On my first day at El Pomar Foundation, my Nana, Susan Conde, expressed her delight that we could tour the Penrose Heritage Museum together now that I worked so closely to it. She shared how she was taken to the museum as a little girl and fascinated by the old mystique of the art deco building that once housed the Penrose’s carriage collection. “I’ve just always loved old things.” From this, a trip to the museum for my Nana and me was born. It was fortuitous too, that this visit just happened to coincide with the museum’s 80th anniversary.
Nana was born in Colorado Springs in 1951, and always felt a connection to the Penrose legacy. “When you grow up nearby, especially when Julie was still alive, the Penroses were everything.” For her, the Broadmoor Hotel, Colorado College and the Fine Arts Center come to mind immediately. “Their influence is so palpable; I feel like I’ve seen their legacy grow throughout my life.”
Our trip together was the first time Nana had been to the museum since its remodel and merger with the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb—as well as her first-time seeing artifacts from Spencer and Julie’s personal collection. This never-before-seen collection features archival materials and footage, personal artifacts, and a comprehensive history of both Spencer and Julie—their lives separately and together. Nana loved seeing Spencer and Julie more intimately, especially the archival footage of their parties. “I bet they were the two most fun people alive,” she remarked while exploring their personal documents and admiring the Buddhist art the Penroses collected during their world travels. Having come back to Colorado Springs for my Fellowship at El Pomar, it was a special chance to not only get to know the Penroses better myself, but see just how much my Nana knew about our hometown. Her love for old things made the exhibit a wonder to see.
As we started to make our way out of the museum, Nana surprised me with a small pair of glasses. These delicate, foldable glasses fit perfectly into a small silver art deco case; her father had given them to her long ago. What made them special was that my great grandfather, who had been an optometrist here in Colorado Springs, claimed they belonged to Julie Penrose herself. “I’ve just held on to these for years, maybe the museum could use my own little piece of history.” She donated them to the museum right then and there. In that moment, I was reminded not only how the Penrose legacy continues to touch Colorado Springs, but also how history lives around us, even in a long-forgotten pair of glasses.
In honor of the 80th anniversary of the Penrose Heritage Museum, this blog series elevates community voices to highlight its brand-new exhibit, which uses archival material to bring the Penrose legacy to life in a way which has never been done before.