Monthly archives: May, 2013

Dispatches: Scottsdale, Old and New

photo by Tom Grotta

Tom in front of the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, photo by Tom Grotta

We had reason to visit my old high school haunts in Scottsdale, Arizona earlier this month. It was a picturesque and delicious trip replete with stirring desert vistas and intriguing art and architecture site-ings.


Hotel Valley Ho, photo by Dru Bloomfield

Among them, the mid-century modern Hotel Valley Ho. The Hotel Valley Ho opened in 1956 and was a hideaway for Hollywood stars including Zsa Zsa Gabor, Janet Leigh, Tony Curtis and Bing Crosby. It also hosted Robert Wagner and Natalie Woods’ 1957 wedding reception. The hotel was saved from the wrecking ball in 2003 and re-opened in 2005 after an $80 million restoration, which Chicago reporter Hoekstra noted retained  the original “Jetsons-in-the-desert flavor”. We had a terrific lunch outside the pop-colored, revamped bar area. We saw similar  splashes of lime and aqua and orange that people have added to adobe and concrete facades throughout the city — a lively change from the olive that predominated in the 70s.

Rhonda and Carol underneath Randy Walkers "Entanglement"installation

Rhonda and Carol underneath Randy Walkers “Entanglement”installation, photo by Tom Grotta

We also found two art installations sponsored by Scottsdale’s Public Art Project. The first was Randy Walker’s Entanglement, his installation of solution-dyed acrylic braid at Scottsdale’s Bell Tower, which we knew about and made a point of finding and photographing.

randy walkers "Entanglement" installation detail

Randy walkers “Entanglement” installation detail, photo by Tom Grotta

With Entanglement, Randy Walker asks “What if the boundary of container and contained was blurred?”   The other was Rachel Bowditch’s Memory Room, which we stumbled upon on Marshall Way, one of two art sites set up in empty storefronts, in the greatly diminished  gallery area of old Scottsdale. Loosely inspired by Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own and the concept of a “memory palace’” first attributed to the Greek poet Simonides (556-468 BC) and further developed by Giulio Camillo (1480-1544) , Memory Room is a durational multi-media performance installation that investigates the relationship between women, writing and memory.

Rachel Bowditch's Memory Room

Rachel Bowditch’s Memory Room

A “memory palace” is a mnemonic system to spatially organize memories using specific ‘loci’ or spatial locations organized along a predetermined path. When items need to be remembered, one walks along the path to recall one memory at a time.  Memory Room layers a series of “memory palaces” of women writers—Emily Dickenson, Zelda Fitzgerald, Simone de Beauvoir, Virginia Woolf, Audre Lorde, Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath among many others—all women who made an indelible mark on the world of literature. There are live performances that are documented by video cameras, but the storefront site includes some exquisite textiles on which memories are written and women are memorialized in photos.  We did a bit of memory walking in the area ourselves, happy to see the Sugar Bowl  still holds its own on Scottsdale Road and even better, that the cheese crisp and Gaudi-esque decor at Los Olivios are just as good as we remembered.

Los Olivios, photo by Tom Grotta

Los Olivios, photo by Tom Grotta

More than 60 years since it opened, the restaurant is still family-owned and the tortillas and salsas are still homey and handmade.

Process Notes: Mary Giles on Inspiration and Influence

In April, Mary Giles received the Master of the Medium Award for Fiber from the James Renwick Alliance. In receiving the award, Giles spoke of her process and her sources of inspiration:

Mary Giles in Forest

Mary Giles amongst the California Redwoods, © Jim Harris

GIles Hairy Round Basket

“Copper Haze”, 2003, © John Koch


Giles Lakeview

Sunrise, St. Croix River, Minnesota, © Mary GIles

“I have always been influenced by place and especially the natural world in those places. In the early 80’s, having taken up scuba diving, I did a series based on sea life called “walking tentacles.” Later, during many trips to New Mexico, I discovered mesa forms as well as Native American kivas and petroglyphs. Those sources dominated my work for over 10 years. Most recently the changing light, colors, and patterns seen from our retirement home on the banks of the St. Croix River in Minnesota have informed by work. My ideas are an accumulation, my sources most often from nature and my pallet is drawn from the colors of earth, water, wood and stone.

I’ve been drawn to the woods most of my life, from childhood summers at a log cabin in northern Minnesota, to the redwoods of northern California, to the tropical jungles of Costa Rica, and now at our current home on the banks of the St. Croix River. From the St. Croix shore I have photographed many sunrises, reflections, shadows and moonlit nights. These scenes continually change throughout the day, from day to day, and season to season.

 "Sunrise", 2007, John Koch, St. Louis, MO

Detail, “Long Divide”, 2013, © Don Caspar

The materials I use on the surface of the coiled forms are often individually hammered pieces of twelve- to eighteen-gauge wire made of copper, tinned copper, iron, lead or brass.  In addition I use waxed-linen thread and fine wire. By torching the metals I am able to alter the colors in varying degrees enabling me to blend them from darks to brights.  I use this blending to interpret the colors, textures and light that I see in the natural settings.

