Southwest    (11.11.30)

Southern Exposure


Recently, Les and I travelled to Sedona, Arizona for the first time.  We were well looked after by our friends, Bill and Celeste, who have been there several times before and love the place.  This is not a travelogue, but I wanted to write down some of my thoughts.

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Motivation to create art surrounds me.  The starkness of the red rock monoliths rising from a scraggy sagebrush and pine covered valley floor is offset by the warm glow radiating from the myriad of red shades in those rocks.  My creativity tries to kick start, but it falters when I view the collection of superb art on display in the shops and galleries of Sedona.  Initially I carry my camera around my neck, yet never raise it to my eye.

As much as I’m driven to do something creative, I want to document this experience.  What I find liberating is to have my new, rather sophisticated, point-and-shoot camera with me as well as my large, high-resolution camera.  Pulling the small camera out of its case releases my self-imposed restriction to focus on creativity and allows me to capture my own version of these iconic scenes.  As I write this, I find it hard to figure out why this is so.  Why fight it?  I’m doing the right thing.

The town, while having all the attributes of a community of this century, has a cultural feeling more associated with another time.  I’m the new guy here and probably don’t have the right to form such a quick opinion, but here it is.  A large percentage of the population here is comprised of folks over fifty years of age and many are either retired or semi-retired with more than sufficient income to allow them freedom from the big cities and the bustle of commerce.  The services that support these people are here, creating their own commerce that is fed by the geriatrics.  These services play it well.  They offer the things that people of leisure and of an older generation want, and they make the ambiance of the place as comfortable for their market as possible.  The music in many of the restaurants and in the lounges of the resorts is not of today, but those familiar songs of my youth in the sixties.

One thing that is present day is the art in the galleries.  This area of Arizona has attracted artists since the turn of the last century.  Much of the painting, sculpture, and photography on display is created by some of the best local artists.  The price of the art reflects not only this, but also the fact that the market has the money to pay for the superior quality.  Of course there is the glitz of the tourist shops with the ‘art’ that many folk can afford and seem to buy in great quantities.  The challenge is to find sculptures and prints of paintings that are not made in China.  My mind boggles when I think of the industry that exists in China to churn out fake Navajo artefacts for sale in Sedona at the same time as they churn out fake totem poles of the Nakota to be sold in Banff.  Nevertheless, we keep supporting that industry as we gather up memorabilia to help us remember a good time at a new place in our travels.

We older folk are not the only ones attracted to Oak Creek Canyon where Sedona is located.  The hiking and mountain biking trails are well used by younger folk as well as by the fit oldsters.  The scenery is always spectacular and physical challenges abound.  I did one hike up to the Brins Mesa.  This was on a day after a downpour of rain came through the canyon.  The ground has very little soil above the rock foundation and heavy rains cause flash flooding.  The runoff collects in large, temporary streams roaring down and across the hiking paths.  I saw the result in large stones scattered over the trail in the most unlikely spots.  I wouldn’t have wanted to be on that trail during the storm.

While in Sedona, I made a discovery, sort of stepped to a new plateau, in my understanding of art.  I was able to see the difference between what I call a ‘glitz’ gallery and a true artisan gallery, because they were located close to each other.  I saw many good galleries, but the ones that were in my opinion a step above the rest were: The Gallery of Modern Masters; The James Ratliff Gallery; and the Lou DeSerio Photography Gallery.  These galleries had some art that could withstand time.  What I mean is the art was not just a pretty picture or a record of a moment in one’s life.  It was art that, if hanging in a home, would attract a person to look and ponder over its meaning for many years.  I have no idea why some art has this effect on one or why I just realised this, but for me it was clear.  The higher cost for the good art did not seem out of line.

I did come across something that bothers me and that is the false value placed on giclee prints.  These are prints created using photographic copies of the original art and printed with inkjet printers on a canvas-like medium.  The results can be stunning and very true to the original paintings or sketches they are taken from; however, these are not pieces of art that will increase in value.  I am not critical if an artist markets these at a reasonable price and ensures that the buyer understands what they are getting.  However, in my opinion, a 12 x 12 inch giclee print for $500 is outside the limit of reasonableness, even if the original sells for several thousand dollars.  I saw more than one example of this in the glitz galleries of Sedona.  This type of art marketing is not confined to that town.  The same thing can be found in Banff.  Shame on them all.

We visited the nearby towns of Jerome and Prescott.  Jerome was created out of the need to provide housing and services for a very large mining operation.  It is located on a hillside that approaches the angle of a cliff and overlooks an expansive desert valley.  Its origin is very similar to Canmore’s here in Alberta.  The art community thrives there as it does in Canmore and there are some good restaurants as in Canmore.  However, the topography prevents it from growing like Canmore, so I suppose from here on the differences will become greater.  One more little difference - Jerome has the Caduceus Cellars Wine Tasting Bar, and the Merklin Vineyard wines they have are outstanding.

As I walked around the central park in Prescott, my thoughts went back in time to my teens, living in Calgary.  What did it was the clothing that the men of the town were wearing.  Many men chose cowboy boots and western wear, just like it used to be in Calgary many years ago.  I don’t mean jeans and a beat-up straw hat, but classy, expensive, tailor cut clothes and large, expensive felt hats.  There was a classic scene in a whisky bar (whoops - in the US of A it is WHISKEY) where we stopped to sample their service.  There were two men hanging out at the bar looking like they belonged - comfortable in their own skin and well dressed, including the big hats.  It all seemed very familiar to me.  A warm weather version of Calgary as it used to be.