Palazzo Verdi Art
The museum will exhibit “Chandelier Chardin,” a 40-feet tall, 13-feet-in-circumference spiral chandelier amalgamating an antique Italian glass chandelier, contemporary glass, steel and LED lights.
“MOA has produced more than 300 exhibitions,” said Cynthia Madden Leitner, co-founder and CEO of MOA. “We’ve collaborated with world-class artists, but we’ve also seen some young local talent get their start and go on to enjoy great success, and that’s gratifying.”
A case in point: Amy Laugesen, who will exhibit her mixed-media horse sculptures in the Denver Art Showcase, managed MOA’s nationally recognized Design & Build program from 1998 to 2003.
“I’m honored to say I was a member of MOA’s staff ‘family,’” Laugesen said. “I started as a sculpture maintenance technician trained to care for MOA’s collection. Later, I became part of the arts education team.”
“Also,” Laugesen said, “MOA is part of the story of how my husband, Stephen Hume, my stepdaughter, Maiya, and I met.”
Such lasting connections are not uncommon for people in the creative orbit of Madden Leitner and MOA. The museum itself is a family affair. MOA was co-founded in 1982 by Madden Leitner and her parents, Marjorie and John W. Madden, Jr. A commercial real estate magnate, John Madden, 93, grew up steeped in fine art and refined his aesthetic while a youth working at the Joslyn Museum in his hometown, Omaha, Neb.
As a developer inspired by both noblesse oblige and business genius, he saw the value public art brought to his commercial real estate. Starting in the early ‘80s, at Madden properties MOA installed site-specific works: a pride of stone lions outside an office building, a bronze sculpture of Mercury precisely positioned at the apex of a narrowing path so the god’s finger points at the setting sun on Winter Solstice, an Arnaldo Pomodoro sculpture at an intersection.
MOA also developed an enormous natural bowl in the landscape into Fiddler’s Green Amphitheatre, the region’s largest outdoor concert venue with a capacity of 18,000 people. Fiddler’s Green opened in 1982 with headliner Dan Fogelberg and has hosted summer concert series ever since.
Over the decades, Marjorie and John Madden built their private art collection eventually donated in large part to the University of Denver. But the outdoor public art installed by Cynthia and MOA most influenced the local art scene and led the Maddens to leave their aesthetic fingerprints around the Mile High City.
“Back then, there was very little public art in Colorado,” Madden Leitner said. “MOA pioneered public art in Denver.”
Madden Leitner got her art start in downtown Denver in 1978 opening Cynthia Madden Gallery. She specialized in realist works, yet she’s more mystic, ethereal, a card-carrying Romantic. Forty-one years ago, her father gave her a desk and a filing cabinet at the end of a hallway, and that was the unceremonious genesis of MOA. She served as Museum of Outdoor Arts director and only employee. Ever since, Madden Leitner has served as the guiding light of MOA, an artistic fairy godmother to many.
“MOA is like family,” said Maeve Eichelberger, whose sculptures Vail International Gallery will exhibit in the Denver Art Showcase. Eichelberger received early mentoring in MOA’s paid internship program: “Design & Build was a confidence booster,” said the artist, who went on to prestigious exhibitions and lucrative commissions. “The support and belief in younger generations creates a vibrant and encouraging environment to create and collaborate.”
Marjorie Park Concert
Marjorie Park Vesica Aerial photo
AJ Davis Fox Mural
MOA now includes several generations of Maddens creating and collaborating. Madden Leitner’s son, Sky Madden, manages MOA’s assets and building projects. Her late husband Roger Leitner oversaw structural engineering for the museum. The Leitners’ son, Paul Leitner, serves as a board member and jack of all trades. Sky’s wife, Jessica Brack, is the face of MOA at the front desk and lends her fashionable personal style to MOA’s decidedly non-snooty events known for live music, fire-dancers, ice sculptures, light shows, camera booths, Tarot cards, top hats and tails. Sky’s son, Schuyler Madden, also works at MOA.
With a small staff, MOA makes big things happen for world-famous contemporary and historic artists such as Nick Bantock and Robert Rauschenberg, as well as local Colorado artists. MOA mounted a solo exhibition for the celebrated realist oil painter Daniel Sprick and produced a documentary film about him. Sprick also was part of a national group realism show at MOA that included Sprick’s painting peer, Scott Fraser. Gallery 1261 represents both realists in the Denver Art Showcase.
MOA also produced a solo show for the late Joellyn T. Duesberry, one of Colorado’s most venerated artists. For the Denver Art Showcase, Duesberry’s family registered 10 landscape paintings for sale.
The encaustic painter Pat Aaron taught workshops at MOA. In the Denver Art Showcase, Space Gallery will show Aaron’s abstract works. The light sculptures of Dorothy Tanner, another Mile High artist who exhibited in MOA shows, will be sponsored in the Denver Art Showcase by Lumonics Light and Sound Gallery.
MOA registered its own booth in the Denver Art Showcase, too with an array of pieces including a bronze sculpture by Tina Suszynski, who also is exhibiting her ceramics sculptures in an independent artist booth in the showcase. The museum will exhibit “Chandelier Chardin,” a 40-feet tall, 13-feet-in-circumference spiral chandelier amalgamating an antique Italian glass chandelier, contemporary glass, steel and LED lights. Designed by Lonnie Hanzon, formerly MOA’s Wizard in Residence, the chandelier is the priciest item in the Denver Art Showcase.
Madden Leitner hopes “Chandelier Chardin” will find a new home even as MOA is moving to a new home. Relocating from one Denver suburb to another, MOA will return to the museum’s property adjacent to its Fiddler’s Green. After 22 years in Englewood Civic Center, MOA leaves 10,000 square feet for the newly constructed headquarters of 1,500 square feet in Greenwood Village. The move is both a downsizing and a leveling up.
“MOA is coming full circle to our original devotion to outdoor art,” said Madden Leitner. “We recently installed our outdoor mural series and our outdoor living mural — the largest vertical garden in North America — and our sculpture garden in Marjorie Park.”
Museum of Outdoor Art staff and friends of the museum
The sculpture park — opened in 2021 and named in memory of Madden Leitner’s mother — is home to part of MOA’s eclectic and extensive collection of sculptures. As the park landscape matures, so too does MOA, but after 41 years, the museum’s mission remains the same: “Make art a part of everyday life.”
Everyday life at MOA recalibrates, and as the museum packs up the old and establishes the new location, MOA is itself a work in progress.
“MOA is reinventing itself, which is something we all need to do from time to time,” Madden Leitner said. “The pandemic changed the art world, and so MOA is changing, too.”
Colleen Smith is a longtime Denver arts writer and the curator of Art & Object’s Denver Art Showcase.