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An expert on the past, African art collector Paul Hamilton now looks to the future

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Paul Hamilton of Denver is the owner of one of the country's largest private collections of African art.
Paul Hamilton of Denver is the owner of one of the country's largest private collections of African art.

DENVER — One of the country’s most extraordinary private art collections is hidden in plain sight.

Nearly every square inch of Paul Hamilton’s home in Denver’s Whittier neighborhood is occupied by a piece of African art. Hamilton, 80, has carved out just enough space to walk around his home. When he eats a meal, he has to free up some space on his table.

The bathroom is the only room in Hamilton’s house without something from his collection.

With more than 1,200 pieces, Hamilton owns one of the largest private collections of African art in the entire country.

“As a teacher, you don’t make a lot of money,” explained Hamilton, a retired teacher who spent 40 plus years working for Denver Public Schools and Jefferson County Public Schools. “But I’m not one who spends money on cars and clothes and that type of thing. My money went that way. My house has been my bank.”

Colorado Voices

The Hamilton Collection: Traditional African Art

Born in Pueblo, Hamilton moved to Denver in 1959. In addition to his career as an educator, he served the Five Points neighborhood as a Colorado State Representative from 1969 to 1973.

He didn’t start collecting art until the 1980s.

Hamilton’s personal museum is his way of correcting and knocking down the myths he heard growing up that “Africa was bad and didn't have any contributions.”

He even wrote a book about it: African Peoples’ Contributions to World Civilizations: Shattering the Myths.

“It’s a redemption,” he said of his book and collection. “It tells us that African people are fantastic people because everybody’s ancestors...came from Africa.”

The consensus in the scientific community is that Homo sapiens first appeared in Africa roughly 200,000 years ago. But despite that history, Hamilton believes not enough people know about African art and culture, despite world-renowned painters like Picasso, Matisse and others relying on African art for inspiration.

Writing for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, curator Denise Murrell said, “some of Picasso’s most significant early sculptural works, and his monumental 1930s busts of his young mistress Marie-Thérèse, have been linked, respectively, to Grebo and Nimba masks in his collection of African sculpture.”

Hamilton is an important figure in his community. In 2016, he partnered with local artists Thomas “Detour” Evans and to create “They Still Live,” an exhibit that combined photography, African art and ancestry.

Rocky Mountain PBS

They Still Live: Exploring African Art, Photography and Heritage

When Rocky Mountain PBS spoke to Detour in October about the muralist’s new piece at the intersection of Colfax Avenue and Race Street, he said his next mural on that same wall would be of Hamilton.

Hamilton has spent much of his career researching the past. Now, he looks to the future. He is figuring out what to do with all of his art.

“Well, I’m 80 years old. It’s time for others to look at this,” he said.

Hamilton explained that a nonprofit—the Denver African Art Center—is fundraising in order to buy Hamilton’s collection.

“They want to create a museum/cultural arts center that everybody can participate in so that people can come study, learn, perform and examine,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for people in Denver to be on the map for African art and culture.”

“It’s time for other people to be able to enjoy this.”

Brian Willie is the Content Production Manager at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach him at

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