CASTLE HOT SPRINGS

GENTEEL, DISHABILLE AND DECIDEDLY UNDERSTATED----WHO SAID COMATOSE?---ARIZONA'S GRANDE DAME MAY HAVE ONE LAST OPENING ON HER DANCE CARD

But the buildings at Castle Hot Springs are disappointingly nondescript. Yellow clapboard, they date from the 1890s to the 1920s, and are a generic bungalow style that manages to leave you with the impression there ought to be an ocean somewhere nearby.

Even on the inside, the decor looked rugged, almost bare. "It was sparsely furnished, with no clutter," says Kent Boese, who has just received his master's degree from the school of design at Arizona State University. The hotel, he explains, was decorated in the Arts and Crafts style being preached in the first decades of this century by Gustav Stickley. The hotel's interior ran toward Mission furniture with occasional pieces of wicker. Navajo rugs covered the floors and were draped over banisters and the backs of chairs--Stickley especially recommended decorating with Navajo rugs, since usefulness was important in the Arts and Crafts look.

A furniture designer and publisher of the influential Craftsman magazine, Stickley had a love of American Indian craftwork that was in tune with the tenor of the times. The end of the 19th century was a time of great collecting by the Bureau of American Ethnology, which sent anthropologists out to gather up Native American artifacts. The time also saw the founding of the great museums, which displayed what the anthropologists collected. So while old photos of Castle Hot Springs show a place that looks simple, almost Spartan, "It was an elitist style," Boese says. The decor represented inconspicuous consumption. The very rich positively enjoyed roughing it. Malcolm Hirsh, who owned the place in the late Sixties and early Seventies, remembers the time he had workmen install a new light fixture for Richard Deupree. Until that time, the chairman of the board of Procter and Gamble had been using a bare light bulb on a cord.

"It wasn't ten minutes before he called me up and said, 'Malcolm, if I don't get my light bulb back, I'm leaving,'" Hirsh says.

@rule:
@body:At the time of the fire, Castle Hot Springs was owned by Franz and Mae Sue Talley, who also owned the Arizona Biltmore. Lost in the blaze was a great deal of the furniture, weavings, dishes and linens that made the resort so distinctive. Luckily, Mae Sue Talley had removed some of the Navajo rugs from the hotel before the fire. After the blaze, and after she discovered what it would cost to restore the Palm House, she donated Castle Hot Springs to the Arizona State University Foundation, on whose board she sits. Soon after, she donated the rugs, as well.

An exhibition at the Arizona State University art museum, on view through July 10, gives the public a chance to view the rugs, and to get an idea of how they were originally used. The Castle Hot Springs rugs were working rugs, not pieces of art hung on walls demanding that their craftsmanship be admired. They were on the floor of the dining room, and have coffee stains to prove it. They were even used as saddle blankets, and the durability of Navajo weaving is evidenced by how new the rugs still look, once years of horse sweat were removed.

"Middle grade, honest, earnest rugs," is how Ann Hedlund, a Navajo rug authority at ASU, describes them. Some of them were pretty quickly--one might even say carelessly--woven, so that a diamond design might start looking flattened and squashed as the weaver found herself running out of rug before she ran out of design. A period photo in a display case pictures guests on the front lawn, with Navajo rugs flung over the porch railing behind them. A tableau shows what the interior decor would have looked like: A couple of pieces of Mission furniture, a western painting and group of old saddle blankets evoke chilly winter evenings at the resort. Curator Heather Lineberry pointed up the useful nature of the rugs by exhibiting with them a collection of Teec Nos Pas pieces that were specifically woven as art, and have never seen a floor, let alone the back of a horse.

It doesn't take a trained eye to see that the Castle Hot Springs rugs are pretty easily bested when it comes to quality. That, however, is irrelevant to the purpose of the exhibition, which demonstrates two different approaches to weaving, one enmeshed in history, the other in aesthetics.

"They make a wonderful contrast, the two collections," Lineberry says. "It's interesting for museums to deal with those issues."
@rule:
@body:Pat Talley remembers celebrating her 21st birthday at the resort her parents once owned. "We swam in the pool by moonlight, we had a wonderful outdoor cookout in the mountains and everyone fell asleep by the campfires," she recalls. "And we watched the comet Kahoutek come overhead."

With the romanticism to be expected of someone describing a former family home, Pat Talley talks about Castle Hot Springs' "magic." "People are spiritual when they're up there," Pat Talley says. "They're close to nature and to God."

For almost two decades, she has kept pieces of furniture and rugs from the resort, as well as guest ledgers, menus and photographs. The Talley family also kept several hundred acres of land for itself after it donated Castle Hot Springs to the ASU Foundation, and Pat Talley and her mother run a working cattle ranch on it. Pat Talley laughs as she explains that she's been compiling material for a book on the resort since 1968, visiting families from back east who stayed there, and who have photos and memorabilia. She calls herself "the girl from way out west," as if to point up that her natural habitat is among those people.

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