Posts Tagged ‘arizona’

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.

FLW’s vision for the Arizona Capitol

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

Frank Lloyd Wright had a vision for the Arizona State capitol building, topped by a wonderful spire. It was never realized as a building, but, in the past few years, the city of Scottsdale built this wonderful spire in Wright’s honor, along with an associated shaded plaza.

The plaza contains some of Heloise Crista’s sculptures that are also in Taliesin West. Given Wright’s part-time life in Arizona, some of the surrounding buildings have been inspired by his architecture. (They’re not as good as FLW, but close.)

The sun plays with the tower as does inner lighting . I have seen it internally lit and will try to find some of those shots in the future–it’s wonderful. The corner posts that hold the overhead cover are also inspired by the wonderful wheat patterns that Wright created in the Midwest. Even the bus stop is FLW-inspired.

The plaza is a great tribute to one of Scottsdale’s finest and the greatest American architect.

St. Xavier Mission in Tucson

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Discovered by Jesuit missionaries from Spain in the late 1600s, St. Xavier Mission was first established as an outpost. The Jesuits were later kicked out and the Franciscans took their place.

The mission is a wonderful relic of old Spanish Arizona. The site almost looks as I would imagine it in the 1600, with little development. When the Spanish left due to absence of gold, they left their missions in ruins, but this one has been well taken care of and was recently refurbished inside and out. The art inside depicts Catholic saints and, of course, pays homage to the Virgin Mary. Some statuary has what looks like Franciscan friars.

The door handles and the details of the architecture are wonderful examples of a Spanish mission. Now I want to see similar sites in Mexico and California.

Our firm is working on a project for the Native Indian tribe that has their reservation there. They were called Papago and now called Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation: People of the Desert. Their reservation spans an area into Mexico and I believe they can cross easily from the Mexican area to the U.S. area. They are very proud of the mission, its history, and its people. A book in the gift shop showed how they lived here in a peaceful fashion till today.


Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Arcosonti is the desert encampment of Italian architect Paulo Soleri. Located about an hour outside of Phoenix, I have visited there just about every year for the past 2o years. Over that time, I’m sad to say I’ve seen very little progress on the vision that Soleri had for his self-sustaining community.

Like Talliesin West, Arcosonti is an architect’s vision of a live-in school that teaches architects about design. On this particular visit, there were 36 trailer homes that contained a school from Denmark touring the US via Route 66.

Arcosonti is most famous for its cast bronze bells designed by Soleri and featured in the gallery here and in Scottsdale. The bells were the linchpin of a major fundraising effort for the school over the years. I have a half dozen at my home and office clanging in the wind.

The buildings of Arcosonti sit on the edge of and face into a valley. The most dominant building is the casting kiln for the bells with its arc and unique shape on top.

The students own their own crane that has the word Arco Santi on the front bumper. Like Taliesin West, this has always been a site under construction, but, in this case, it will never be finished. The model shows a grand vision for this otherworldly place that looks like a space station on Mars from a science fiction movie from the 60s. Although we were not allowed to explore on our own, we snooped and enjoyed the climb onto a roof and through the living part of the campus.

I hope the school will live on as Taliesin since it is certain that the students learn well about the fluid nature of bronze, concrete, and steel.

(Buy some bells; they’re wonderful.)