The Luhrs building, at the intersection of First Avenue and Jefferson Street, is somewhat magnificent--by Phoenix architectural standards. But inside the 1920s-era art-deco structure, the flat, patterned carpet has aged and the hallways smell, faintly, like dirty laundry. It is here, on the first floor, that you will find the reception area for the down-and-out--accused indigents whose hopes lie with the Maricopa County Public Defender's Office.
The words "Public Defender" are painted on the glass door in shiny black, reminiscent of a bookmaker's joint. Ceilings are low; the fluorescent light glows almost green. It's a utilitarian, no-frills environment for a clientele familiar with little else.
Upstairs in the Luhrs tower, the office of public defender Steve Avilla is dingy but cheerful. He tries to cater to his clients.
"The people I get, they kind of like someone they can talk to," Avilla says. "So I keep it real realistic, you know, you could come into my office and fall asleep and not feel bad at all."
To this end, he's taped kids' drawings to the door. A pocked dartboard serves as the dominant distraction. Next to it hangs an aging poster by the popular Southwestern artist R.C. Gorman. The paint has started to flake off its black, wooden frame.
A few blocks to the north and east--across Patriots Square and, figuratively, across the wide demographic gulf that separates polyester from silk--is a glossy, pink high-rise named One Arizona Center.
Up, up, up on the 19th floor, you'll find another R.C. Gorman--a whole row of them, in fact. But unlike Avilla's poster, these are originals, elegant line drawings from Gorman's early years, before there was such a thing as a mass-marketed Gorman poster. The original Gormans came from the "closet collection" of Edward "Bud" Jacobson, one of the first members of the law firm Snell & Wilmer. The drawings hang in a hallway; they are an aside, insignificant next to the rest of the fine art hanging on the walls of the firm's nine floors--elegant surroundings for clientele familiar with little else.
Since Jacobson joined the firm in 1950, his clients have included Arizona Public Service Company, Mayo Clinic and Arizona Broadcasters Association. He was the first law clerk of the Arizona Supreme Court and served as an assistant attorney general. But for decades, Jacobson has led a second existence. He's an art collector--bowls, drawings, African art. He's also responsible for amassing a stunning body of work by Arizona artists--mostly photographers--on behalf of his law firm.
Although the collection amassed by Jacobson for Snell & Wilmer is unique, the fact that he amassed it is not.
The late Orme Lewis, of the firm Lewis and Roca, was a passionate collector. So is Jack Brown, of Brown & Bain, in cahoots with his wife, Scottsdale gallery owner Suzanne Brown.
Long dismissed as a dusty cultural wasteland, Phoenix is in the midst of a renaissance. Critics say some of the world's most innovative public art now lines our thoroughfares. The public library, the art museum and the renowned Heard Museum are undergoing monumental expansions.
But before this recent hubbub, there was good art--if you knew where to look. Cruise Phoenix's central corridor. There you'll find the well-known displays of banks and corporations, and the more discreet collections of law firms like Lewis and Roca, Snell & Wilmer, Brown & Bain, and O'Connor Cavanagh Anderson Westover Killingsworth and Beshears.
These august institutions conspire neither to flaunt nor to conceal their treasures. If you happen to run in those circles, they are for your enjoyment. If you don't--and long to bask in the splendor of Arizona's finest art collections--perhaps the simplest remedy is to hire a good lawyer.
@body:Clergy and royalty were the original patrons of the arts.
"The potentates and the princes, the popes and the priests whose dynastic largess and critical instincts coddled the enduring masterworks of the world" were the first serious collectors, writes Marjory Jacobson (no relation to Bud) in Art for Work, an examination of 40 corporate art collections from around the world. With the end of feudalism came the advent of big business and the first independent art collectors: the Medici of Florence, Italy. Wealthy merchant-bankers, the Medici championed artists such as Brunelleschi, Donatello, Ghiberti and, of course, Michelangelo. Their devotion to the visual arts made Florence the art mecca.
While royalty and religion continued to dominate the collection of art through the ages, businesspeople joined in--particularly Americans. From the industrial revolution on, writes Marjory Jacobson, "The American entrepreneur embraced art collecting and sometimes fledgling art patronage as one of the many validators of his newly found nobility."
