Inside the Art
Writer Shannon Severson
Photo by Brenna Zumbro
Founded in 2004 by the Sedona Visual Arts Coalition, Sedona Open Studio Tours allow visitors to see, learn and understand the artists of Sedona with an in-depth, personal experience. This November 10-12, attendees will embark on self-guided tours of artists’ studios in picturesque Sedona and the Verde Valley. With 66 artists and more than 40 studios participating, it’s a chance to meet a broad range of artists, learn their techniques by witnessing the creative process first-hand, and to have the chance to hear the personal stories of profoundly talented people.
“For the visitor, the Open Studios experience invites the artwork to speak much more intimately to them, as it provides an opportunity to gain a deeper appreciation and understanding of the creative process,” says co-chair Mike Upp. “The wide range of style, quality and art forms is a testament to the thriving vitality of the arts community here.”
Artists look forward to meeting patrons in person, giving demonstrations of their techniques, and building relationships with collectors who enjoy visiting year after year. The hands-on learning aspect is a leading draw as attendees explore the variety of artists’ tools, materials and processes on display. When collectors take home a piece of art, it is imbued with the rich experience of purchasing it from the source, and the story behind each item makes it all-the-more meaningful.
Upp and his co-chair, painter Julie Ronning Talbot, have lead and expanded the event over the last four years of its 14-year run, sponsored by its parent non-profit, Sedona Visual Artists’ Coalition, as well as local hotels, restaurants, the Sedona Arts Center and the Sedona Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center. Brochures with a complete list of participating artists, including a map, are available online and in restaurants and hotels around the area.
The tour runs daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is free to the public. Traditionally occurring during the last weekend in April, this is the first year that a fall tour has been added. More than 200 people are expected to attend.
Just a few miles south of Arizona wine country, Mike and Sharon Upp create primarily tabletop ceramics that are both functional and decorative, with styles that simultaneously complement and contrast each other.
“I always say that she’s the artist and I’m the craftsman,” says Mike. “She’s so creative, always coming up with new ideas. People enjoy the conversational value of having both our styles on their tables.“
Visitors to the Upp’s studio will see Mike demonstrating the challenging process of applying handles to mugs and to see each step in the potter’s process, with samples of unglazed and unfired pieces all the way to the finished product.
Mike’s philosophy embraces functional art that can be used on a daily basis. His pieces are structured and thrown on a wheel, and he produces three different lines. His dinnerware sets are extremely popular. Collectors often request personalized pieces, mixing and matching styles and often returning each year to add on serving pieces, like large-sized platters.
Sharon’s pieces in her “Live Edge” series are entirely hand-built from slabs of clay, which are rolled to an even thickness, then formed using inspiration from nature, particularly wood and twisted branches. She then uses various techniques—stamps, wet clay, white slip, hand painting and various glazes—to give each a unique look.
“I try to approach it from a place of no mind,” says Sharon. “I let the clay be what it wants to be. Sometimes I make handles for Mike’s pieces. Everything he does is very symmetrical, but that’s not me. It’s fun to add an unusual element to his classic pieces.”
Both Sharon and Mike enjoy being part of the arts community and living in a dark sky community. They are inspired by the proximity to nature, wildlife, and the opportunity to meet and learn from other artists. Instead of occasionally borrowing a cup of sugar from neighbors, they borrow ceramics materials.
The two are both alumni of Arizona State University, though they’ve lived around the country. Mike has always been a potter and worked in the arts. He ran the Tempe Arts Festival for three years. He has also worked in high-tech sales and marketing.
Mike’s combination of art and marketing savvy has made him a great organizer and publicist for the Sedona Open Studio Tour. Earth and Fire Ceramic Design joined the tour in 2013 when Mike offered to help with marketing in exchange for participation. At the time, there were 29 artists and the Upp’s studio was the only one outside of Sedona proper. That number has more than tripled.
“People thought I was crazy,” says Mike. “Believe it or not, we had 75 people come to our studio that first year. My goal became to recruit as many people in the Verde Valley as possible. We’ve been able to expand the geography and the quality and number of participating artists.”
Christine’s impressionist pastel and oil paintings have garnered awards, recognition, and the opportunity to teach around the world. Sedona Open Studio Tour attendees have the chance to visit the studio where she works at the Clarkdale home that she and her husband, Wayne (who she counts as her “biggest fan,”) completely renovated and have lived in since 2009. Located about 18 miles from Sedona, her studio is tucked into the hillside and the lack of fences allows coyotes, bobcats and javelinas to wander through as hawks soar overhead, enhancing the stunning views. The Debroskys built here with an eye toward hosting visitors.
