Five decades of Aspen history, captured on film by Miggs and Dick Durrance
What: The Durrance Collection
Where: Aspen Historical Society, Archives Building
When: Through March 2020
How much: $10/adults; $8/seniors; free/under 18
More info: The exhibition is running in tandem with ‘bayer & bauhaus: how design shaped aspen;’ aspenhistory.org
Dick and Miggs Durrance captured more than five decades of Aspen history, from its rebirth as a ski resort in 1947 through its time as a global hub at the turn of the millennium.
Their family has donated thousands of photos and films to the Aspen Historical Society for use by researchers and for the public to enjoy, seeing an evolving town through the eyes of Miggs, an acclaimed photographer, and her husband, Dick, the champion ski racer, president of the Aspen Ski Corp. and filmmaker.
A new display of the Durrances’ photographs at the Historical Society showcases some of the highlights from the collection. It opened to the public Tuesday.
The photos had been stored in boxes in basements for years and spread among the family following Dick Durrance’s death in 2004. The family decided it was time to share them with the world.
“It doesn’t do anybody any good sitting in a box in a basement,” Dave Durrance, their son, said on Monday. “So we are happy that there is an outlet for it, and it can continue to contribute to the history of the place.”
He estimated there are “at least 10,000” images in the private collection, which also includes extensive photography of Sun Valley, Alta and the Durrances’ international travels, which are bound for other archives. Dave said he and his brother, Dick II, still have several more boxes to go through.
The one-wall exhibit in the Historical Society’s archives building is a dizzying trip through modern Aspen history, from black-and-white into color. There are shots of ski racers Stein and Marius Eriksen on the hill in 1950, and of such Aspen icons as Walter Paepcke and Robert O. Anderson in the resort’s dawning days. Photos capture early concerts of the Aspen Music Festival and conferences at the Aspen Institute, horseback riding on Red Mountain in the 1960s, along with still lifes, landscapes and architectural shots, as well as ski, nature and winter street scenes. There is a portrait of actor Gary Cooper at home here and one of actress Eva Marie Saint during a visit. A photo from 1990 depicts a hulking Sheriff Bob Braudis goofing around with Mayor Stacey Standley on Gondola Plaza.
Miggs took up photography in 1947, when the family moved to Aspen and Dick took the helm of the Ski Corp. Her skills behind the camera led to a career including shoots for Life, Look, Sports Illustrated and National Geographic.
The images in the Historical Society display don’t specify whether each was shot by Miggs or Dick. But their sons, looking at the display Monday afternoon, could pick out who had shot which based on the composition and subject.
Dave and Dick II both became visual artists themselves, Dick II as a photographer and Dave — following a career ski racer and coach — as an abstract painter. They both drew inspiration from their parents.
“My father had a very highly structured visual sensibility,” Dick II said. “I got that. And from Mom, I got how to connect with the subject.”
One astounding photograph by Miggs captures a cowboy in flight after being bucked off of a bronco at the Aspen Rodeo in 1948.
“It’s an incredibly composed picture,” Dick II said. “And I grew up with that, so I looked for that. And sometimes I got it.”