In a trend piece headlined "Firms Turning to Art for Image, Investment," the National Law Journal marveled in 1984 that "three-piece-suited attorneys can be seen scouring the bohemian sections of their cities, haunting galleries and lofts, bargaining with dealers and artists in search of treasures." Phoenix was ahead of its time. Bud Jacobson, Jack Brown and Orme Lewis had already honed their skills and secured impressive collections by the time that article appeared. In the late Eighties and early Nineties, all three of the law firms relocated to more palatial spaces in the city's central corridor, and Jacobson and Brown responded by expanding their collections.
Another local firm, O'Connor Cavanagh, lacked a staff connoisseur in 1985 when it relocated to Central and Camelback. So the firm purchased good taste--hired consultants acquired a 300-piece contemporary collection from scratch.
The firm Streich Lang, now in the process of planning its own move, has asked the same consultants, Joan Prior and John Armstrong, to put together a collection of contemporary work. The collecting is in its earliest stages, Prior says.
It is curious that a firm being sued by the Resolution Trust Corporation for $400 million would spend precious dollars on an apparent frivolity. But it's not so curious, really. An art collection can be a signal of good taste and fine breeding, bait to lure status-conscious clients, creations to smooth and soften an often sharp-cornered profession.
In addition, many companies use art collections to improve their public image. The increasingly embattled tobacco company Philip Morris, Inc., which underwrites large exhibitions and maintains its own large collection, is among the best-known examples.
Of the five law firms mentioned here, only Snell & Wilmer has orchestrated a public show of its work. The photography collection was shown at the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson and at Phoenix Art Museum; the Arizona Commission on the Arts toured the collection to rural communities.
Jacobson says the tour's purpose was twofold. "I think that corporations that show it [an art collection] and send it around hope that people would like them better because of it, and I would be fibbing if I didn't say that when it went up, in addition to wanting a unique collection shown, I didn't hope people would like us," he says.
Marilyn Zeitlin, director of the Arizona State University Art Museum, bristles at the suggestion that art is used by law firms as a marketing tool.
"That sounds demonic," she says. "And I don't think it is. I don't. I don't think it's demonic at all, any more than having clean carpet is reprehensible. And I think certainly, yes, they [law firms] want to convey something about class and something about elegance, but I think usually they also really like the stuff."
That is certainly true in the case of Orme Lewis, who so loved his collection of Alexander Calder prints that he turned the water off in one of the bathrooms in his Paradise Valley home so he could stack wall-less prints in the bathtub, just to keep them near.
The acquisitions of Lewis, Bud Jacobson and Jack Brown reflect a rich history of collecting. Lewis had a passion for photographing storm clouds. Two examples of his work hang on the 14th floor at a rival firm, Snell & Wilmer, thanks to one of his dearest friends, Bud Jacobson. Jacobson even broke from his contemporary theme to hang "the ultimate clich"--a set of prints by Sir Leslie Matthew "Spy" Ward, a British caricaturist--in the firm's new library.
The prints belonged, after all, to firm founder Frank Snell himself. "So we thought, 'To hell with fashion.' Up they go and up they stay," Jacobson says grandly.
At Brown & Bain, the computer art collected by Jack Brown, who specializes in intellectual property law, is more memorable than the contemporary Western Americana that--while gorgeous--can also be found on the walls of his wife's gallery in Scottsdale.
The O'Connor Cavanagh consultants wisely considered posterity. They commissioned a series of wood engravings of the firm's six senior partners, offering a stunning history lesson in contemporary style.
Perhaps one day, the art and memorabilia collected by Phoenix's legal royalty will be accessible to the public, la Florence. On a regular basis, though, most of the office space is locked, opened with the slide of a plastic security card. Clients who plunk down the going hourly rate of $85 to $300 can tour the art, too.
"That's the case with private collections of any kind," ASU's Zeitlin says, noting that only about 4 percent of ASU's collection is on public display at any given time. There's no law about sharing privately acquired works of art, Zeitlin adds. "They are, after all, luxury goods."
