Memorable exhibits drew crowds to Scottsdale

Memorable exhibits drew crowds to Scottsdale

By Joan Fudala

Scottsdale has historically been a community of “lookie-loos.” In other words, we love to look at all kinds of stuff, from fine art to historic artifacts, vehicles, aircraft and so much more. In honor of the recent array of exhibits in Scottsdale (such as the “Immersive Van Gogh” experience at Lighthouse Artspace and the Edward Curtis photograph exhibit at Scottsdale’s Museum of the West), let’s remember just some of the Scottsdale area’s fascinating exhibits from the past:

• From founding in 1888 until after the end of World War II in 1945, Scottsdale — as a farming/ranching settlement — had no galleries, museums or exhibit halls, so exhibits were held at outdoor events, or Scottsdalians traveled into Phoenix to enjoy exhibits of all kinds.

• In 1914, a new feature debuted at the annual Arizona State Fair — the Fine Arts Exhibit, sponsored by the Woman’s Club of Phoenix. Over the next decades, many of Scottsdale’s established and up-and-coming artists exhibited and earned acclaim at the fair’s exhibit.

• According to G. Wesley Johnson’s book “Phoenix, Valley of the Sun,“ it reads, “After the American (World War I) effort was well underway (circa 1917), a special train visited Phoenix with war trophies to spur the home front’s interest in the conflict and encourage purchases of Liberty Bonds. The carloads of weapons — shells, depth charges from German submarines, razors allegedly used by Germans to slit the throats of injured men, and the famous French 75 field gun which helped recapture Paris — were shown. Phoenicians ogled gas masks used in the trenches, hand grenades, helmets, machine guns and other weapons of war, explained by guides just back from the front. The drives convince the populace to support the war effort financially.”

• Scottsdale artist Jessie Benton Evans exhibited paintings at the Miller-Sterling Art Guild Hall in Phoenix in November 1917, including a large canvas entitled “From the Tempe Bridge.” That same year, Scottsdale’s first artist Marjorie Thomas delivered several watercolor studies of the Sonoran Desert to the Graves Indian shop in Phoenix. The December 19, 1917, Arizona Republican reported, “Ex-governor Hunt and a party of friends were recent visitors at the (Graves) studio, to inspect some of the young artists’ canvases.”

• Scottsdale has always loved vehicles of all kinds. In 1956 the Flynn brothers opened the Antique Auto Museum on Scottsdale Road just south of Old Town. It included a 1911 Metz, Lafrance fire engine, Stanley Steamer and Stutz Bearcat. The museum closed in the early 1960s. Tom Barrett and Russ Jackson began displaying their car collections at Scottsdale’s ballpark in 1967 at an event called Fiesta de los Autos Elegantes. From that humble beginning, Scottsdale became home to the annual Barrett-Jackson Classic Car Auction. The Barrett-Jackson as well as several other car shows each winter are a browser’s paradise.

• The American Heritage Wax Museum opened on Stetson Drive in 1962, an affiliate of London’s Madame Tussaud’s museum. Wax figures depicted scenes of the Old West, Babe Ruth, President Kennedy and his wife Jackie, Dick Van Dyke as the chimney sweep from “Mary Poppins,” the Beatles and other historic or pop culture icons. It was a favorite Scottsdale school or youth group field trip destination before it moved to Phoenix in 1971.

• From 1962 through the early 1970s, Scottsdale hosted the National Indian Art Exhibition, rotating between the Safari and Sunburst Hotels. The juried show featured the best Native American art from throughout the United States.

• Another popular exhibit for schoolchildren and families in the 1980s was the Mouse House Museum on Civic Center Plaza. It displayed Olive Getz’s collection of Mickey Mouse memorabilia and other Disney collectibles; it closed in 1991.

• When Civic Center Library opened in November 1968, it began hosting gallery shows in its mezzanine gallery. It particularly focused on renowned local artists, such as Marjorie Thomas, Lew and Mathilde Schafer Davis, R. Phillips “Sandy” Sanderson, Lon Megargee, Fritz Scholder, Carlos Elmer and others.