“Thanks to the great tour organizers, I get about 50 to 60 people,” says Christine. “I’m out of the way, but I’m glad they are willing to come to see me. It’s so nice being up here and I get wonderful comments from visitors. They love the views and say they had no idea this was here.”
Growing up in New York’s Hudson Valley, Christine was always interested in art. Despite limited means, she utilized all that was around her to master the nearly elusive art of painting light. In the winter, the blanket of snow covering the land served as a neutral background for studying winter light. In spring and summer, she worked “en plein air,” as she continues to do today.
“Being outdoors meant I didn’t need a dedicated studio,” Christine says. “It probably had something to do with my becoming a landscape painter.”
Christine used the bright, transparent sunlight to paint every shade of green in the rich environment. She notes, though, that the weather there rendered a darker light than the bright Arizona skies she now works under.
“The light in Arizona really changed my work,” says Christine. “Even summers in the Hudson Valley were darker due to the thick canopy of trees. My color palette has changed here and I’m learning to paint light in a different way. When the sun sets low, the shadow of Mingus Mountain casts a rosy-red glow on Sedona’s rock formations.”
The landscapes she is known for are the beautiful result of her love of painting outdoors, though her travels have influenced her to add manmade elements to some of her paintings. She’s also experimenting with pieces that are more abstract.
“Until I began traveling to Europe, I was painting pure landscape,” Christine says. “After visiting Italy, I became really interested in architecture and saw my surroundings with a fresh eye. Traveling really gives one a different perspective.”
Those who travel to Christine’s studio on the tour will have the chance to see her in action and learn more about pastel painting, which, she notes, is a medium that people are less familiar with and explaining her process is rewarding. It also allows her to hear collectors’ responses to her work first-hand.
“When I sell through galleries, I rarely get to meet the people who purchase my work,” says Christine. “It’s nice to know they’re coming in because they’re specifically interested in meeting me and seeing my work. The tour has afforded me many opportunities, both to teach and to show my work in other venues, including a show I’m doing this fall at Sedona City Hall. It has been a really beneficial experience.”
“Whimsy in Metal” is a perfect description of Lon Walters’ work. The path that led him to creating art is as fascinating as the creations of copper, brass, bronze and steel that he designs and builds in his Sedona home studio.
Working with metal seems fitting for a man who spent 21 years soaring through the skies as a Navy pilot and, for a time, competed in vintage car racing. After retiring from the Navy, he learned to bake as a departure from the stress of flying, and eventually opened a bakery in San Diego where he specialized in cheesecakes. He is also a real estate agent and a writer, having written a weekly food column, a highly successful cookbook and an adventure novel. He is now working on a memoir for his grandchildren to read someday.
“I can’t sit still,” says Lon. “I don’t like to do the same thing over and over again. I like creating, and trying something new makes me problem solve. Some people count sheep before they go to sleep; I’m working out a problem with a sculpture I have in the garage.”
“My wife says I’m not just a type A personality, but a type AAA personality.”
He and Margi met when he was at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. They’ve lived in Sedona for 25 years and have two grown children and five grandchildren, along with two horses, two dogs, 40 birds and an 80 year-old tortoise.
Always keen to learn something new, Lon took a welding class and really enjoyed it. He then moved on to brazing, which uses a smaller torch, doesn’t penetrate the metal like welding does and is less messy. It’s a fitting skill for a car enthusiast, and nothing ever goes to waste in his garage or studio.
“I’ve been messing around with art my whole life and not well,” jokes Lon. “I’ve always wanted to do art and fortunately, we’re in a position that I can have a great time with it. It has been my full-time pursuit for the last three or four years.”
Lon began making garden insects for his own yard—friendly spiders, curious ants, and colorful dragonflies—and as his garden filled up, he gave many away to friends. When he became involved in the Open Studio Tour, he finished out a small shed on his property as a display area. It’s now filled with Lon’s imaginative creations—large, copper bubble wands that he was first inspired to make for his grandchildren (though even adults can’t help but be caught up in the wonder and fun of bubbles), magical flying machines, fantastical bar-top contraptions for displaying bottles of wine and accompanying glassware, circus art and wall sculptures. Visitors have plenty to smile at.
“Galleries are fine, but you don’t get a true sense of who is creating the art,” Lon says. “When Open Studios visitors take home one of my pieces, they’re not just bringing home art, they’re hanging a story on their wall or placing it in their garden. There’s a story behind every piece.”