Fort Collins’ Valentine

“In Colorado where I was living and painting and making sculpture I had a love affair with the clouds and the mountains. You didn’t see the air in Colorado. It was just crystal.” –De Wain Valentine

Circle Light Blue, 1970

De Wain Valentine is known for his monumental cast polyester resin sculptures that are part of the “Light and Space” movement of the 1960s and 70s in Los Angeles. For decades arts patrons and critics have recognized the influence of southern California on Valentine’s work—the weather, geography, culture, and aerospace industry all playing a role. Eager to place him as part of this larger movement, earlier influences on his work have been largely neglected.

That is, until now. Valentine grew up here in Fort Collins in the 1940s and 50s. He attended Lincoln Junior High (where the Lincoln Center now stands) and Fort Collins High School (at its original location at 1400 Remington Street). His father owned a car dealership, Valentine Motor Mart, located at 1827 N. College near the intersection of College Avenue and Willox Lane.

De Wain Valentine, Fort Collins, c. 1947.

Virtually unknown here in his hometown, Valentine’s work is now being displayed for the first time at the University Art Museum at the CSU Center for the Arts—in the same building where the young Valentine attended high school. Now through December 14, you can see “Colorado’s Valentine,” an exhibit of the artist’s cast polyester resin sculptures from the 1970s, as well as photographs of some of his more recent monumental outdoor sculptures in glass. In a small room adjacent to the gallery, a video created by the Getty Conservation Institute describes Valentine’s Venice Beach studio in Los Angeles in the 1970s, the artistic material and methods he developed, and recent efforts by the Getty to restore his famous Grey Column.

De Wain Valentine, Venice Beach gallery, c. 1970.

You must see this exhibit! Like most art, and especially modern art I think, you need to be in the presence of the work to truly appreciate it. Photographs simply don’t do justice to his art. To be in the gallery with these sculptures is more to commune with them then to view them. The surfaces of these highly polished pieces are so smooth as to disappear from view and the transparency of the material pulls you into the piece.  The colored polyester resin seems to have captured the movement of the material as it was cast by Valentine, trapping the intent of the artist in ways that inspire wonder at his artistry. They are truly a joy to behold.

Column Rose, 1972.

“When I moved to California, the smog became a substance. And the quality of the light had a body to it that was just thrilling.” –De Wain Valentine

 

Valentine gallery display at CSU Art Museum.

“Colorado’s Valentine” is a very minimalist and traditional art museum installation. It is short on labels and interpretation, so be sure to take the time to watch the video. There you will see fabulous photos and video from the 1970s describing southern California, Valentine’s Venice Beach studio, and how he developed methods for casting very large sculptures, even inventing his own polyester resin designed specifically to create these large colorful objects. The sheer physicality and athleticism required of his art is astounding.

Valentine Motor Mart, c. 1950s. Photo courtesy Fort Collins Local History Archive.

I was disappointed to find that the only way to learn about Valentine’s youth in Fort Collins and his experiences here that influenced his later work is to purchase the exhibit catalog for $10.00. The story of his youth here in Fort Collins is every bit as important as his experiences as a young man in Los Angeles, and would have made for a fascinating exhibit. As a child, Valentine spent time rock hunting and learning lapidary techniques with his uncles, appreciating color and surface. During his teen years, he worked at his father’s auto dealership, painting and polishing car bodies and later fiberglass boat hulls.

School also helped shape Valentine’s appreciation for new materials. At Lincoln Junior High his industrial arts teacher, John Warner, encouraged him to experiment with Plexiglas. Valentine’s shop teacher there and at Fort Collins High School, Perry Knight, introduced him to experimenting with casting color forms in resin. By the time Valentine moved to Los Angeles as a young man, all the elements he would use as an artist were already in place.

This story makes me think about what we have lost. So many kids today never get much of a chance to work with their hands. Hobbies and activities that were once valued for developing skill and craftsmanship are rapidly being lost. Shop classes are relegated to those students who aren’t college bound, if they exist at all. Creativity and imagination, if not nurtured, risk being abandoned to early childhood play.

De Wain Valentine grew up in a place and time that nurtured his artistic impulses and satisfied his curiosity about the world around him. Perhaps we should all heed his advice:

“Find a way to do what’s in your head.” –De Wain Valentine

De Wain Valentine, signing my exhibition catalog.

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