Giles Boulders

Stone Boulders, © Mary Giles

Detail Large Boulder Sculpture

Detail, “Long Divide”, 2013, © Don Caspar

I became particularly excited about rocks ten years ago when my husband and I decided to build an addition to what was to become our retirement home.  Because this home is on a river in an old glacial landscape, the dozer unearthed a mountain of boulders. Philip Johnson, the architect, said, “I never met anyone who can talk about a pile of rocks.” Well, I never met Philip Johnson. I have photographed rocks in many parts of the world. I’m interested in all sorts of rocks: broken rocks, large rocks, pebbles and boulders. I love their surfaces aged by wear or accumulations. I find many forms in their crevices and shadows.

Mary Giles Tree Shot

Costa Rica © Mary Giles

In the winter we often go to a relatively remote Pacific location in Costa Rica. I spend hours walking the beach photographing yet more rocks, driftwood, and wave and animal patterns in the sand. On the walks I always carry two bags, one for trash and one for treasure.

In my studio I begin a new idea with a sketch. Most recently I have been building clay models. The models have helped me work through details and attempt more complex forms. I’m often asked how long it takes to complete a vessel. I don’t usually keep track but I do remember my first basket from the late 1970’s, three inches high, took twelve hours. My most recent piece, which is fifty inches long, took five months.

Grey Breakby Mary Giles, photo by Tom Grotta

Grey Break by Mary Giles, © Tom Grotta

Six years ago I started doing wall panels that dealt with my concerns about population. They are not baskets but the men they incorporate have been on my vessels for nearly thirty years. The first expression of this theme was directly on a 10 X 30-foot gallery wall. It was composed of hundreds of torched copper wire men arranged outwardly from dense to sparse.  I am still working with these ideas of overpopulation, density and boundaries.

The architect Le Corbusier said “creation is a patient search.” I so enjoy this peaceful experience. I feel fortunate to have found this work for myself. I am very grateful for your generous support. Thank you. “

Mary Giles – April 2013

Book Notes: Not Quite Beach Reads, but Recommended

A series of attractive books have wound up in our mailbox this spring.  None are quite right for the beach, but each immerses a reader in another culture, locale or artist’s viewpoint — a bit of an adventure without leaving home. Even for fans of indigo, like me, 61DVt8IGxzL._SX285_Indigo: The Color that Changed the World by Catherine Legrand (Thames & Hudson 2012)  is a revelation. The book covers geographical regions (Japan, China, India, Laos and Cambodia, Africa, Central America and Europe — who knew?) where the ancient art is still practiced and indigo forms a part of the fabric of everyday life. The differences and similarities in the uses of indigo in these varied locales is fascinating. There are 500 glorious photographs, many of them a full page each. It’s not a reference in the typical sense as others have covered this material more comprehensively, but a visual one. I have found myself repeatedly returning to the book and leafing through the images again just to immerse myself in the patterns and hues.

41hsTQd0R3L._SY380_A Handbook of California Design, 1930-1965, Craftspeople, Designers, Manufacturers, edited by Bobbye Tigerman (Los Angeles County Museum of Art and MIT Press 2013) offers more of a trip through time. Designed by acclaimed book designer Irma Boom, the pages look like newsprint and are handcut and edged in day-glo orange, the same color used for the cover. The photos and illustrations are nearly all in black and white and convey the design sensibility of the period, which was a halcyon period for design — California was “a breeding ground for new ideas to flourish without constraints,” and design benefited from its many institutions of higher learning and the technical and material innovations that WWII brought to the aerospace and defense industries. The connections and collaborations of the book’s subjects — from Harry Bertoia to Mary Ann DeWeese (Catalina Swimwear) to Charles and Ray Eames to Trude Guermonprez to Gertrud and Otto Natzler to browgrotta arts’ artists Ed Rossbach and Katherine Westpahl (featuring photos by Tom Grotta) and Kay Sekimachi — are mapped on a helpful chart. In each biography, the names of other subjects in the book appear in day-glo orange so that the reader can look for cross references. The biographies are brief and insightful.

61z5mPsxGvL._SX285_In Textiles: The Art of Mankind (Thames & Hudson 2012) Mary Schlosser sets out to explore the “continuum of creativity” that links ancient textiles to those created in the 21st century. Her chapter on structure, in which she argues that all textiles, even lengths of yardage, are three-dimensional objects takes an interesting look at non-tensional techniques, primarily basketmaking. The book contains a wealth of resources, including website addresses for artists and designers, and a staggering 1,058 illustrations. We were puzzled, though, by the author’s failure to mention browngrotta arts‘ website which has more than 1,000 images of textile art among the resources or list any of the 40+ catalogs on art textiles that we have published. Most disappointing — though she includes more than two dozen illustrations of work by Ed Rossbach, Katherine Westphal, Sara Brennan, Kay Sekimachi and Karyl Sisson, she fails to provide a website reference for any of them, even though there are images and information on each at Despite that omission — it’s a remarkable book, and well worth seeking out.