Archive for April, 2011

A new southwestern mecca in Bisbee

Friday, April 1st, 2011

I last visited Bisbee, Arizona 15 years ago with my family. Then, it was almost empty. In the 1970s all of the copper and gold mines closed and the houses were available for $250. I assume hippies came there in the 70s and began to resettle away from the world. It’s about two hours away from Tucson and close to the Mexican border.

The town was founded in 1880 at mile high elevation. Its houses clutch the edge of the hillsides and run into the main town center in the base of the valley. One enters the town on a road that passes through western lore Tombsone, and through a tunnel that has made the journey easier then in the past.

Bisbee is filled with wonderful turn of the century and early 20th century buildings that allowed this town to survive. Another town wonderful place is Jerome, just north of Phoenix, but not in the same great shape. Because of the hippies, both towns have become places for art and beautiful scenery.

Today, Bisbee is coming back with galleries, restaurants, cafes, and bed and breakfasts. The mines are even purported to be opening once again.

Bisbee has thousands of stairs like the town of Italy called Cinca Terre (“five earths”). The journeys up and down are exhausting.

One of the locals, a man named Will, has lived there since the late 70s. He wanted to get away from it all. His son works for a Tucson company that reinvented the horse shoe: it clips onto the horse with Velcro and allows much easier wear of the horse hoof. Will walks down the hill to town and walks back up on a road. We walked up to his house that overlooks downtown. He has a battery-powered tricycle that he powers up when he needs to leave town. He does not have a care in such a remote place. Will;s house is full of his home spun sculptures of found objects, including his VW bus that is also a part of his home fence.

As we made our way back down the hill from Will’s house we saw many examples of what could be called houses and some places that had outdoor art experiences. I observed such a richness of texture even in the beautiful rust of a Ford truck and in the collaged elements on the houses. There was a theatre- like building filled with three dimensional collages, and another in a park-like setting that had art covering all of its surfaces.

Further into the valley one can see newer homes, including one that was bright yellow with a red roof and had wonderful (cast iron?) Caratid figures holding a shade structure. They appeared like the Acropolis Caratid columns on the ancient buildings but in a modern setting. The Graffiti tags were of Louis Armstrong and maybe Marlena Diedrich. Paint experiments are quite special here and could be wonderfully photographed in different stages of the sun.

Almost every building is filled with the artistic expression by its owner or occupant. A you walk into town, you get a sense of its history through its architecture. The old Bank of America is seen with the fluted marble columns. The bathroom sign depicts a woman and man miner beautifully on the doors. The new Mexican restaurant and hotel has a new sign but it fits into the town’s spirit in a great way. The details in the masonry are reminiscent of Aspen. I believe this will become another Aspen (aside from the heat).

The courthouse built in 1931 has a great Art Deco spirit and sits in front is a statue of a miner that is similar to the Soviet realism sculptures of the common man seen on the Palace of Culture in Warsaw. The miner is heroic with big hands. The bulling is a wonderful Art Deco expression, the door made of dark stone and the rest cast in place concrete with accents that come from the desert. The columns terminate beautifully in the base, and the entry has a great cast bronze door of the heroic miner. The fountain and the lanterns appear to have a Frank Lloyd Wright feeling reminiscent to the wheat patterns in his windows.

The ROCA restaurant doors are a la METROPOLIS figure from the movie. We could not get a table at this four star restaurant as they were booked all night. Instead, we went to a wonderful vegetarian place down the street. (I forgot the name but my stomach remembers the food and wonderful juice fondly.)

The entire town is rich in architectural heritage and artistic expression. It should should become a mecca of southwestern art. The windows are filled with unique antiques and folk art, some with typical McDonald’s toys but others unique expressions.

I am looking forward to spending a week here photographing in different light and staying at a bed and breakfast.