• Scottsdale Center for the Arts opened in October 1975; its atrium featured an art gallery. The first four gallery exhibits were “Memories of the West” with paintings by W.H.D. Koerner, bronze sculptures by James C. Turpin Jr., Scottsdale 100 and the Fourth Annual Fibers-Textile ’75 exhibit and select pieces from Scottsdale’s Municipal Art Collection (amassed by the Fine Art Commission since 1967). During SCA’s first decade, it hosted exhibits by Earl Linderman/Dr. Thrill (1977), a Phil Curtis Retrospective (1978), Merrill Mahaffey Arizona landscapes (1979), Lew Davis paintings (1979), Louise Nevelson (1980) and others. The Center for the Arts celebrated its 10th anniversary in 1985 with exhibits featuring Allen Dutton’s “Then and Now” photos of past and present Scottsdale and selections from the permanent collection of the Scottsdale Fine Art Collection. In 1987, the center hosted “First Contact: The Search” gallery show curated by Joseph Sanches and the International Center for UFO Research; it created quite a buzz around town.

• In 1990, a full-scale model of a Frank Lloyd Wright Usonian Automatic House was constructed in front of the Scottsdale Center for the Arts, culminating a two-year “Frank Lloyd Wright: In the Realm of Ideas” exhibit tour throughout the United States sponsored by the Scottsdale Cultural Council and the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.

• Gennie Baker opened the Buffalo Museum at Scottsdale and Shea in 1992, displaying his collection of Buffalo art, dishes, books, movie props and more.

• Donna and Mort Fleisher opened the Fleischer Museum at the FFCA headquarters in the Perimeter Center in 1990. Showcasing the California School of Impressionism until it closed in the early 2000s, its most popular show was the Russian and Soviet art exhibit in 1994.

• Then-Mayor Sam Campana championed the ICONS exhibit at the vacant Galleria shopping mall in 1997, bringing the best art and artifacts from the Smithsonian museums in Washington, D.C.

• Youth art exhibits have been popular not only with up-and-coming artists but their parents and the community at large. They’ve been staged at Scottsdale Fashion Square, Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts and Civic Center Library.

• Two now-closed sports bars/restaurants were renowned for their sports memorabilia exhibits. The Pink Pony, operated on Scottsdale Road by Charlie Briley from the 1950s through his death in 2002, featured jerseys and photos from Spring Training teams, as well as a wall of caricatures done by Don Barclay. Don Carson’s Don & Charlie’s restaurant operated on Camelback Road from the early 1980s until it closed in April 2019. Every square inch of the supper club featured one-of-a-kind sports memorabilia given to Don by the sports stars themselves.

• A host of memorable exhibits have taken place at Cattle Track Arts Enclave (especially Rachel Ellis’ Cattle Track Couture in 2012), the Heard Museum North at el Pedregal (Mid-Century Modern Scottsdale Native American Artists exhibit in 2006), and the dozens of art galleries throughout Old Town and the rest of Scottsdale.

• During its heyday in Scottsdale (1971-2005), Rawhide Western Town displayed authentic Western artifacts and furnishings collected by founder Jim Paul.

• And who can forget exhibits by NASA space artist Robert McCall, or the decorated fiberglass horses on display during 2000 throughout Old Town, or the thousands of neckties “displayed” on the ceiling of Pinnacle Peak Patio, or the collection of ranch implements at Doc Cavalliere’s Grease Wood Flat?

• These are happy memories, but today we “lookie-loos” have countless exhibits and displays to enjoy at Scottsdale’s Museum of the West, art galleries, Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, Civic Center and other Scottsdale public libraries, the Ziegler Fiesta Bowl Museum, Museum of Broadcasting on Fifth Avenue, Indian Bend Wash Visitors Center, Taliesin West, Soleri’s Cosanti, Cattle Track Art Enclave, McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park, events at WestWorld, Plotkin Museum of Judaica, Hoo-hoogam Ki Museum and the USS Arizona Memorial on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, Papago Park’s Desert Botanical Garden (Chihuly!) and Phoenix Zoo, the Arizona Military Museum on McDowell Road, Arizona Heritage Center and the Hall of Flame in Papago Park, Shemer Art Museum on Camelback Road and, when Civic Center’s renovations are complete, the Scottsdale Historical Museum.

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