"Mount Evans with Golden Aspen", 1939 | 36”x48” - oil painting on board
Hayes Lyon uses abstracted forms in his view of Mt. Evans to show a field of golden aspen in the foreground of the painting. The color and magnificence of fall aspen dominate the painting, with snow covered Mt. Evans a simplified white band in the background. Large blocky white clouds in the blue sky add to the expression of joy and abundance of this iconic Colorado scene.
A native of Athol, Kansas, Lyon is primarily associated with Colorado. After several summer vacations at the Boulder Chautauqua and at Manitou near Colorado Springs, his family relocated in 1920 to Boulder where his father had a lumber business. Nine years later they settled in Denver where his father owned the Acme Lumber Company. To comply with his desire for his son’s financial self-reliance, Lyon graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1931 with a B.A. degree in economics.
But shortly thereafter he returned to his first love – art – that ultimately became his career. His interest in the arts was nurtured by his mother, herself a talented amateur artist, and by two of his aunts who served as role models. Beginning in 1932, he pursued a five-year course of study at the Chappell School of Art in Denver which by then had become part of the University of Denver. During his time at the school he studied with John E. Thompson and Santa Fe artist, Józef Bakoś. He also met two other Santa Fe-based artists, Willard Nash and B.J.O. Nordfeldt, when they exhibited at Chappell House, then the home of the Denver Art Museum. Lyon likewise attended the Cooke-Daniels Lecture Series there on the arts in the 1930s.
Following graduation with a B.F.A. degree from the University of Denver in 1937, he studied privately for about a year with Andrew Dasburg in Taos, New Mexico, that redirected his attention to the rugged Rocky Mountain landscape, which he saw with directness and painted with an economy of means. His canvas, Winter Vista, done following his study with Dasburg, received the Edward J. Yetter Memorial Prize at the 45th Annual Exhibition of the Denver Art Museum in 1939. The painting was reproduced in the September 1939 issue of the Magazine of Art (Washington, DC). That same year his painting, Mount Evans, was included as one of Colorado’s entries in the American Art Today Pavilion at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York.
The money he received from the Yetter Prize financed his trip to Mexico City and Guadalajara in 1939 to see firsthand the frescoes of José Clemente Orozco and Diego Rivera and the easel paintings of David Alfaro Siqueiros. Their work was admired by many Americans who participated in the WPA-era mural projects in the United States in the 1930s and early 1940s. The economic fallout from the Great Depression affecting many American artists at the time likewise resulted in Lyon’s participation in the Colorado Art Project, part of the WPA’s national program. Under its auspices he produced three murals in 1940 about the pioneer era of Fort Lupton, Colorado, which were installed in the auditorium of the local high school. Covering 367 square feet of wall space, one of the murals – Behold the West (the largest one) – incorporates the old fort for which the town is named. Before Lyon painted the murals, the students at Fort Lupton High School researched the history of their community and contributed to their cost, facilitating the murals’ allocation to their school under the Colorado Art Project.
In the early 1940s Lyon shifted his focus to two new subjects – bathers, and canyons with conifers – reflecting his ongoing search for personal artistic growth. However, his reliance on structure to create form in his paintings and works on paper alienated some of his longtime followers. Nonetheless, his painting Conifers and Canyons won recognition at the 47th Annual Exhibition at the Denver Art Museum. The watercolor version of the piece was among three hundred works in that medium selected by John Marin, Charles Burchfield and Eliot O’Hara from a national competition held by the Section of Fine Arts (Federal Works Agency) and shown at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, in 1941. Later that year Lyon spent time in California where he saw Orozco’s Prometheus, influencing him to increase his range of originality and expression.
In 1942 Lyon enlisted in the U.S. Army, spending almost three years in the Mediterranean Theater – Africa and Italy – preparing camouflage operations and scale models of proposed landing sites. He used his free time in Italy to expand his artistic vocabulary by seeing cultural masterpieces in Rome, Florence, Siena and Milan, and through his extensive contact with Giorgio de Chirico, founder of the scuola metafisica art movement, and Gino Severini, a leading member of the Futurist movement. Because of Lyon’s low army rank and pay, de Chirico did a small watercolor for him signing it, “For Mr. Lyon; G de Chirico, 1944.” Lyon often visited de Chirico and his wife, Isa, at their apartment near the Spanish Steps in Rome.
Following his Army discharge in 1945 fellow Kansas native, Ward Lockwood, invited him to join the Art Department at the University of Texas at Austin where he taught painting from 1946 to 1951. During this period some of Lyon’s work employed the palette of the School of Paris which he had seen while stationed in Europe, while other paintings had a certain flatness found in some of Lockwood’s work from the 1930s. From 1951 to 1953 he was affiliated with the Lower Colorado River Authority in Austin as an illustrator and editor of the employee magazine.
In 1953, following time spent in Mexico, he returned to Denver, working as an illustrator at Lowry Air Force Base until retirement in 1961. During that time he did little of his own art because he also was designing and building a home in Arvada, Colorado, and re-establishing himself in the Denver art community after a decade-long absence. His painting, Autumn Aspens (1953-present location unknown) illustrates his experimentation with abstraction.
In the early 1960s he began painting from memory that continued until the steadily degenerative effects of Alzheimer’s disease took their toll a decade later. He depicted scenes from his wartime European sojourn and from his early adulthood. The latter include Souvenir of Boulder (1962), a nostalgic return to his boyhood home in Boulder; and Holly Mayer and Friends, a painting of Glenn Miller and his musicians, inspired by Lyon’s first encounter with jazz in Boulder in the 1920s. His lifelong passion for vintage cars and automobile racing was reflected in a number of canvases on the subject.
Donald Bear’s review in the Denver Post of Lyon’s first one-man show at the Denver Art Museum in 1936 describes the product of his entire creative output: “…[His] pictures are individual and each one realized with quality and distinction…[He] exhibits a remarkable aptitude for painting the familiar and the commonplace with such emotion that…[his] work is stimulating in the painterly sense and often unforgettable to the spectator because of his treatment of mood and subject matter.”
Solo Exhibitions: Denver Art Museum (1936, 1941, 1942), followed by eight others, including the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, University of Illinois and University of Colorado, Boulder; Arvada Center for the Arts & Humanities, Arvada, Colorado (1991 - posthumous retrospective).
Group Exhibitions: “41st Annual Exhibition,” Denver Art Museum (1935); “Five States Exhibit,” Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha (1936); “49th Annual Exhibition of American Paintings and Sculpture,” Art Institute of Chicago (1938); “33rdAnnual Exhibition,” Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts-Philadelphia (1938); “3rd Annual National Exhibition of American Art,” New York (1938); “6th Annual Exhibition of Paintings by Artists West of the Mississippi,” Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center (1940, 1941, 1946); “47th Annual Exhibition,” Denver Art Museum (1941); “Six States Exhibit,” Joslyn
Art Museum (1941); National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC (1941); “Directions in American Painting,” Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh (1941); “3rd Annual Competitive Exhibition of Lithography” (WPA Art Program), Oklahoma Art Center, Oklahoma City (1941); “137th Annual Exhibition,” Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (1942).
Museum Collection: Fort Lupton Library, Colorado; Denver Art Museum; Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art, Denver.