@body:When Orme Lewis died in 1990 at the age of 87, a daily newspaper eulogized him as a man of political involvement, community service and legal precedent. He served as an undersecretary of the interior under President Dwight Eisenhower, and his firm, Lewis and Roca, successfully argued the landmark Miranda case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
"He was also an art collector," the obituary mentioned.
In fact, his friends say, collecting was Lewis' lifeblood. In a presentation at Phoenix Art Museum last January, on what would have been Lewis' 91st birthday, attorney John Frank said of his former partner: "He collected exuberantly and with the serenity of an absolutely free spirit. He never accepted doctrine or affiliated with any school; he bought paintings and particularly prints because he liked them."
Lewis encouraged his young lawyers to replace the diplomas on their walls with art. At one time, the firm even paid to have works that attorneys purchased privately framed; new associates are still invited to choose pieces for their offices from pieces in storage.
Walking the halls of Lewis and Roca, you get the feeling you're in someone's living room. A real estate lawyer whose work required tedious attention to minutiae, Lewis hated things that matched. The art is, by design, framed and matted differently--a bright hodgepodge of well-loved works.
Lewis died before the art was hung in the firm's new oak-trimmed offices at Two Renaissance Square, at Central and Washington. A small bronze of Lewis--eyes twinkling, hands in suit pockets--sits on a shelf in the reception area on the 19th floor. Lewis insisted that the bronze, a gift, not be displayed until he died, says Rich Goldsmith, a 20-year firm veteran and Lewis' anointed curator of the firm's art.
Goldsmith wears a scholarly, thick beard and a Jerry Garcia tie. His clients include the Phoenix Suns. Goldsmith isn't sure that Lewis had a grand plan for drawing him into art collecting. He began consulting with Lewis in the early Eighties, when Goldsmith started his own personal collection; soon he was in charge of the firm's collection, as well. Today, Goldsmith's own home is packed with art, and he's the chairman of Phoenix Arts Commission. He learned a lot about art and collecting from Lewis, he says. One thing he learned is that not all subject matter is appropriate for the workplace.
Lewis primarily collected prints, but one of his favorite artists was John Dawson, a local painter and sculptor best known for his use of masks. Goldsmith admires Dawson, but other members of Lewis and Roca didn't share Goldsmith's and Lewis' enthusiasm for the artist's work. It is rather sinister, particularly the large oil of Ku Klux Klan members standing before the American flag that Goldsmith hung outside his office in 1984. Twenty-eight staff members signed a petition asking Goldsmith to take the painting down. He did, reluctantly, at Lewis' gentle urging.
Upon reflection, Goldsmith agrees with the decision; he believes an African-American collector now owns the work.
Lewis' favorite pieces are prominently displayed in the reception area and outside the office that was to be his. They include the stark, black-and-white work of Spanish artist Antoni Tapies, mixed-media creations by Robert Motherwell and an ink wash by Paul Jenkins. Arizona artists Ed Mell, Woodward Payne and John Waddell are also included.
Lewis loved the contemporary "New York" artists--Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly, Motherwell and others. He also loved the work of the late Frank Lloyd Wright, a longtime friend and client. Wright's firm, Taliesin West, designed Lewis and Roca's present office space and its former space in the First Interstate Bank building. Reproductions of Wright's designs hang in the office, which is most noted for its Wrightness in the light that pours through an octagonal oculus in the ceiling of the reception area.
In addition to the original works, the collection includes many posters and prints, for Lewis tried to limit costs to an average of $300 per piece--including the cost of framing.
To Goldsmith's disappointment, there's not much for him to do anymore in the way of art acquisition. The firm stopped buying in the late Eighties, and late in life, Lewis turned to coin collecting.
Two storage rooms a few floors below the offices are lined with stacks of framed work.
"You see why we don't need any more," Goldsmith says wryly, turning a key in the door of one of the storage rooms and flipping on a light to reveal the lode.
In one of the storage rooms, a life-size plastic skeleton used for courtroom exhibits keeps vigil with framed prints and posters and a dusty cardboard box that appears to hold framed diplomas. Contraband? No, Goldsmith explains, the box holds Paul Roca's photographs.
