West Virginia Folktales from Europe. Many of the original ink board illustrations from her publications now are in the archives of the West Virginia Folklife Center at Fairmont State University in Fairmont, West Virginia.
Solo Exhibitions: Broadmoor Art Academy, Colorado Springs (1930, with Charles Bunnell); Civic Center Gallery, Scottsdale, Arizona (1972); Saks Galleries, Denver (1973, 1975, 1977); “Retrospective,” Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center (1978).
Group Exhibitions: Colorado State Fair, Pueblo (1927-28, 1930); Denver Art Museum Annual (1928), Broadmoor Art Academy (1928); “Artists West of the Mississippi,” Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center (1936-38, 1940-41, 1945); New York World’s Fair (1939); “Carnegie International,” Carnegie Museum, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (1941); “51st Annual American Painting and Sculptures,” Art Institute of Chicago (1941); Pennsylvania Academy of Art, Philadelphia (1941); Los Angeles Museum of Art, California (1945); Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC (1951); “Invitational Art Exhibit,” Southern Colorado State College, Pueblo (4th – 1965, 6th – 1966); “A Show of Colorado: 100 Years of Painting in the Pike’s Peak Region. An Exhibition in Honor of the Centennial of Colorado Springs, 1871-1971,” Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center (1971).
Collections: National Museum of American Art, Washington, DC; Missouri State Historical Society, Columbia; Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center; Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art, Denver.