In the Denver art scene, Bob Luna was a staple. He was a staple of Denver in general but through art he left his mark. A few of his pieces live around town including his co-creation with Martha Keating, a 10-panel mosaic mural in Highland on the retaining wall separating Interstate 25 from Kalamath Street titled “Neighborhood Epic.”
Bob was his own community hub, gathering people to him like a magnet full of art and togetherness. That’s how his sister Susan and his friend Theresa Marten describe him.
“Bob was a character,” Susan Luna laughed. “He was ornery. He was a contrarian. He was very caring. A good teacher, mentor, a good friend. He was a mountaineer. He had hard times, struggled with alcoholism but the last 10 years of his life he was sober. He was always out for the little guy and through art he wanted social justice.”
Marten nodded, laughed and snorted as Luna described her big brother. Marten can’t recall the first time she met Bob. He was just there. There being SAME Cafe on East Colfax. SAME is a donation-based eatery. In exchange for a meal, you can donate your time, money or produce. Marten is the Cafe director and Bob was a frequent visitor.
“I have genuine conversations with anyone that comes in and they are all different levels of that, but Bob cut right to the meat of it,” Marten said. “We started having deep conversations…. He would ask me really intense questions about our business model…. I don’t know how he found out I was Catholic but then he started giving me Catholic quizzes.”
“Sounds like Bob,” Luna said.
Bob died unexpectedly in July 2021. He was 65 years old.
But before his death, he and Marten were working on an art project — a mural depicting what they and many others bonded with Bob over: community. Specifically the SAME Cafe community, the Colfax community and life in Colorado.
On Tuesday, Luna, Marten and others Bob Luna had touched and taught celebrated the installation of the project at the Tattered Cover on Colfax.
“This project started at SAME Cafe and it started with me bringing Bob his lunch,” Marten said. “We wanted to show what community at SAME Cafe looks like… but also tell the story of Colfax and Colorado.”
Marten said the idea of the mural came from one of her long talks with Bob at the Cafe.
It was around October or November of 2020 and it centered on the pandemic. Uncertainty, chaos and loneliness were in the air and Marten said SAME Cafe wasn’t able to be the community-filled place it was when people could get close to each other.
“Before COVID, people would hang out here all day,” Marten said. “I revealed to Bob that it was really difficult seeing our community change the way it had…. We saw a lot of people not do well financially.
“They had health concerns, a lot of anxiety, and just overall the change of consistency to unpredictability. I wanted to find a way to respond to that, that could bring us back to community,” she said. “Bob’s response was immediately art.”
The pair hatched a plan to create a mural with the help of community members. Using the “Neighborhood Epic” as inspiration, the plan was to hand out small square canvases so folks could paint what was important to them. Those squares would border Bob’s work, which focused on the Cafe, Colfax and Colorado. Marten and Bob chose SAME as the center because it was the center of their story but also a centerpiece on Colfax.
At the time, the Cafe was celebrating its 15th anniversary at the same location. Marten said Colfax was important to the mural because of its rich history. Colfax was just as unique as the Cafe in that you never know who could walk in or walk down the block, but in between the strangers are regulars like Bob and Marten.
Susan Luna added that the family grew up in Cap Hill and attended East High School.
“Denver’s changed a lot,” Luna said. “There’s been a lot of displacement. But you can go to Colfax and you can still feel like, OK this is Denver.”
Bob started sketching some things out and other artists and community organizations jumped on, like Carlos Sandoval, who had worked with Bob in the past. Sandoval and Bob were going to teach the community members about painting and scaling and the Cafe would hold community art days to get the work done.
But Bob passed away and the project was put to the side.
That was until Marten met Luna and Dr. Renee Fajardo, Chair of the Chicano Humanities and Arts Council. They connected at a celebration of life party for Bob and Fajardo wanted to help continue the project. She and Bob knew each other through CHAC and beyond with Bob having taught Farjardo’s children art at the La Alma Recreation Center.
Luna was also interested in continuing the project, so she and Fajardo brought on more artists, funding and partners, including students at East and another Denver muralist Tommy Nahulu.
“Bob always showed up,” Fajardo said. “You didn’t have to ask him, it was just there in his heart. He was my compadre. Bob was my partner in art projects and school projects…. It was my honor in this life to walk with him.”
Earlier this year, the project was finished. It hung in SAME for a small amount of time but Marten and Luna knew it needed to go in a different space. They called around and eventually asked Councilmembers Candi CdeBaca and Jamie Torres if they had any ideas. CdeBaca’s office connected the two with Kwame Spearman, CEO of Tattered Cover. Luna got the call that the mural would be placed in the bookstore a day after the one-year anniversary of Bob Luna’s death.
Luna said Bob and the family are no strangers to Tattered Cover, having shopped there for years, so the bookstore was the perfect place for the project. It sits above the young adult section looking like it was commissioned for the single place.
On Tuesday, Marten explained what each section of the mural means. The middle portion is a copy of Bob’s first rendering, deciphered by Nahulu. There’s SAME Cafe along Colfax, images of some regulars, the Capitol building, Colorado landscape and a field of crops. In the center is Bob blowing bubbles. Along the edges are the square canvases locals painted along with bigger pictures from East students, Colorado Artists in Recovery and the La Alma Mujeres Artistas Sisterhood.
At the top is the title “Bob Luna’s Colfax.”
Marten and Luna both agreed they feel relieved now that the mural is done and has a home. For them, it was part of their grieving process and now they can celebrate.
“I’ve gone from ‘BOB, YOU LEFT ME TO THIS PROJECT,’ to ‘Thank you, you left me with this project,'” Luna said. “Bob had a hand in the project the whole way. You could feel it. Like a puppet master. It was a labor of love and it was bigger than ourselves and for me it felt like we really needed something like that.”
Marten added, “It’s hard to grieve people…. It’s weird because we’re not really supposed to know each other that well. You know I provide a service…. It took me a while to realize, yeah I really miss Bob. Now I just want to celebrate. I’m really glad it’s at the Tattered Cover and I’m hoping folks get to see the scope of the project and get to know a little about SAME and Bob.”