Artists of the Northwest - Tucson Local Media: Import

Artists of the Northwest

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Posted: Tuesday, June 1, 2004 11:00 pm

Since 1997, the town of Oro Valley has required developers to contribute 1 percent of their construction costs to public art. As a result of this extraordinary directive, by this time next year, the new Northwest Medical Center Oro Valley may house the largest collection of contemporary regional art in the area.

On April 7, the town council approved the hospital's proposal to commission 53 works by 15 artists at a cost of $330,000 plus another $100,000 donated to the fledgling Oro Valley Arts Endowment Fund. That was the first large gift for the fund, which supports public art and the arts.

The creation of a visible arts presence in Oro Valley furthers "quality of life, beauty and excellence," said Jane Hallett, public arts specialist for the Greater Oro Valley Arts Council, who recently coordinated the hospital's public arts project.

The project started last fall, when the hospital put out a call for artists to create works for indoor and outdoor spaces throughout the hospital. It received submissions from 126 artists in Tucson and around the country.

After a lengthy review process by a panel that included GOVAC Executive Director Carmen Feriend, Northwest Medical Center Oro Valley CEO Paul Kappelman, architect Steve Delany and interior designer Tracy Rives of the hospital's architecture firm Gould Turner Group, in Nashville, Tenn., a short list was forwarded to a community advisory board. Finalists were interviewed and invited to submit additional sample work.

All but three were from the Tucson area and Tubac.

Six of the artists live and work in the Northwest.

Bruce McGrew: T he hospital panel chose eight watercolors by the late Bruce McGrew. A presence in the art world in Tucson for more than 30 years, the artist was known for large, soaring collages of light and color that still pulse with a rare vitality.

His most persistent subjects were of nature and the natural world, particularly the Sonoran Desert, although his interests ranged from the Greek myths to the folk art of Mexico.

"He loved being in the desert," said his widow, the clay artist Fox McGrew. "We took a lot of trips and he always worked out in the field. His work was really influenced by the landscapes we traveled."

Until his 1999 death from pancreatic cancer at age 61, McGrew spent 33 years as a professor of art at the University of Arizona, coaching and mentoring generations of art students. His work has been shown nationally and internationally.

"Students have said he was able to look at your work and know what you were trying to do," said his daughter Shelley. "His eye was so good that way. And he was so good with people, they loved being around him."

She pointed to a small framed valentine, one of many he regularly painted for his wife, children and "even the secretaries at school," she said.

In 1968, McGrew was one of a handful of Tucson artists, including Andrew Rush and Charles Littler, who started the artist's community of Rancho Linda Vista in Oracle. Nestled in the foothills on the north side of the Santa Catalina Mountains, it had been a cattle ranch in the 1880s and a guest ranch in the 1920s and 1930s.

The first order of business, even before installing the septic system, was to convert the old barn into studios and gallery space, said Fox. "Rancho Linda Vista became a nucleus for poets, artists and writers."

Born and raised in Wichita, Kan., where he attended college on a basketball scholarship, the large, redheaded McGrew loved art, poetry and music.

In Tucson, he became a regular at the UA Poetry Center, where he met and befriended W.S. Merwin, William Pitt Root, Gerald Stern and other luminaries. The poet C.K. Williams became a lifelong friend.

"He was so personable," his daughter remembered. "He'd go up to someone and invite them to the ranch. And then go visit them in France."

Sharon Holnback and Sarah Kucerova: Metal artists Sharon Holnback and Sarah Kucerova of Apparatus Iron in Oracle began working together six years ago, creating a line of steel ornaments and accessories, including trellises and even gazebos, with delicately rendered flowers, animals and birds and leaves vining up to the sky.

"Our bread and butter," Holnback said of their whimsical garden sculpture and furniture.

Lately, they've moved into the public art realm with larger, custom work, including three lighted sculptures of metal and colored glass for a recent holiday Luminaria Festival administered by the Tucson Pima Arts Council and exhibited at La Paloma and Ventana Canyon resorts and the Tucson Convention Center.

Holnback, 43, who owned a photography and mixed media gallery, Apparatus, in Tucson's Lost Barrio throughout the 1990s, started working in metal more than a decade ago.

"I was interested in mixed media, so a friend and I started collaborating with found parts and gears," she said.

Kucerova, 33, taught herself to weld in high school and later apprenticed with Verde Valley metal worker Richard Rozinski. Like Holnback, Kucerova graduated from the University of Arizona with a bachelor's degree in fine arts. She met Holnback at her gallery and the two women realized they shared a creative vision as well as an interest in metal work.

The hospital commissioned 50 feet of ornamental fencing for an enclosed patio and seating area. "They requested something simple and streamlined," Kucerova said. "We'll probably do a repeating geometric pattern, powder coated to match the color scheme."

Three years ago, Holnback bought the Triangle L Guest Ranch, now a part-time bed-and-breakfast and full-time headquarters for Apparatus Iron.

An arts trail on the property serves as a walking sculpture garden; a gallery space also hosts metal working seminars. "Our goal was to have art-related things happen," she said.

Gail Munden: Painter Gail Munden doesn't need to travel far for inspiration. Since 1988, her home and studio at the south edge of Pusch Peak and Pima Canyon in the Santa Catalinas have provided plenty.

