When pop artist Andy Warhol came to the Colorado State University campus in September 1981, it created quite a buzz.

According to Peter Jacobs, who was chair of the Department of Art and Art History at the time, the visit was made possible by art collectors John and Kimiko Powers. Jacobs’ predecessor as department chair, Perry Ragouzis, had met the Powerses through the father of a CSU student from Glenwood Springs.

Initially, Jacobs hoped he could lure Warhol to Fort Collins with the promise of meeting actor Robert Redford, who was a friend of a Fort Collins acquaintance. Instead, it was John Denver who helped get the famous artist to town. The Powerses, who knew the multi-Grammy winning singer and activist, helped arrange for Warhol to visit him in Aspen, traveling there on Denver’s private plane.

“That was the hook that helped him get out here,” Jacobs recalled. “The exhibition and visit were all because of the connection to the Powerses. Without that connection, none of this would have happened.”

Bulls and Best Western

During his Fort Collins visit, Warhol stayed at the Best Western University Inn, attended the opening reception for an exhibition of his work in CSU’s Clara Hatton Gallery, toured Veterinary Teaching Hospital facilities, participated in interviews and signed autographs. About 10,000 people viewed the monthlong exhibition.

“Warhol signed everything — even a snake that someone brought got signed,” Jacobs said, adding with a laugh that Warhol only made it about 300 yards during a hike on Greyrock Trail in Poudre Canyon. “The thing he enjoyed most was visiting the CSU bull farm that used to be on West Elizabeth Street. He was taking pictures of everything with his Polaroid camera. And he was amazed with how clean Fort Collins was.”

Video footage of Warhol’s time on campus will be included in the documentary that film producer Frank Boring is creating in honor of CSU’s 150th birthday.

“The whole weeklong event was kind of an art performance,” Jacobs remembered. “Andy’s visit was a show from beginning to end.”

Soup cans

Andy Warhol visit to CSU

Andy Warhol’s 1981 visit to CSU included the unveiling of three oversized Campbell’s Soup cans that the artist signed.

The most visible reminder of Warhol’s historic visit is the giant Campbell’s Soup can that bears the artist’s signature and sits in front of the University Center for the Arts. Three of the oversized cans were made in honor of Warhol’s visit, and Jacobs said the idea came to him after seeing a large inflatable pop can along the side of a Colorado highway. Jacobs said a Denver scrap-iron facility donated a 50-foot-long steel pipe that was cut into three “can” lengths and transported to Fort Collins in the bed of a truck, nestled in grain for safekeeping.

During the first of Jacobs’ two New York City trips to meet with Warhol to discuss arrangements for his trip to Colorado and the cans project, Jacobs suggested that the cans be painted to match the artist’s iconic silkscreen version from 1962. But Warhol instead instructed Jacobs to just copy a soup can purchased from a local grocery store. A CSU graphic design student was hired to paint the cans, complete with a bar code, which Warhol’s original did not have. In addition to the can on display at the UCA, another can is in storage on campus, and the third was sold to a museum in Japan.

Jacobs credited former CSU President Ralph Christoffersen with helping fund the Special Exhibition and Visiting Artists program that brought Warhol to campus as well as other prominent artists during the 1980s, including Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Red Grooms, Robert Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein, Sam Francis, Willem de Kooning and James Rosenquist.

Reel CSU Stories

This is part of a series about the stories uncovered by film producer Frank Boring and audiovisual presentation specialist Bryan Rayburn, who are going through CSU’s film archives to compile a documentary about the University’s first 150 years. For more stories, an interactive photo slider and a quiz on CSU lore, visit csu150.colostate.edu. For an in-depth look at how the colleges of CSU have carried on the land-grant mission through the decades, go to source.colostate.edu/csu-150.