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Prescott's art scene evolves into colorful modernism

Russell Johnson, a manager at The Frame & I Gallery, painted this oil piece named "Monsoon's Bounty."

Russell Johnson, a manager at The Frame & I Gallery, painted this oil piece named "Monsoon's Bounty."

PRESCOTT - Since the early 1990s, Prescott's art community has evolved from depictions of cowboys on the range, into a more modern style that reflects its Western heritage.

While the Old West culture will always be a part of Prescott's legacy, some artists and gallery owners have simultaneously become more daring and social.

Ted Philip Denton, the owner of a studio gallery in the Old Firehouse Plaza, is a modern artist from Phoenix who visited Prescott for years before moving here in 2004.

"It was kind of a cowboys and Indians town forever, but there is more diversity now," he said.

Ida Kendall, a co-owner of the Frame & I Gallery, said she noticed that much of Prescott's art depicted wildlife and Western scenes when she moved to town in 1993.

"Now, there's a trend toward more colorful pieces, landscape, even some abstract work has worked its way in," she said. "Now, there's definitely work that affects people's personalities more … There's a lot more diversity."

Kendall noted that the scene significantly changed during the past two years. She attributes much of this to the area's growth, which is bringing new consumers to the area that will pay for a variety of art.

Charles Huckeba, a local artist and gallery owner, said of the newcomers, "When they come here they take in a new cultural, geographic world, but they don't totally leave behind their old one. Good ideas cannot be contained by regionalism and geography. Prescott is evolving. So are her artists and her profile."

Denton's work is the polar opposite from the standard Western piece. His multimedia presentations mix sharp reds, blacks, and whites with metal and canvas.

Meanwhile, Kendall's gallery walls feature vibrant depictions of nature that one wouldn't find at a conservative Western gallery.

DARING TO BE DIFFERENT

Lana Ante, a local jeweler who uses turquoise, amethyst and other stones to create pieces with a "recently-dug-up look," said that the Arts Prescott Gallery has always strayed from the Western style.

"We never were a Western art gallery," she said of the 13-year old gallery. "We have tried to have a lot of different things … If you look at the art that's in the gallery now; it's very reminiscent of what we've always had."

Today's Arts Prescott Gallery defines the clash between Western and more modern styles, which is evident in Ginny Hensler's watercolors and Ty Johnson's Raku pottery creations. The watercolors depict dusty Western landscapes, while Johnson's Raku creations vary from smiling dinosaurs to a whimsical version of Hunter S. Thompson's head.

The Prescott Fine Arts Association's Gallery currently features a holiday exhibit that shows Prescott's varying styles. Western-themed pieces adorn the walls - such as Patti Pearl's watercolor collage chili peppers - photographs of mannequin heads donning headwear bring sharp contrast the Southwestern-themed works.

COOPERATION

Prescott artists are also changing the way they interact in hopes of establishing Prescott as a must-see art scene.

"When I came here two years ago now, there was a lot of competitiveness (among the artists)," Denton said. Thanks to events like the 4th Friday Art Walks, which Denton helps organize, and the new Smithsonian-sponsored CultureFest, more artists and gallery owners are working together to help make Prescott a premiere destination for art aficionados, as well as artists themselves.

The 4th Friday Art Walks currently are on the fourth Friday of each month, and feature about 20 different galleries and restaurants on the tour. The CultureFest occurred on Nov. 10-12, and featured a self-guided private studio tour.

Both events are attracting visitors who regularly frequent havens such as Scottsdale and Sedona, and according to Denton, these tourists are enjoying Prescott's diverse scene.

MENTORING

Prescott is full of artists that will tell you that Yavapai College's Art Department is a mainstay in the local art scene.

Many of the college's art students attend the school in search of ways to improve their current and future creations, according to Cindy De Cecco, a teacher at the college. Most of the artists the Courier recently interviewed have studied, taught or befriended another artist with a connection to the college.

