From the Vault: The Strange Creatures of George Kelly, Part II

October 29, 2021 Exhibits Department

Welcome back, my fellow goblins and ghouls! Are you enjoying your Halloween week? As promised, we who work in the vault would like to share more strange creatures as documented by one of the Gardens’ founders, George Kelly.

Before we knock on the vault’s door to say, “Trick or Treat!”, let’s first explore the background of George Kelly, the photographer of our featured creatures. This esteemed horticulturist, conservationist, author, founder and photographer was born in Scotch Ridge, Ohio, May 8, 1894. Encouraged by his mother, he learned to love nature at an early age and even sought to become a forest ranger when he was in grade school. George was the first editor of the “Green Thumb” newsletter, published by the Colorado Forestry and Horticulture Association. Additionally, as founder of the Colorado Junior Mountain Club, he led youths on 66 climbs, many of them over 14,000 feet. After he passed away in Cortez, Colorado, August 10, 1991, the Denver Post mourned his departure, and called him the “Father of Rocky Mountain horticulture.”

In 1951, the same year he helped found Denver Botanic Gardens and photographed the strange creatures you are about to behold, George published “Rocky Mountain Horticulture is Different,” which was later republished as “Good Gardens for the Sunshine States,” which became the go-to guide among Colorado gardeners. George was a horticultural lecturer and broadcaster on radio stations KFEL, KLZ, KOA, KVOD, and published horticultural columns such as “Under Colorado Skies” in the Rocky Mountain News as well as “Peaks and Patios” in the Denver Post.

We hope that Kelly’s life and love of nature inspires you to view nature differently. Below, you will find Kelly’s Periscope Bird, Face with Eye, Horse Skull and our personal favorite, the Flesh Eating Brontosaurus. Following these is a portrait of George sketched in 1983. With that, we would like to close with two poems from his book, “The Things I Prize: Fun, Fantasy, and Filosophy,” dedicated to a couple of the strange creatures you will find below. 

Happy Halloween from everyone in the vault!

“The Periscope bird was also called the Snooper. 
She can look around walls and trees 
Or can see over tall monsters
Or far out over the seas.
She may use her special talents
To listen on party lines
Or hang over the backyard fence
Looking for things not on signs.” (p.100)

“The dinosaur did once abound,
Had many forms and roamed around.
Some bigger ones ate each other.
Others ate whatever they found.
But where is this great animal now,
This great big lumbering beast?
He couldn’t adapt as seasons changed,
So now his kind have ceased.” (p.71)

This article was contributed by James Grau, an intern with the Exhibitions, Art & Learning Engagement Department. He is currently pursuing an MA in art history & museum studies at the University of Denver.


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