In 2011, my wife and I travelled to Sedona, Arizona for the first time. We were well looked after by our friends who live there for a couple of months every year and love the place.
These are some of my thoughts during that experience.
Motivation to create art surrounds me in this unfamiliar countryside surrounding Sedona. 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 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 also 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 the iconic scenes around me. It’s hard for me to figure out why this is so.
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 busyness of a career. The services that support these people create a local 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 lounges is what I used to listen to in the sixties.
One thing that is current is the gallery art. This area of Arizona has attracted artists since the start 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 there 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 or Hopi artefacts for sale in Sedona at the same time as they churn out fake artefacts of the Nakoda to be sold in Banff. Nevertheless, tourists keep supporting that industry as they gather up memorabilia to help them remember a good time at a new place.
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 wouldn’t have wanted to be on that trail during a 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 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 aesthetic. 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 was not out of line.
Something that did bother me in a few galleries was the false value placed on giclèe 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 endure and 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 at that time was outside the limit of reasonableness, even if the original sold for several thousand dollars. I saw more than one example of this in the glitz galleries of Sedona. but 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 town of Jerome. The art community there thrives as it does in Canmore. Comparing with Canmore there is one important little difference for me and that is Jerome has the Caduceus Cellars Wine Tasting Bar and the Merklin Vineyard wines they serve are outstanding.
On the way back to Sedona, we stopped for supper in Prescott. As we walked along the streets in the centre of Prescott I saw many of the local men well dressed in expensive western clothes. I remembered seeing the same men’s fashion in Calgary in the fifties. The clothes were not the jeans and beat-up straw hat of a working cowboy, but classy tailored clothes and large Stetson felt hats.
There was a classic scene in a whisky bar where we stopped to sample their spirits. Sitting on stools at the bar were two men talking and looking like they belonged—comfortable in their own skin. They were well dressed, including the Stetsons. It all seemed very familiar to me. A hot weather version of Calgary as it once was.