A Feast for the Senses at Sonoran Festival of Art Extravaganza

Writer Susan Kern-Fleischer
Photography Courtesy Morrie Farbman and the Arizona Culinary Institute

When ceramist Christopher Heede sits at his potter’s wheel the weekend of March 9 through 11, he’ll be surrounded by a large crowd of people as he throws his clay. But rather than demonstrating in his popular studio, Heede’s creative process will be on display at the Sonoran Festival of Art Extravaganza at Stagecoach Village, 7100 E. Cave Creek Rd. in Cave Creek.

Coordinated by the non-profit Sonoran Arts League, the free event takes place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday, and will feature a diverse selection of juried artists who will exhibit and sell their paintings, drawings, sculpture, jewelry, photography and mixed media creations.

In addition, the event will feature art workshops and demonstrations, culinary arts demonstrations, and the performing arts as well as a community resource expo featuring area non-profits, businesses, health, public safety and other educational information, and a youth art “For Art Stuff” garage sale fundraiser.

“We’re very excited to announce a new partnership with the Arizona Culinary Institute,” said Pat Bell-Demers, Sonoran Arts League executive director. “During all three days, their master chefs and students will work closely with the executive chef and owner, Carlos Marquez, from Indigo Crow to create a culinary courtyard in front of the popular restaurant.

“A craft beer garden will accompany the food area, and 25 percent of all food and beverage sales will benefit the Sonoran Arts League. In addition, visitors will be able to see the culinary masters create sugar sculptures, chocolate boxes and other creative culinary pieces of art.”

A Fascination with Clay
Heede is a long-time member of the Sonoran Arts League, and his Scottsdale studio is a popular stop on the league’s annual Hidden in the Hills artist studio tour in November. Not only do patrons stop to view his contemporary Raku vessels, decorative wall sculptures, ceramic pots and other stoneware, but his studio includes unique architectural elements and lush landscaping featuring more than 1,500 plants.

“I hired local architect William Bruder to design my studio in 1983, and then spent the next year building it myself,” Heede said. “While the construction took place, I lived on the grounds in a teepee with my dog and the coyotes for company. The experience of teepee life and building a structure with only basic construction skills was scary, yet awesome and exciting. It was a transformational phase of my life in which I grew stronger emotionally and creatively.”

Heede’s passion for art dates back to his early childhood. When he was eight years old, his family moved to Greece for two years, which had a big influence on him.

“I visited many ruins and museums throughout Greece, Italy and Germany,” he said. “My mother was a folk artist and my father could build anything. We always had a wood shop.”

At age 15, he was accepted into a gifted art program where he painted and started working in clay. The clay fascinated him, and he was immediately hooked.

“My nickname in high school was Dr. Mud because I was always covered in clay,” he said, laughing.

Inspired by Greek and Asian cultures, the beauty of nature and the vivid colors of the desert, Heede is always trying to expand his skills and push the envelope. His studio has three kilns—all of which he built himself, and has had to rebuild more than once.

In his most recent collection, he has been intrigued with making Raku-covered jars with exotic hardwood handles, such as tiger wood, purple heart, and zebra wood. He carves the wooden handles with a rough body grinder, leaving the marks and angular edges, and then finishes them with four coats of lacquer.

“They are like people with a hat on, giving them personality, all one of a kind,” he said.

In addition to having a booth at the festival, Heede will demonstrate all three days from noon to 12:30 p.m. near the center gazebo.

Chefs to Sculpt with Sugar,
Chocolate and Fruit
Festival patrons also will be treated to captivating one-hour demonstrations by Arizona Culinary Institute chefs at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. each day of the festival, just outside of Indigo Crow restaurant.

Friday, March 9, Chef Tracy Dewitt, a five-time Food Network Challenge award winner, will make sugar sculptures using techniques such as blowing, casting and pulling.

Chocolate lovers won’t want to miss Chef Jennifer Sedig Saturday, March 10 as she creates chocolate boxes and other abstract creations. Then, Sunday March 11, Chef Santos Villarico will create colorful fruit and vegetable carvings.

Chef Robert Wilson co-founded the Arizona Culinary Institute in 2001. The prestigious Scottsdale school has graduated 1,650 students, including former Governor Fife Symington.

Wilson said he hopes patrons to the festival will become excited about culinary arts and learn more about what the school has to offer.

“Culinary art is considered a fine art because it requires artistic skill, hard work and a lot of passion,” Chef Wilson said. “Students who attend Arizona Culinary Institute are exposed to great instructors who share their skills and passion with them, but in the end, whether it’s creating culinary art or grilling a steak, the students have to put in the hard work and long hours to succeed.”

Unlike a ceramic vessel or painting, the life span of culinary art is short.

“Sugar sculptures don’t travel well and break. Chocolate melts, and fruit and vegetables perish, so the art will only be available for viewing for an hour or so after the demonstration ends,” he said.

Garden Party Fundraiser
The Sonoran Art League’s annual garden party fundraiser and silent auction will take place Saturday, March 10 from 5 to 9 p.m. in the open courtyard of Stagecoach Village, along with the awards celebration for K-12 students. Admission is free, with 25 percent of all food and beverage sales benefitting the league. The fundraiser will also feature live music and a silent auction that will include more than 120 items.

“We invite everyone to come experience the arts and help us celebrate our creative community,” Bell-Demers said. “Whether you are a serious collector or just looking for inspiration, you’ll find a diverse selection of original fine art. Between the visual, culinary and performing arts, and our community resource expo, this will be a fantastic event!”


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