Best Of :: Shopping & Services
Some people call it "The Flintstones Bank." Others call it "that strange VNB over on 44th Street." But whatever you call it, you gotta love this flagstone-studded Chase bank branch, which the city is trying to get listed as an historic landmark. Built in 1968, the unique structure and its park-like surroundings are situated in a high-profile, high-dollar location. One of a series of the now-defunct Valley National Bank's commissioned structures, the 44th Street and Camelback Road branch is a rare, artistic, architectural wonder: an oddly shaped bank that has rocks in the walls and that looks to be held up by a garden of concrete mushrooms. It's more than just a quirky building; it's a part of the legacy of Walter Bimson, the late chairman of the board at Valley National Bank, who in the late 1950s became convinced he could help the then-small city of Phoenix grow if he populated it with interesting bank buildings.
Bimson built other gorgeous VNB branches, and his building streak led the professional journal Arizona Architecture to dub him "a leader in the use of architectural sculpture" in 1960. But none was so gorgeous as the Frank Henry-designed bank on East Camelback. Surrounded by giant concrete "mushrooms," its crescent-shaped main building frames a northwesterly view of Camelback Mountain and is studded with the same rough-hewn rocks that highlight its stunning, curved interior. It's a Modernist building that somehow transcends Modernist style with towering interior aluminum structures that hold the "floating" ceiling aloft and that match the scalloped concrete columns outside the building. A pair of John Waddell sculptures — Despina Seated and Martha, both from 1967 — beckon to us whenever we drive by, and they and the rest of this gorgeous landmark's ultra-cool, park-like setting make us want to transfer all our bank accounts here, just so we'll have an excuse to drop by from time to time and drink all this mid-century beauty in.
Now that Phoenix has "made it," we're all searching for the little things to help round out our city's Mid-Century Modern aesthetic. And See Saw is here to deliver. Run by six young and talented designers and boasting two massive old-school letterpresses, See Saw is more than an Urban Outfitters-style paper factory. Its cards and calendars capture a clean, minimalist design that stands out in a very powerful but understated way. And it's a heavy hitter, to boot. Boasting a client list that includes the much missed Palatte restaurant and Mayor Phil Gordon, these designers are quickly establishing themselves as the people to go to in Phoenix for hip and unique cards, invitations, or branding. Their blog is pretty cool, too.
So you've run out of gouache and if you don't get some fast, your artistic muse will leave you. No worries. Head to Ash Avenue in Tempe and talk to the good people at Wet Paint. Whether you're in need of blue Prismacolor pencils to lay down the sketches for your next Web comic or bamboo brushes to practice Japanese calligraphy, you'll find Wet Paint well stocked. Also check out the posters and fliers near the store's entrance for events around town targeting art enthusiasts. As for that muse, it comes and goes, but maybe a few peeks at the art mags on display at Wet Paint will give you a jolt of inspiration.
Painters have it easy when it comes to sourcing materials. Paints and canvases are available at art shops, craft stores, even Wal-Mart. On the other hand, if you specialize in "found object" or recycled art, you'll likely be stuck scouring back alleys and diving through smelly dumpsters, unless you're in the know about The Town Dump, a funky backwoods store hidden in Cave Creek. The dilapidated red shack is chock-full of treasures, from cowhides and bear pelts to printed textiles, antique hardware, and vintage tin ceiling tiles. Need an authentic lasso for a Wild West-themed project? Castoff rebar bits or iron scrollwork for welding? A 7-foot-tall wooden cross for your giant Piss Christ knockoff? Yeah, it's all here. Grab some funky estate sale castoff and display it in a gallery, à la Marcel Duchamp's Fountain — just don't expect us to buy it (literally or figuratively) as fine art.
For those who lust after art and craft supplies, there is only one place you need to visit to completely load up. Sorry, but it ain't fancy. The good news, though, is that there's likely one in your neighborhood. Dollar Tree dollar stores (and we're not talking about just any dollar store; it's gotta be a Dollar Tree) are the absolute best for basic art supplies. They have paint, markers, poof balls, and stickers as well as pads of paper, rulers, scissors, tissue paper, crayons — you get the idea. And it's all dirt-cheap. If you have an art studio or just a kitchen table, run out and stock up so you're ready when the creative spirit strikes you next.
Ready yourself for Project Runway status by learning how to sew at this cute-as-a-button shop in Phoenix. Bernina Connection offers "bring your own project" open sessions on nights and weekends; just bring snacks to share and come ready to giggle with the local gals. Don't worry about the fact that you can't find a Jo-Ann Fabric in central Phoenix to save your life — Bernina sells all the fabric and notions you'll need. Classes for all skill levels are offered, so get on down there and sew yourself a vintage apron or a recycled T-shirt quilt.