Frederic Huntington Douglas

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Frederic Huntington Douglas was born in Evergreen, Colorado on October 29, 1897, the son of Canon Charles Winfred Douglas and Josepha Williams. He was educated in public and private schools in the United States and Europe, and received a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Colorado in 1921. For the next five years he did graduate work in Fine Arts at the University of Michigan and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, with the intention of becoming a painter. He was an accomplished musician.

In 1926 he married Freda Bendix Gillespie. Mr. and Mrs. Douglas settled in Denver, where his association with the Denver Art Museum commenced with an appointment in 1930 as Curator of Indian Art. Douglas served as Director of the Museum from 1940 to 1942, and later as a Trustee. From 1947 until his death on April 23, 1956, he was Curator of Native Arts.

In his 26 years in the museum world, Douglas built an outstanding collection of American Indian art at Denver, and was repeatedly called upon to lend his extraordinary talent in exhibition techniques to other museums throughout the country. After a tour of duty (1942-1945) in the Pacific Islands with the Army Medical Corps, he expanded his interests to include the collecting of Oceanic arts. Together with native art collections, Douglas gathered a reference library in anthropology unsurpassed in the Rocky Mountain Region. He gave his collections to the Denver Art Museum; the library, presently housed at the Chappell House branch of the Museum, was left to the Denver Public Library.

In June 1948, Douglas was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science degree by the University of Colorado, and in 1956 that University gave him its Recognition Medal. The accompanying citation stated what was perhaps his greatest contribution: having brought to thousands of laymen an awareness of ‘‘the true aesthetic merit of the cultures of peoples too often measured by our own standards and relegated to positions popularly considered as ‘inferior’ and ‘primitive’ . . . [and] having made countless people conscious of the equality of men throughout the world, regardless of the superficial barriers of time and geographic distances. . . .”

All who had the good fortune to know Eric Douglas appreciate fully his contributions to the field of ethnology, but cherish the memory of association with him for other, less tangible, reasons. He had unbounded imagination, curiosity, humor, and enthusiasm, which made every project he undertook a new and exciting experience, both for himself and those working with him. He gave unselfishly of his time and means; his collections and library were always at the disposal of interested students, to whom he unfailingly supplied stimulating ideas and encouragement. For his associates the daily scene is considerably less lively without the freshening presence of his original mind and vivid personality.


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Last modified: Saturday, 18 March 2017