Colorado Goes to the Fair with the Colorado Mineral Palace!

In May 1893, the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago opened to the public. The exposition was held to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the New World in 1492. One of the objects on view—the Colorado Mineral Palace model—is currently on exhibit at the History Colorado Center.

Front view of the Colorado Mineral Palace model. Handmade from sheet copper, silver, gold, gemstones, marble, and wood.

Colorado Mineral Palace model

I’d only been the Exhibit and Loan Registrar for a few months when I began working with our Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation on the What Is the Value of Place? exhibition, which includes the model. Formerly on display at History Colorado’s El Pueblo History Museum, it is one of the most spectacular artifacts I’ve ever seen in a museum. The details and materials are exquisite. Handmade from sheet copper, silver, gold, gemstones, marble, and wood, it replicates the original Colorado Mineral Palace that once stood in Pueblo.

Colorado Mineral Palace model lid open

Colorado Mineral Palace model with top open.

The many inscriptions on the model help reveal its history. On the left front plaque is engraved “Presented May 1st, 1893 By the Women of Pueblo, Colorado for the Dedication Ceremonies of the Woman’s Building of the Columbian Exposition, Chicago, Illinois.” A plaque on the right front side is engraved “Metals, Donated from the Gold and Silver Mines of the State and Smelting Companies of Pueblo.” The name of the maker, “Charles Otero Jewelry Company, Pueblo, Colorado,” is also engraved on a plaque.

Using that inscribed information, I wanted to see if I could find out more about the model. During my research in the Stephen H. Hart Library & Research Center, I found an article, “The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of,” in the July/August 2011 issue of History Colorado’s own Colorado Heritage magazine. Author Natasha K. Brandstatter details the fascinating history of the original Colorado Mineral Palace built in Pueblo.

The palace opened in Pueblo on July 4, 1891, to showcase the minerals and gemstones of Colorado and to illustrate that the city of Pueblo was growing into a major urban center. In the Heritage article, an exterior photograph of the building shows the corner columns with globes on top, and an interior photo shows large crystals hanging from the ceiling of a stage with a mountainous landscape in the background. These features can also be found in the model. I was stunned that the intricate details of the model matched the details of the original building.

I also came across the book Colorado Goes to the Fair: World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893, by Duane A. Smith, Karen A. Vendl and Mark A. Vendl. The book is a comprehensive study of the objects and materials that were presented and displayed at the exposition. A photo of the Colorado Mineral Palace model appears in the book, whose authors write that the model was on display in the parlor of the Woman’s Building and was valued at four thousand dollars in 1893.

Black and white of the Colorado Mineral Palace.

The real Colorado Mineral Palace in Pueblo, built in 1891.

Interestingly, the Woman’s Building was designed by a female architect and then decorated and managed by women. It makes sense that the model would be displayed in this building since the creation of the model was supported by the women of Pueblo.

In reading Colorado Goes to the Fair, I found that there were many noteworthy and amazing exhibit displays represented by the State of Colorado at the exposition. And as significant as the Colorado Mineral Palace model is, it may have been overshadowed by larger Colorado-related displays, such as the Cliff Dwellers exhibit or Aspen’s Silver Queen statue.

After all this time, the model is in very good condition. Judy Greenfield, objects conservator with Mountain States Art Conservation Association, stabilized the model and then she and I worked together to clean it and get it ready to go on display. The cleaning process gave me an opportunity to look at the many details of the model and appreciate the craftsmanship used in making it.

The Colorado Mineral Palace model is on view in the What Is the Value of Place? exhibit, which commemorates the 50th anniversary of the National Preservation Act. The exhibit is on the second floor in the elevator hall display cases.

The Colorado Mineral Palace will be on exhibit at History Colorado Center until September 2017 and after that it will be back on permanent display at the El Pueblo History Museum.