Roca, the firm's other founding partner, died in 1979. While Lewis' great passion was art, Roca was obsessed with Sonoran missions. He traveled the Southwest and Sonora, photographing every Spanish church he could find. Arizona Historical Society published his book, Paths of the Padres Through Sonora, in 1968. (Bud Jacobson recalls that Roca used to host luncheons at which he would regale his associates in the legal community with slide shows of his tours.)
There is no printed catalogue of the complete Lewis and Roca collection, although in the reception area there used to be a stack of handouts describing the work on the 19th and 20th floors, Goldsmith says.
In the other storage room, Goldsmith searches in vain for the index-card file documenting the collection--Lewis started it years ago.
Unable to find it, Goldsmith turns instead to flip through the stacks, admiring work he hasn't seen for a while.
@body:Bud Jacobson is ready for any question, armed with a booklet titled "Everything you ever wanted to know about Snell & Wilmer's New Offices--and more." The 26-page pamphlet includes a list of the artwork on display (with lengthy descriptions of major pieces); Jacobson provides the names of the carpet installer, plaster manufacturer and cactus supplier.
Jacobson is proud of what hangs on the walls--including his own "closet" collection of art, which he sold to the firm for half its appraised value, and the collection of Arizona photography he began acquiring on behalf of the firm in 1985.
But he's also fond of the walls themselves: the wall of oxidized copper he convinced the San Francisco designers to install in the reception area and the barrio-esque cream stucco near the elevators on each floor.
When Jacobson first suggested that the office should reflect its Southwestern roots, the designers cried, "Kitsch!" Jacobson sent them to Sedona. "They really got in the mood," he says, gesturing to the sandstone cactus garden in the waiting area.
Jacobson, 72, wears gold-rimmed glasses and hearing aids in both ears, but leaps to catch elevators. These offices are his work of art.
"It's really kind of glamorous," he says, eyes flashing like topaz as he gazes up at a skylight beyond the copper wall.
Jacobson's immersion in the arts is a faint memory. Decades ago, Frank Snell asked him to rewrite the bylaws of Heard Museum. That was his first formal introduction, but art was in the family. Jacobson's parents were both "hobby painters," he says.
"They were great golfers and fair painters. They were both lawyers," he adds. A sister is an interior designer.
The Snell & Wilmer collection features, almost exclusively, work by Arizona photographers or photographs made in Arizona by out-of-state photographers. Jacobson, who has, in his day, created other collections (including American drawings, African art and American "turned wooden bowls"; he also helped to organize Heard Museum's first show of paintings), chose Arizona photography because it was relatively inexpensive, and because no one else had done it.
Both ASU's Marilyn Zeitlin and Shelley Cohn, executive director of Arizona Commission on the Arts, say Jacobson is responsible for enhancing the value of Arizona photographers' work. Featured in the collection are images captured by more than 50 photographers, including locals Mark Klett, Jon Gipe and Barry Goldwater. Jacobson has also chosen unknown artists such as Jerry Walters, a Prescott mailman Jacobson knew as a child. Walters photographs simple scenes in his adopted hometown--a backyard, a modest living room.
One of the most striking series is by Craig Smith, who created a special, shadowless light box to photograph five umpires' and catchers' masks borrowed from the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
Subjects range from gorillas to tepees to "Big Shirley on Her Wedding Day," a 1977 black-and-white by Hal Martin Fogel, featuring a woman standing on South Mountain, at 2,330 feet, somber in her wedding dress and holding a bunch of flowers. She is, indeed, rather big.
Jacobson turns a corner and stops abruptly. He wants to be sure to mention that lawyers decorate their individual offices themselves. A few feet later, the enormous stuffed caribou hovering over partner Bob Hoskins' desk comes into view.
He pauses again, this time by a color photograph by Charles Braendle titled "Great Sand Dunes."
"Those are the sexiest sand dunes I have ever seen," Jacobson says, drawing his eyes over the pale, caramel waves in a mock leer.
Later, over lunch, Jacobson discusses the issue of choosing art for a work space. He says the firm gave him carte blanche, and "I never turned away from any piece of an artist's work . . . for censorship reasons."
