VIDEO: Collecting African art is a passion for retired teacher in Denver

‘It’s time for other people to be able to enjoy this’

Kyle Cooke and Brian Willie
Rocky Mountain PBS
Posted 12/3/21

One of the country’s most extraordinary private art collections is hidden in plain sight. Nearly every square inch of Paul Hamilton’s home in Denver’s Whittier neighborhood is occupied by a …

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VIDEO: Collecting African art is a passion for retired teacher in Denver

‘It’s time for other people to be able to enjoy this’

Posted

One of the country’s most extraordinary private art collections is hidden in plain sight.

Nearly every square inch of Paul Hamilton’s home in Denver’s Whittier neighborhood is occupied by a piece of African art. Hamilton, 80, has carved out just enough space to walk around his home. When he eats a meal, he has to free up some space on his table.

The bathroom is the only room in Hamilton’s house without something from his collection.

With more than 1,200 pieces, Hamilton owns one of the largest private collections of African art in the entire country.

“As a teacher, you don’t make a lot of money,” said Hamilton, a retired teacher who spent 40 plus years working for Denver Public Schools and Jefferson County Public Schools. “But I’m not one who spends money on cars and clothes and that type of thing. My money went that way. My house has been my bank.”

Born in Pueblo, Hamilton moved to Denver in 1959. In addition to his career as an educator, he served the Five Points neighborhood as a Colorado state representative from 1969 to 1973.

He didn’t start collecting art until the 1980s.

Hamilton’s personal museum is his way of correcting and knocking down the myths he heard growing up that “Africa was bad and didn’t have any contributions.”

He even wrote a book about it: “African Peoples’ Contributions to World Civilizations: Shattering the Myths.”

“It’s a redemption,” he said of his book and collection. “It tells us that African people are fantastic people, because everybody’s ancestors ... came from Africa.”

Hamilton believes not enough people know about African art and culture, despite world-renowned painters like Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and others relying on African art for inspiration.

Hamilton is an important figure in his community. In 2016, he partnered with local artists Thomas “Detour” Evans and Ancestry.com to create “They Still Live,” an exhibit that combined photography, African art and ancestry.

When Rocky Mountain PBS spoke to Detour in October about the muralist’s new piece at the intersection of Colfax Avenue and Race Street, he said his next mural on that same wall would be of Hamilton.

Hamilton has spent much of his career researching the past. Now, he looks to the future. He is figuring out what to do with all of his art.

“Well, I’m 80 years old. It’s time for others to look at this,” he said.

Hamilton said that the nonprofit Denver African Art Center is fundraising in order to buy Hamilton’s collection.

“They want to create a museum/cultural arts center that everybody can participate in so that people can come study, learn, perform and examine,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for people in Denver to be on the map for African art and culture.”

“It’s time for other people to be able to enjoy this.”

This story is from Rocky Mountain PBS, a nonprofit public broadcaster providing community stories across Colorado over the air and online. Used by permission. For more, and to support Rocky Mountain PBS, visit rmpbs.org.

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