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The Museum of Authenticity

By Mel Strawn

An adventurous artist, writer, and builder, Thordis Niela Simonsen was, in the late days of March, finishing the conversion of a small building in downtown Salida to be called the Museum of Authenticity: genuine encounters in art and culture. Small, yes, but I believe this museum to be a substantial addition to this region’s visual arts culture—and opening very soon with an inaugural exhibition, “Sum of the Parts.”

A long-time resident of Denver, Thordis discovered the property seven years ago and decided to create a museum within weeks of taking ownership. Both the main building and the now-converted garage required an “extreme make-over,” but Thordis came to the project having spent years restoring a roofless house in a Greek village—stone by stone—by hand. After seven years of Herculean effort, she was able to move into the village house.

No stranger, then, to daunting projects, Thordis has worked doggedly alongside professional builders/contractors to transform a building dating to the late 1890s into an elegant space suitable for displaying art. But what prompted Thordis to create a museum in the Jessine M. Hartwell building? Since her first trip to Greece in 1974, Thordis has regularly brought back handmade utilitarian objects of great beauty. When she purchased the Salida property, she realized that it would make a fine backdrop for her Greek collection.

Thordis also understood that the museum could be a venue for her own two-dimensional work, which she has until now rarely exhibited.

At the same time, Thordis wanted to broaden the museum’s holdings and set about collecting works from the first half of the 20th century including lithographs, etchings, mono-prints, block prints, and drawings, primarily by Colorado and New Mexico artists both known and unknown, depicting landscapes and Pueblo Native American subjects.

The museum collections are as multi-dimensional as Thordis’ experiences, which she writes about in her books “Dancing Girl: Themes and Improvisations in a Greek Village Setting” and “Dances in Two Worlds: A Writer-Artist’s Backstory.” The museum affords Thordis the opportunity to harmonize the various elements of her life while integrating the wide range of objects in the museum’s collections. The museum also anticipates hosting readings, lecture-presentations and workshops; the shop will sell notecards, books and prints; and the gardens have become a colorful oasis in the city of Salida.

The opening exhibition, “Sum of the Parts,” features works by revered Salida wood assemblage artist Bernice Strawn and, in addition, includes an over-size Moroccan rag kilim, a metal assemblage sculpture by Denver artist Deborah Yang, and several pieces by the museum’s founder/curator.

“Value lies in the eyes of the beholder.” The quality of your own personal experience while viewing the works displayed in “Sum of the Parts” and future exhibits is the ultimate measure of authenticity. And that experience of this museum’s offering’s—your own experience—is what we can look forward to. ?

Mel Strawn passed away on May 18, 2020. He submitted this column in March but it got delayed due to the closures brought on by COVID-19. He was a Chaffee County resident and pioneer of the art of digital imagery.

The Last Word is sponsored by Judith and Ed Kinzie.