While censorship was not an issue in his decision to purchase work, Jacobson does admit that he moved two photographs from the collection at the request of others. One was of a young woman in a bikini, standing--in a nonsuggestive pose--in front of a swimming pool. Staff members asked him to relocate the photograph because they thought the subject bore a remarkable resemblance to a woman on staff. The photograph now hangs in the "art closet," where work is stored.
The other photograph, which depicts a sad Christ on the cross, was moved from the wall outside an attorney's office to a public area after the attorney complained that the sight of the photo on such a regular basis was depressing.
Jacobson chuckles to himself, pondering censorship. There is, he admits, an Arizona photographer who makes some wonderful images of nude women in boxes. Would he dare to put such work before his colleagues' eyes? "I have asked myself--I've not answered myself yet--but I've asked myself. . . . I don't know the answer to that."
Maybe, Jacobson says, he "lucked out." The walls are full. So perhaps the question will never have to be answered. Like Lewis and Roca, Snell & Wilmer has, for now, stopped collecting.
@body:When O'Connor Cavanagh relocated in 1985, the firm owned "three pieces of Southwestern art and a few posters," says Hank Timmerman. He was one of three young partners assigned to establish an art collection for the firm.
It was accomplished, as Timmerman says, "in one fell swoop."
When Timmerman told a colleague from another firm of his plan to introduce his associates to 300 pieces of cutting-edge contemporary art, the colleague asked if Timmerman had any guarantee of job security.
He possessed a moderate but vicarious knowledge of art--his wife, Kate, worked at the time at Phoenix Art Museum. Unlike Jacobson and Lewis, Timmerman and his associates didn't consider themselves "art gurus." So O'Connor Cavanagh hired Joan Prior and John Armstrong, who took on the firm as their first consulting job. Prior and Armstrong spent a year traveling to regional art centers, picking more than 300 contemporary pieces to fill conference rooms and hallways.
The collection has been well-received. Docents from Phoenix Art Museum and Scottsdale Center for the Arts have toured it. Even out-of-state tourists get an occasional run-through. And other companies, such as Pinnacle West and Streich Lang, have since hired Prior and Armstrong to create collections for them.
O'Connor Cavanagh's collection is an eclectic mix of abstract, figurative and realistic works by artists from all over, but primarily from the Southwest. Contrary to Orme Lewis' standard, each framable work is encased in mahogany to match the office trim and doorways.
The whole collection went up in a single weekend.
Few of Jack Brown's employees are going to badmouth art chosen by the boss and his wife. But at O'Connor Cavanagh, things were different. Scott Rose, a partner at the firm, recalls the day he and his colleagues were introduced to the collection. Most had no idea what was coming. "It certainly created a stir when it happened, and it went on for a long time," Rose says. "There were some people that were, you know, pretty upset."
Rose emphasizes that he enjoys the collection, though he doesn't love every piece. "Of course," he adds, "you had other people who are more traditionalists in their taste, whether they like ducks and decoys or whether they like cowboys and Indians."
While the subject matter is not, for the most part, jarring, many of the pieces in the O'Connor Cavanagh collection are not button-down material.
Much of the work is abstract, the methods unorthodox. There's a conference room full of Linda Mundwiler's brightly colored "scratchings"--abstracts with the suggestion of landscapes. And then there's a beautiful, orange-and-yellow-hued textile piece, finely stitched over in a random pattern with red thread. Prior explains that the creator, Charles Hill, actually buried the piece underground for a while to add texture and an aged quality.
Rose says the biggest complaint among his colleagues was that the work wasn't "lighter" in tone and subject matter. "You don't want a picture on a piece of art that looks like a woman who just received a legal bill," he says, describing a work depicting an unhappy woman. "I wish I could tell you that that was my quote, but it actually comes from one of my partners." Rose declined to share the name of the partner or the work in question.
Each of O'Connor Cavanagh's conference rooms contains the work of one artist, so viewers can educate themselves by seeing a small body of work. A small, gold plaque outside the door of each room bears the name of each artist.
"It made the artist really feel like they were something, not a flower on the wall," John Armstrong says proudly. Timmerman admits that the attorneys have difficulty remembering the artists' names, and refer to the rooms instead by number or location.
