Art

Cosanti Is Auctioning Off the Newly Discovered Bells They Dug Up on the Property

Cosanti Is Auctioning Off the Newly Discovered Bells They Dug Up on the Property
Jessica Jameson

Cosanti, the Paradise Valley art enclave where Italian-born architect Paolo Soleri lived and worked for decades, stands today as a unique expression of creativity in a now-affluent part of the city. Soleri was a student of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, and there are glimpses of his influence at Cosanti. But whereas Wright used more angular lines in his work, Soleri’s are mellow, almost to imitate nature.

The property seems like it could exist on another planet, and looks like it could be the inspiration behind some of Hollywood’s most successful science-fiction blockbusters. Think Tatooine’s rounded clay rooftops from Star Wars, mixed with the open-air structures in a crowded Moroccan marketplace. Then take all of that and add raised geometrical designs in the walls, leaning pillars, and rounded windows and you’ve got half the picture of what to expect when touring Cosanti.

And after all these years, it still has the power to surprise even the people who are most familiar with it.

Cosanti’s famous windbells are its signature product. These bronze or ceramic bells are cast in molds that were made over 60 years ago, and are just as magnificently designed as their environment. Dangling from trees and other open spaces, the Cosanti bells and their fixtures range from a single bell to many cascading in groups of different sizes and shapes perfectly balanced under their frames. They are like the sonorous earrings of the gods.

Recently, crews were doing some restoration work on an aging structure on the property when they made a surprising discovery: decades-old ceramic pieces were found buried between the overgrown oleander shrubs and tree roots.

“When we removed all of this debris that had been lying there for 30 years,” says Mark Johnson, Cosanti general manager, “we found nearly 1,000 pieces of ceramic. Some of it was undamaged, some of it was cracked, and it was like a bell graveyard almost — it was unbelievable!”

Johnson says that one of Cosanti’s original artisans who discovered the buried pieces remembers making some of them. She says they date back to the 1960s.

To raise money for the nonprofit Cosanti Foundation, a number of the newly unearthed bells are being auctioned off this weekend. Taking these newly discovered items and putting them in an auction for Cosanti’s biggest supporters not only gives them provenance — it's also an act of gratitude.

“We started archiving [the bells], and myself and our CEO wanted to celebrate what we've done in the past, and bring in some of our longtime customers to thank them for the support and show them what we’re doing,” Johnson explains. “So we picked eight to 10 of these, you know, 40- to 50-year-old ceramic bells that were found and we asked our artisans to develop unique structures. We’re recognizing the past with the bells and then our artisans are creating new special assemblies to represent what we're doing going forward.”

There will be 50 to 60 long-time supporters invited to the auction. Johnson says all the funds from everything they produce and money from the auction will go to the Cosanti Foundation, “which is our own nonprofit and is really dedicated to working with people, you know: education, agriculture, and ecology,” Johnson adds.

Although you may not be invited to participate in the windbell auction, Cosanti is definitely a place you should visit.

“We also have a ceramic studio here,” Johson says. “And we also have a gallery where we sell our products, in addition to expanding into education programs.”

With its ethereal glow and earthen mystique, this gallery and foundry are more of an experience than just a tourist stop, and the world-renowned bells aren't the only things Cosanti creates. Its sense of community, dedication to the environment, and the conservation of Mother Earth are some of its biggest assets

"And so we're still pursuing those things today," says Johnson. "The funding from the bells helps us expand that goal."

Cosanti is located at 6433 East Doubletree Ranch Road, Paradise Valley. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Tours are by donation. Visit cosanti.com.
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Timothy Rawles