Her work in progress, a 7- by 15-foot acrylic desert panorama in muted pinks, purples and gold, will face the Western slope of these mountains, the same view a patient might see from his hospital bed.

"I went out to the hospital site, parked my car across the street and went snap, snap, snap," she said, a faint Southern lilt in her voice.

Another time, during a walk in the Catalinas, "the sun gilded everything across the middle of the desert, while the valley was cool and dark and still," she said. That's the effect she wants, that, and the light at sunset, when the eastern sky is pale and soft.

She traces the outline of a trail in sepia on a smaller prototype of her canvas.

"The painter Camille Pissarro said there should be a road, a journey, a little path in your landscape," she said.

Munden, 52, has spent many hours in hospital waiting rooms. She and her husband John moved from Flagstaff to Tucson to be closer to University Medical Center because their son Jonathon, now 22, has a chronic illness.

Early in life, as the single mother of a daughter, the self-taught farm girl from Louisville, Ky., traded murals for ballet lessons and day care. She has also designed interiors for architects, worked as a draftsman for an aerial mapping firm and painted murals for dentists, chiropractors and pediatricians' offices in Tucson.

Her husband, a civil engineer, is sympathetic to the arts, she said. "He buys me tools - air compressors and framing saws."

Amy Kyle: Clay and fiber artist Amy Kyle started her creative life as a weaver. "I was drawn to textures and then clay started coming into it," she said. "The textures I put into the clay are really fiber-like," she said. "I love combining subtle surfaces and textures."

Her contemporary wall installations - airy puzzle pieces made of papery clay - crackle with colored glazes, layered and fused glass and tapestries of beads and metallic ribbons woven by the artist on a frame loom.

"It's a basic form of weaving but I really like it because I can weave freely," she said. "The woven pieces have to fit the clay, so I weave with a drawing behind the loom."

The piece commissioned for the hospital is a 4-foot by 7-foot installation to be mounted on a wall.

Kyle, 49, grew up in Westport, Conn., and studied at Richmond College in England and the University of Salamanca, Spain, before finishing a bachelor of fine arts degree at the University of Arizona in 1977. She stayed in Tucson and raised three children.

When her kids were growing up, she volunteered as an art teacher in Marana and remembers a mass firing of 200 children's pots in a big pit.

"I was always working," she said. "I look at a lot of art work. I'm always looking at glazes and researching glazes. The direction of my work has been to simplify my designs. The materials themselves are tactile in nature, it's almost like composing a musical statement."

Steve Holler: In his landscape series "Windows to the Human Spirit," commercial graphic designer Steve Holler said he uses desert imagery as a metaphor for human emotion.

"The whole series is based around the qualities of the human spirit affected by the medical environment," said Holler, 56, who with his wife Jeannie moved to Oro Valley a year ago for family reasons after 30 years in the Bay Area. "I wanted to create works that would be supportive and uplifting in those dramatic situations," such as in the case of a seriously ill child.

"The hospital, an environment with so much human emotion connected to it, became the catalyst for the ideas," he said.

The series, three 24-inch by 30-inch acrylics showing black and white desert morphing into vivid color in a central panel, is Holler's first public art commission, although he has painted evenings and weekends for a number of years.

"I go out into the desert and do pencil sketches or work in acrylic, which is spontaneous and flexible and can be used outdoors," he said. "Then I go back to the studio to create the final painting."

Although Holler and his wife plan to return to Northern California, he said he was very gratified by the hospital commission.

"At this phase in my life I wanted to do more painting," he said. "But I probably will never give up commercial work. I'm a visual artist by inclination and trade. I don't think it has to be one or the other. It's just the context and medium that changes."

Wilda Metzdorf: When Wilda Metzdorf and her husband Jim found their dream retirement home in SaddleBrooke in 1993, the former suburban Denver school principal wanted to duplicate something she'd seen at a recent home show - a copper tile frame for her new fireplace.

"The patinas were brass, bronze and black - beautiful," she said. She contacted the craftsman to find out how he did it, but he wouldn't tell her.

"I called all over Denver and finally found a book with a thousand recipes and they all scared me to death with chemicals I'd never heard of," she said. "I tried to figure out what I could manage in the backyard or the basement.

"I'd never done anything artistic, never considered myself an artist, although I always did things with my hands - needlepoint and sewing," she said.

Metzdorf, 66, started making copper tiles and valances and then moved on to copper wall "weavings" featuring South-western pots. She was in business. "I've probably made 800 pots for wall hangings," she said with a laugh. She's also made elaborately layered and colored copper crosses, hand-tooled copper picture frames, copper flowers and wall sconces.

She sells her work at SaddleBrooke art fairs and by word of mouth.

"People are always asking, can you make this or that?" she said.

Lately, she's experimenting with fused glass and enameled copper for a new line of Kachina masks.

The hospital commission is her first public art piece. "Canyon Wall," inspired by a visit to Canyon de Chelly in Northern Arizona, will be a 5.5-foot by 3-foot sculpture of layered sheet glass, ground glass and threads, framed by textured and enameled copper above and below. The piece will be lit from behind and suspended from the ceiling.

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