But that doesn't mean they don't respect the artists, he adds quickly. To the contrary. In the decade since the collection was first hung, Timmerman says, "I've watched some of my partners' appreciation for the arts change markedly." @rule:
@body:Jack Brown of Brown & Bain makes no pretense. "My interest in art is entirely inspired by my wife," he says.
While Jack, over 33 years, built a law practice heavy in copyright issues and other matters of intellectual property, his wife, Suzanne, set the pace for art collecting in the Valley.
She and the late Elaine Horwitch, who would later own Horwitch Galleries, began by carting around art in the back of their station wagons, hence the company name, Art Wagon Galleries. The two held "art parties" at private homes, Tupperware-style. Today, Suzanne Brown owns two galleries on Main Street in Scottsdale. She shows mainly "Western contemporary Americana." Suzanne agrees with Jack's assessment of his interest in art--but only to a point. "I really think Jack has a great aesthetic sense. I really do," she says. Over the years, he's developed favorite artists, such as Mir and Kandinski; he has his own strong taste, which sometimes differs from hers.
And, his wife adds, Jack is an avid doodler. Anything framable? "I'm a very harsh critic," Suzanne says. "Other people might think so."
Suzanne has always had a hand in the decoration of her husband's office space. Years ago, she recalls with a laugh, she would--at Jack's request--hang paintings for him when he would relocate. Then he would always switch the paintings around.
When it came to relocating to Phoenix Plaza, which soars above the former site of a Bob's Big Boy restaurant at Central and Thomas, Jack turned most of the task of art selection and placement over to Suzanne and Marley Hedges, his executive assistant. Suzanne and Marley spent a year staging the relocation of the art. It took seven weeks just to hang the work.
Most of the pieces in the collection had been acquired over a 30-year period, but larger works, such as a brilliant cloud scene by Ed Mell, were commissioned.
Unlike that at Snell & Wilmer's office, where the interior design itself competes for attention, the artwork on Brown & Bain's walls is the single dominant decoration. Except, Hedges observes, for the views of downtown Phoenix from the attorneys' offices.
"Every single corner of the office . . . needed a piece of artwork," Hedges says. This led to a sort of pecking order of art placement, in which the biggest roosters get the best art. The grander original works are placed in high-visibility areas, where attorneys and clients travel. Brown's personal office holds cherished original work by Mir. Attorneys have original work or prints in their offices; the paralegals' cubicles have posters.
Every coffee station and photocopy machine is accentuated by a print or poster; so is every rest room, water fountain and telephone area. The accounting department is decorated exclusively with posters, as is the employee lounge, which Jack Brown designed himself in primary colors.
The collection of originals housed in the hallways outside attorneys' offices features whimsical otters and wilderness scenes by Alvin Eli Amason, an Alaskan artist. A firm favorite is Howard Post, who uses light and shadow to create impressionist works.
The lawyers' lounge is filled with more outrageous pieces, not for consumption by the paying public: bright, geometric sculpture, a table shaped like a cow and a larger-than-life statue of a shocking-blue-suited attorney type.
Firm lore has it that the blue man was originally destined for the reception area, only to be banished by a senior partner; Suzanne Brown and Marley Hedges say he was always meant for the private lounge. Another myth: that Suzanne must approve all art that is to hang in personal offices. Absolutely not, she says.
Lynne Adams, recently named a partner of the firm and assigned a different office, says she always hangs the work of her husband, local artist Bob Adams, on her walls. She's considering a display of his work, composed completely of matches, for her new space.
The firm does not make a practice of loaning its work, Hedges says. "Historically, no, it sort of stops here. . . . Insurance poses a problem, you know."
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Some of the Brown & Bain collection has, however, been seen outside the office walls, reprinted on invitations and announcements in a deft marketing move. Artist Patti Cramer's "Face the Music," a painting depicting a musical performance, was used to announce the firm's sponsorship of a Phoenix Symphony performance.
One of the Browns' favorite artists is Richard Bunkall, whose realistic paintings depict the faades of fading moviehouses. After the firm invested in a luxury sky box at America West Arena, Hedges says, Bunkall was commissioned to create a work that was later printed on invitations to basketball games.
The movie advertised on the marquee? White Men Can't Jump.