What does it mean to be a Coloradan?
That’s a question we rarely ask ourselves. But it’s central to Denver’s expansive History Colorado Center.
The center is located downtown, a short walk down Broadway from the hub of the 16th Street Mall Station. It’s a spectacular new building, kitty-corner to the Denver Art Museum.
Earlier this winter, the center opened a new, state-of-the-art, 1,100 square-foot gallery that has an indelible connection to Durango. The Richard G. and Mary Lyn Ballantine Gallery is located just inside the center’s main entrance. In the high, light-filled atrium, the Ballantine Gallery is on the left with a discreet sign and a glass wall revealing the treasures of its first exhibit. You can’t miss it.
The gallery’s purposes seem to mesh perfectly with History Colorado: Changing exhibits that are inclusive, collaborative, flexible, experimental – and tell the story of Colorado.
The first in a scheme of regularly changing exhibits is “A Legacy of Healing: Jewish Leadership in Colorado’s Health Care.” The exhibit opened to the public Nov. 17 and will run through mid-April. Curated by Jeanne Abrams, professor of history at the University of Denver and affiliated with the Beck Center Archives, the exhibit features 75 historical objects and photos.
Among the most interesting are medical tools from the turn of the 20th century, patient ledger books, a 1907 stained glass window from the Chapel of the National Jewish Hospital, an 1885 dress and medical bag from 1890 belonging to Frances Wisebart Jacobs and some rare film footage.
“History Colorado came to us at the Beck Archives because we have extensive historical collections,” said Abrams said. “The history of health care seemed to be of particular interest. In the late 19th and early 20th century, tuberculosis was the leading cause of death in America and worldwide. There was no cure at the time. Physicians believed that fresh air, sunshine and a high altitude would be helpful. So, by 1886, Colorado had become the world’s sanitarium.”
In the exhibit, Abrams shows how Denver’s Jewish community in particular first came to the fore and opened clinics and hospitals.
“The National Jewish Hospital for Consumptives opened in 1899, and Frances Wisebart Jacobs was a key figure,” Abrams said. “She was considered Denver’s Mother of Charities and worked tirelessly with Catholic and Protestant charitable organizations. Her work was the precursor of today’s United Way.”
Through a network of seven museums across Colorado, History Colorado Center anchors an effort to share stories of the state’s past, its people, places and events that have contributed to our remarkable history.
The first exhibit in the Ballantine Gallery will run through April 19.
Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theatre Critics Association.