Frank Mechau the Artist
There are stories scattered throughout human history of rare individuals of remarkable talent, energy, and promise whose lives are unexpectedly and tragically cut short. Artist Frank Mechau was one of these. His artistic career spanned only twenty years—1926 to 1946—but in the course of those years he produced paintings, murals, and drawings of arresting potency and poignancy. Grounded in his home place of Western Colorado, Mechau created lyric visual expressions of the mountains, valleys, and skies that defined his sensibilities; of the horses and people that he loved; of the fences and fights and fires that shaped the landscape and history of the region. And yet his artistic merits go far beyond regionalism. His work shows influences of the masters he studied—European, Japanese, and Chinese—from whom he developed his own aesthetic of line, design, and composition that, in a singular way, speaks to broader artistic truths.
Frank Mechau was a complex man with diverse interests. He was an athlete, a scholar, a teller of tall tales, a gentle man and a philosopher, but above all he was an artist. He lived his brief life of forty-two years (1904-1946) with gusto, intensity, dedication and hard work. He achieved considerable renown as a painter, but not the financial success awarded to some others of the same period—in part because he was always finding his own way. This life-long journey began with his leaving Glenwood Springs after high school to follow his keen artistic interests to Chicago, New York, and then Paris, before returning to his home ground in Colorado.
Shortly after his return from several years abroad, Frank Mechau said in an interview,
America has been altogether too modest in the realization of the rich potentialities which lie within her boundaries, and has blindly worshipped everything foreign. It has been a great experience to study in France, Germany, Spain, Italy and Holland, but it has furthered my conviction that America is the place for American artists.
In the introduction to the original edition of Frank Mechau: Artist of Colorado, Philip Yenawine, then director of the Aspen Center for the Visual Arts, offered this reflection:
Frank Mechau merits recognition as a remarkably fine painter. He has penultimate control over such technical formalities as line, composition and color. He was…a figurative painter to whom subject matter and narrative content…were focal issues, but he also worked within a larger artistic frame of reference.
… Mechau was fully committed and confident that there was expressive meaning in mountains, in mountain people, in the roughness of the West, in animals. He was intrigued by the relationship between painting and architecture, and sought and received mural commissions in abundance.
… The artist’s sensitive studies of family and his careful observations of their microcosmic world are as poignant as his landscapes are magnificent. Give him a large Colorado sky, some horses and the people he loved, and he could create painting of and about America in league with the best inventions of 20th-century painting.
Frank Mechau’s paintings are found in private collections and various museums. These include the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Denver Art Museum, the Colorado Springs Fine Art Center, the Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Art in Denver, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Sheldon Memorial Museum in Lincoln, Nebraska, the Philbrook Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art in Gainesville, Florida. His 60-foot-long fresco, Wild Horses, executed in 1936 on an outside wall of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, is still in place and in fine condition. His murals are in public buildings in Washington, D.C.; Denver; Colorado Springs; Fort Worth and Brownfield, Texas; and Ogallala, Nebraska.