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Art Collectors are a Funny Lot

Instead, they turn into children who can’t wait to show you their new toys. Giving tours of their homes, local builder and developer Chuck Murphy, business broker Ron Brasch and Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center Board President Jim Raughton – all in middle age or beyond – turn back the clock, their youthful enthusiasm infectious.

The focus of their collections varies a bit. Both Murphy and Raughton tend toward historic Western landscapes and American Modernism, while Brasch favors the contemporary and avant garde.  But they share a passion for beauty and expression, as well as the belief that the best collections have little to do with monetary values and everything to do with creating inspiration and a sense of place.

Brashness Meets Braschness

Beside the TV, a topless woman peers at us through glasses made of scissors.

Behind us, a winged creature with a human body and the skull of a great heron hangs from the ceiling.

The green and purple walls are filled with dynamic images, each one evocative in a different way, each with its own narrative.

“It’s overwhelming, I know,” Brasch says, giving a tour with his wife, Una, who’s become his scout during their many art-buying forays to Miami, New York or Cuba.
Brasch traces his art collecting obsession to a third grade field trip to the Detroit Institute of Arts. He remembers staring up at the powerful, massive Diego Rivera “Detroit Industry” murals, thinking: “I didn’t want to leave. I want to live in a place like this”

A few decades later, he and Una’s Mountain Shadows home feels like a museum, filled to the vaulted ceilings with abstract impressionism, pop art, Cuban contemporary and more. They have works by Roy Lichtenstein, Francis Bacon, Joan Miró and many other contemporary giants. Brasch has loaned his collection for exhibits at many museums, including the Fine Arts Center, where Brasch serves on the board. In fact, he and Una recently announced that they would bequeath their collection to the FAC.

“But not until after we die,” he says with a smile.

Building Lasting Memories

I’m taking in a heroic Angel Espoy beach scene that hangs over the tea set in Chuck and Mary Lou Murphy’s front parlor, wondering at the otherworldly glow of the wave crests when Murphy calls me into another room.

He wants me to see a fascinating study of an American Indian painted by Henry Balink.

A couple of hours aren’t nearly enough to digest the collection of art, most of it Western, in the Murphy’s sprawling Kissing Camels home. I want to breathe in each piece. But Murphy urges me on, showing me this colorful Balink and telling me stories about the artist. Each piece has a story.
This one involves he and Mary Lou meeting Balink’s son while waiting in line for lunch at a café in Santa Fe.

That story leads to another, this one about Balink himself, who once stayed at The Broadmoor, and finding himself short on cash, grabbed a painting from his trunk to settle the bill.

“The painting is still there in Broadmoor South,” he says.

Murphy’s tour takes in impressionistic cowboys by Broadmoor Art Academy instructor Boardman Robinson, a woodland scene by Gustave Baumann, metal engravings of San Francisco by Gene Kloss, a George Bellows boxing bout, Murphy’s own dynamic travel photography and an entire room dedicated to photographs of his hero, John F. Kennedy.

As I recover from the artistic whiplash, Murphy smiles and shows me some more landscapes.

“I have an appreciation for all art, but a painting has to speak to you,” Murphy says. “When I look at a piece, I think about where we bought it, what we were doing, who we were with. Each one harkens back to yesteryear. … Art acquisition can be a really joyous thing.”

Bringing History to Life

Jim Raughton and Kathy Loo have rallied their fortunes together. And the result is one of the most historically significant collections of Western landscapes in Colorado.

Much of the pieces come from Loo’s first husband, Dusty, who had an eye for the artists who made huge splashes in Western art. Some were famous when Dusty started collecting them. Others would grow in stature.

“My collection isn’t as magnificent as Kathy and Dusty’s,” Raughton says. “But we moved along parallel courses.”

Raughton’s first attempt to collect started with a focus on artists from the Work Progress Administration of the 1930s.

“I soon found out you can’t find it,” he says. “The Federal government had it pretty much secured. There are a couple of pieces out there, but not much.”
Raughton decided to expand his focus to other works from WPA artists, and that led to his obsession with pre-Word War II Rocky Mountain regional art.
How well that fit together with Loo’s collection. The harmony is certainly apparent in their music room, where, Raughton’s collection of Birger Sandzens hang with Loo’s around their two Steinways.

Rust-colored rock formations and purple mountains flame toward the sky in impressionistic blazes that underscore Sandzen’s nickname: “the Swedish Van Gogh.”

“Being a collector means you have an authentic interest in something,” Raughton says. “For me, that’s the intersection of regional history and art.”

That intersection leads from their Broadmoor home to the brushes of Charles Partridge Adams, Helen Chain, George Biddle, Richard H. Tallant, George Burrows and so many other greats inspired by the natural wonders of Colorado.