February 17 was a night of many firsts for the College of Architecture and Planning, Dean Nan Ellin said. For the first time in two years, students, faculty, and staff gathered in-person for the grand opening of CAP’s latest exhibition at its second floor gallery in the CU Denver Building. Marking its first in-person gathering since the start of the pandemic, CAP is thrilled to showcase the life and work of John R. Henderson, Colorado’s first licensed Black architect.
CAP Research Assistant Schawn Chi Ming Li curated the exhibit—a captivating display of 300 drawings, audio recordings, and architectural models connecting Henderson’s life to his work. Li was the recipient of History Colorado’s fall 2020 Temple Buell Diversity Fellowship, which encourages undergraduate and graduate students from diverse communities to explore collections-related work as they relate to inclusion, representation, narrative, and the workforce. He worked closely with Anna Mascorella, the former Temple Buell associate curator of architecture at History Colorado, who served as a mentor through the year-long exhibition planning process.
Li said he hopes that the exhibition shows the level of commitment and hard work it takes to be an architect through a detailed account of Colorado’s first licensed Black architect’s professional and personal accomplishments. “Becoming an architect is a long journey, but as long as you believe in yourself, you can make it,” Li said. “Henderson’s work really shows the spectrum of what you can do as an architect.”
Henderson (1921-2018) was one of very few Black licensed architects in the U.S. in the late 1950s. His work includes private homes and commercial projects in some of Denver’s most well-known neighborhoods, such as Cherry Creek. Henderson’s clients and collaborators included Civil Rights figure Carlotta Walls LaNier and local architecture firms James Sudler Associates and Hornbein & White. The exhibition will be on display through March.