Harvey Deselms never made the conscious decision to better the lives of his neighbors. It’s just his way of life.
“Being from a small community, everybody has to help everybody,” said Deselms, who grew up on his family’s ranch between Burns and Albin. “And it didn’t matter whether you’re helping somebody in front of a big crowd, or you’re helping them behind the scenes in the corral … if there’s work to do, you do it. That was the work ethic of my parents and my siblings.”
It was this dedication to his community that led to Deselms’ selection as the recipient of the 2020 Wyoming Tribune Eagle Community Spirit Award. His contribution to the Cheyenne Frontier Days Old West Museum art shows, Downtown Development Authority Board of Directors, Cheyenne Regional Medical Center Foundation Board of Directors and countless other volunteer experiences has left a mark on his lifelong home of Laramie County – which is why his nominators, Karen and Dean “Doc” Schroeder, nominated him several years in a row.
Most residents know Deselms as the owner of Deselms Fine Art & Custom Framing, the business he’s operated in downtown Cheyenne since 1992, but becoming a gallery owner wasn’t always his plan. In the spring of 1986, Deselms graduated from Albin High School. That fall, he moved to Cheyenne to attend Laramie County Community College, where he earned an associate degree in archaeology and anthropology.
His time at LCCC ignited a passion for studying mankind through artifacts, which is how he landed a job at the CFD Old West Museum. Shirley Flynn hired Deselms in 1987 as a weekend employee who did whatever was needed, and much of that involved interfacing with the public – one of Deselms’ favorite activities. When she retired several years later, he was named assistant director and took charge of the museum’s two annual art exhibits: the Western Spirit Art Show & Sale and the Cheyenne Frontier Days Western Art Show & Sale (which he still volunteers for).
Now, Deselms serves on the museum’s board of directors.
“When I was a kid, I was picking up rocks, and then it became artifacts, and then eventually I was like, well, I’m going to be an archaeologist,” he said. “But when I got the job at the museum, part of my duties was to help with the art shows, and that’s when I was like ‘Gosh, this is cool,” so I slowed down on the archaeology and veered toward the art. … It just broadened my horizons from a little farm kid.”
The art shows are two of the museum’s largest fundraisers, and heading them led Deselms to donate pieces to nonprofit auctions around town once he opened his gallery. One initiative that particularly stood out to his nominators was Art for the Cure, for which he recruited artists to donate original artwork to be auctioned off at a gala benefiting Susan G. Komen of Wyoming.
Through his time at the museum, Deselms was mentored by Flynn, who wrote the first script for the Downtown Trolley Tours with Betty Anne Beierle. The pair recruited Deselms as a guide during the first season of trolley tours in Cheyenne, where he used his beloved people skills to welcome residents and visitors alike onboard.
“That was a way to, again, meet people and learn about our history,” Deselms said. “And just every aspect of volunteering and helping somewhere led to another. … I think we all need to be a part of more. If I have a problem and I help somebody else, then my problem is a lot less.”
Doc Schroeder met Deselms while volunteering during CFD – he recalled striking up a conversation with him while moving a box – and he was immediately drawn in by his warm demeanor. They bonded over their love of animals and appreciation of art, and as the years went on, and Doc became more interested in purchasing art, Deselms taught him everything he needed to know about collecting.
“If I was going to use a word to describe him, I would use the word genuine,” Doc said. “What you see is what you get with Harvey. He’s got a great sense of humor, he’s a funny guy, and he’s not putting that on for anybody. … He just kind of exudes humanity. He’s a people person, and he’s a nonjudgmental person.”
Karen Schroeder met Deselms through her husband, but then got to know him even better through her involvement with the University of Wyoming’s Cowboy Joe Club auction. She knew she could rely on Deselms to always donate a print, or provide the framing for a donated piece of artwork that didn’t come with a frame.
“He’s an honest man,” Karen said. “I can’t see a cruel bone in his body or a deceptive bone in his body. It’s just not there. … He was the baby of the family, and he was the good son.”
One example the couple recalled was in the early days of Deselms’ business, when he’d moved from his initial space downtown to the house at 303 E. 17th St. where his gallery is now. He liked the space, but was intrigued when he heard the Whipple mansion across the street was available to rent. He made a deal with the landlord and began to move his displays in when suddenly the landlord changed his mind. He told Deselms that he’d sold the house and it would need to be vacated within 30 days.
The Schroeders wandered into the house not long after this conversation, and Deselms had an unusual look of frustration on his face. He told them what happened, but refused to let his disappointment get to him. Instead, he got right to work lugging his artwork and display cases back to 303 E. 17th St.
“They treated him like garbage, I thought, but he moved across (the street) and never a bad word,” Doc said. “Never a ‘poor little me.’ Always ‘let’s get the job done.’ … That’s Harvey. He just doesn’t dwell on the negative. He doesn’t get beat. The word ‘can’t’ is not part of his vocabulary.”
That can-do attitude is one reason the Schroeders were able to amass several letters of support for Deselms every year they’ve nominated him.
In one letter, Kathy Steil recalled that during her time as vice president of the Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce, Deselms opened his gallery in the evenings for the Young Professionals club to use it as a meeting space. In another letter, Kim Kincheloe said Deselms was always the first volunteer on-site to help set up during Art for the Cure. In another, former Recover Wyoming Director Laura Griffith said Deselms has encouraged many on the road to addiction recovery, and that it’s “not a stretch to say his support has saved lives.”
In addition to donating art and helping out with several nonprofit auctions, Deselms is passionate about bringing public art to Cheyenne – particularly sculptures. He’s the man behind the large boots throughout Cheyenne, and former City Council member Joe Dougherty noted that Deselms was the Art in Public Places committee’s go-to guy when the city needed help finding high-quality regional art that it could afford.
And, as Jim Hearne noted in his letter, Deselms was the “driving force” behind the Capitol Avenue Project placing a bronze sculpture on every corner of downtown’s main drag.
“In a time when towns and cities are losing the character of what makes a place unique, he has brought about a resurgence of art that enhances,” wrote Bobbie Carlyle, the Loveland-based sculpture artist who created several bronze sculptures seen around Cheyenne (thanks to Deselms).
Taking this praise isn’t easy for Deselms, who blushes at the slightest compliment, but he said he’s humbled by the recognition – even though he can think of several others who are deserving of it.
“Darn near everybody that I know is deserving of the Community Spirit Award, because we all have it. We enjoy this place and want to make it better, and we make it better, one person at a time.”
Niki Kottmann is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s features editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 307-633-3135. Follow her on Twitter at @niki_mariee.