Colorado Academy is the recipient of a major gift of outdoor art from former CA Trustee Bob Benson and his wife, Cynthia. The sculptures have just been installed on campus – one near the Upper School and another in front of the Carolyn Smith Center. They are the works of New York-based artist Hans Vande Bovenkamp and Denver sculptor Robert Mangold.
The Bensons have amassed a collection of pieces – with an emphasis on both painting and sculpture. These particular works have graced the Bensons’ Evergreen property for more than 20 years. “It has been wonderful to have these around the outside of our home,” Benson says, “And yet, there has always been a pang of guilt that only we get to see them along with just the UPS driver and the trash man.”
Says Benson, “We know that at CA, these pieces will be seen literally by thousands of people in the course of a year, by an audience that is both discerning and appreciative, and that feels good to us.”
“The principal motivator is that CA has always shown a very deep commitment to the arts. Every independent school gives lip service to their balance of academics, athletics and the arts, but CA is very real in its delivery…. We have felt that way since our two children began attending CA years ago.”
The Bensons are parents of CA alumni Erik ‘96 and Kiersa ‘02. Mr. Benson also served as a trustee for five years; he was a member of the Headmaster’s Advisory and Finance Committees, chaired the Education Committee and the Strategic Planning Committee, and served as Board Vice-President for two years.
The Benson family is also the creator of a Faculty Professional Development fund that annually underwrites thousands of dollars of continuing education and training for CA teachers. The fund is named to honor the memory of Mr. Benson’s parents — both were schoolteachers.
With a family so devoted to education, it is no wonder that the origins of the Benson family art collection started with, yes, a university course. “I took a course titled ‘20th Century Painting and Sculpture’ in spring semester of my senior year at Harvard,” says Benson. “The class was far removed from my major, but I really got enough education to build a lot of interest. The following summer, I traveled abroad for nine weeks on the money I’d saved for many years working as a paperboy. I went all over Europe and visited art museums… I learned just enough to be dangerous,” says Benson.
Benson was particularly taken with the work of American Abstract Expressionist sculptor and painter David Smith, best known for creating large, steel, abstract geometric sculptures. That vein of work is what has captured the Bensons’ imagination – and their passion for outdoor sculpture. That passion also led to a number of new friends—artists and sculptors — whose work they began to collect. Says Benson, “We have become friends with all the sculptors whose pieces we own in our home,” including 83 year-old Mangold who is considered the “Dean of Colorado Contemporary Sculpture.”
Before installation of his piece at CA, Mangold returned the “Anemotive Kinetic 5/91” work to his Denver “ArtYard” studio for some careful re-welding. This and other pieces in his well-known “Anemotive” series are based on spherical, wind-propelled kinetic sculptures. Irregularly shaped and burnished cups are mounted to arms radiating from several hubs that spin at different speeds in the wind. The piece underscores Mangold’s career-long fascination with the elements of space, time, and motion.
The other sculpture titled “Phoenix” is by Hans Vande Bovenkamp, a Dutchman who early in his life immigrated to Canada and then to the U.S. “Of course I have been grateful to the Bensons for the interest and collecting of my work and now the generous gift to CA,” he says. “I am honored to have my work on the campus.” Renowned for his monumental work for outdoor locales, Vande Bovenkamp has been described as an artist-mystic whose work heightens the viewer’s sense of imagination and discovery.
That spirit, says Colorado Academy Head of School Mike Davis, embodies the approach of many programs at CA to take students’ learning beyond the walls of the classroom, to inspire and foster an appreciation of expression, and to learn how to learn from the work and experiences of others… we are extraordinarily grateful for the generosity of the Benson family, and to the artists themselves.”
The sculptors say they are pleased with the broad exposure their works will receive at CA. These two new sculptures join an already impressive collection of outdoor art including the piece titled “Envision” by CA alumnus Navid Ghedami’s whose work was created upon completion of the new Upper School, as well as the three works in CA’s Sculpture Garden, created by 1962 alumnus and nationally recognized sculptor, Gary Dwyer. Dwyer’s pieces are titled “Search,” “Connection,” and “Solidification.” These pieces were dedicated in 1974, and they illustrated what Dwyer considered to be the three components of the educational process.