Amy Stein, the Yavapai College Art Gallery Director, said the college remains focused on education.

"Our gallery therefore invites artists whose work demonstrates quality craftsmanship, contemporary utilization of the principles and elements of design, and finally enhances our students' ability to articulate the creative process," she said. The college also sponsors a lecture series where students can learn from artists who are exhibiting in the college's gallery.

Other Prescottonians, such as Eye on the Mountain Gallery owner Rachael Houseman, are also doing their best to promote the spread of ideas and knowledge.

She has tried to create an educational environment for artists to learn, and hosts the occasional brainstorming event for artists to get together and socialize.

Chris Schrader, a local artist who creates mineral paintings and sketches, asked Houseman for advice with some of his original sketches while perusing the gallery. Houseman and a friend studied his work, and helped this budding young mineral painter refine his vision. Now his detailed mineral paintings hang in her gallery.

Houseman, a well-connected woman in her 20s with a plethora of gallery experience, is not alone in her desire to mentor. Many Prescott artists meet and share ideas, criticism, and techniques to try and improve their work via social networking. Often, this means attending classes or talks.

Arts Prescott artists have always worked within their cooperative to provide positive feedback and inspiration, which has helped artists such as Ante, to create better pieces.

Ante, who held a successful career in corporate America, moved to Prescott in 1992 and began taking pottery classes at Yavapai College. Her pottery teacher told her about the formation of the Arts Prescott Gallery, and Ante is still a member to this day.

"I really believe that as an artist, I've grown up in this gallery," Ante said. "All of a sudden, I was doing business with 21 other people … You don't really want to make your best friends out of your business partners, but friendships develop when you work that closely with people. It was kind of like I had a surrogate family."

Arts Prescott Cooperative's roster features a variety of former teachers with teaching experience at Prescott College, Yavapai College, and Northern Arizona University, Ante said.

Rowena Tank, a local bead worker and jeweler whom is also affiliated with Arts Prescott, said she received inspiration from a visiting artist's talk at Williamson Valley's own Antonius Glass Studios.

The Frame & I Gallery participates and sponsors classes and workshops for local artists to improve upon and learn new techniques.

Denton, a man with experience on the marketing side of the retail clothing industry, said that he's always willing to try and help artists market their art.

THE FUTURE

Local artists and patrons agree that they'd like to see Prescott become a must-see destination in northern Arizona. The Courier asked several local artists about the future of the local art scene.

Artists such as Arts Prescott's Tank, want to see the open studio tour happen more frequently, with cooperation from the local hospitality industry.

"I'd love to see brochures about the open studio tour that say 'Come stay the weekend,'" she said.

Others, such as Deb Designz, a promoter for Art the 4th, said that she wants to see local governments invest more into the local art scene. Patti Pearl of the Prescott Fine Arts Association, and Ted Denton also echoed these comments.

Denton stated that government investments into the art community can be more than grant programs for local art groups. Some cities donate unused properties or spaces. Cities can also designate art districts and help subsidize rents within those districts, he said. Denton said that under former mayor Terry Goddard, the City of Phoenix had created a thriving art district.

For Prescott College's Julie Comnick, an accomplished artist and teacher, the future lies in the brick walls of the Sam Hill Warehouse.

Comnick said the college is renovating the warehouse into a visual arts center, complete with a dedicated gallery for student and national exhibits, studios, and classrooms.

"The other thing we have going on is an artists-in-residence program," she said. "Once we have a gallery space, that person will also be able to have a space to exhibit their work."

Stein thought that the local community could benefit through "better support for the arts in k-12 education and a stronger appreciation for the fine arts in colleges."

In Prescott, there is not a well-known, organized movement toward recruiting private donors. None of the sources the Courier interviewed for this story knew of a regional effort to recruit private donors, despite the fact that most of the sources said that a regional effort would be worth pursuing.

Contact the Web Editor at jkamin@prescottaz.com.

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