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Vintage Phoenix Collection: Phoenix Art Museum's Philip C. Curtis Paintings

Phoenix Art Museum

From planting the seeds for an esteemed art museum in Phoenix to capturing the feel of a desert environment in a painting, the late Philip C. Curtis certainly left his creative mark on the city and the state.

Phoenix Art Museum is home to about 80 of Curtis' works. This collection ranges from some of his first paintings, done in New York in the 1930s and early 1940s, to some from the 1990s leading up to his death.

Take a video tour of Phoenix Art Museum's Philip C. Curtis collection here.

Curtis came to Phoenix in the late 1930s as part of the WPA. He was instrumental in setting up the Phoenix Art Center, then located in a vacant car dealership building on Seventh Street, which began to offer classes and bring in exhibitions.

Jim Ballinger, PAM director, Ballinger describes how the Phoenix Art Center slowly morphed into the Phoenix Art Museum because no real museum existed until then.

"Phil liked to say he was the first director of the Phoenix Art Museum," Ballinger says, "and in a way, it's true. It was the first formal space that we had, and you can see how it evolved." 

Curtis grew up in Jackson, Michigan. The Victorian architecture of his youth, combined with the isolated desert environment in which he spent the latter part of his life, certainly appear over and over again in Curtis' art.

"The inspiration is where he was and where he came from, all wrapped together," Ballinger says.

The Philip C. Curtis gallery at PAM is simple. The orange, brown, and cream-colored walls complement the paintings, and Curtis is further connected to the gallery by the inclusion of wooden chairs based on a mini version he designed. Inside the gallery, nearly all the art is by Curtis himself. Other artists' work is included as points of reference.

According to Ballinger, almost all of Curtis' work is in some way inspired by Arizona. Isolated desert environments were a sure part of his life, and the influence and presence of such landscapes is undeniable.

Tracks in Wax

It finally happened. I've stopped wanting to buy record albums.

It took nearly a half-century, and I'm not sure how I got here. Maybe I'm depressed, or tired, or maybe I've watched one too many episodes of Hoarders. Whatever the reason, I haven't spent much time lately sitting on the floor of my record closet. (People like me have record closets.) And I sort of lived in there for about 30 years.

Listen to Robrt Pela's "Final Vinyl" podcast.

I'd say that I'll miss the hunt, but the joy of finding that rare and unusual record vanished once eBay took off; today, your vinyl holy grail is pretty much always a couple of keystrokes away. And I'd say I'll miss visiting all the cool collectible record shops, but the truth is, there are not many of them to miss any more, really.

For decades, before most all of them closed up shop, I had a record store route: I'd start way out at Bookmans in Tempe, which had a music department run by a woman named Dino who gave clearance-sale pricing to her collectible vinyl. Then I'd head to Memory Lane Records, also in Tempe, a true collector's store run by a guy named Larry, where I'd stare longingly at all the mint-condition discs and, occasionally, shell out big bucks to buy something amazing. Back in Phoenix, I'd stop at the Zia on Indian School and then on to Prickly Pair on 12th Street, a massive, swamp-cooled room filled with low-priced treasures and overseen by a couple who bickered constantly, at least when I was there — thus, I suppose, the name of the shop.

I always ended my tour at Tracks in Wax on North Central Avenue. The owners, Dennis and Don Chiesa, were real record collectors. You could go in and say, "I'm looking for Shani Wallis' second album," and rather than ask "Who's Shani Wallis?" Dennis would chuckle and say, "I've only got the first one, on Kapp." These guys knew labels, and producers, and the most obscure artists you could mention.

Tracks in Wax opened in 1982, back when I was obsessing over late-'60s folk-rock records, and Dennis and I kind of bonded over John Stewart and Curt Boettcher. He was always trying to convince me to listen to more Bob Dylan and, when I read that Dennis died, two years ago, I played my well-worn copy of Highway 61 Revisited in his honor.

Dennis wasn't always the warmest person in any room, but he used to do this thing that proved he had a big heart: People would come in with a box of crap records — old, trashed Journey albums and 12-inch disco mixes and 45s with no sleeves; junk with zero resale value — and he'd give them five bucks for this useless garbage, just to be nice. After the customer had left, Dennis would put the box inside the front door with a sign reading, "Free records!"

Tracks in Wax is the only record store left from my old tour, and that may be why I'm less engaged in my old hobby. (Revolver Records over on Roosevelt is doing a good job of keeping the old collectible vinyl groove going, and Bookmans still sells LPs, but Dino must have moved on; the selection isn't quite the same these days.) It's possible that I finally have all the albums and singles I ever wanted, or maybe record collecting, a kind of a sickness, is something I've at last been cured of.

I sure hope Tracks in Wax is still there if I ever get sick again.

Tracks in Wax is at 4741 North Central Avenue. Visit www. tracksinwax.com.

Even when I haven't always loved living in Phoenix, I've always loved returning here — from any trip, long or short — so long as I get to return via Sky Harbor International Airport's Terminal 2. This smaller terminal, completed in 1962, is more navigable than the monster-size Terminals 3 and 4 and features a covered parking lot only a few yards away. Blissfully easy.

But more than the ease and comfort of this old-school terminal (which I have heard is doomed to be demolished in the near future — although every flack at Phoenix Sky Harbor has assured me the mural will be spared), I love the 16-by-75-foot mural created by artist Paul Coze, made to honor both the building and the Valley of the Sun in its prime.

Listen to Robrt Pela's podcast "From the Ashes" here.

A longtime landmark, the mixed-media mural brings together 52 different materials — mostly mosaic tiles, but also Sonoran sand, aluminum sheeting, and oil paint — applied to canvas and then attached directly to the wall.

Each of its three panels pay tribute to a different era in Arizona. The Earth is an homage to the Hohokam, the earliest prehistoric desert dwellers, as well as to current Arizona tribes, Arizona's Latino community, the LDS "Mormon Battalion," and the Southern Pacific Railroad. The mural's center panel, Water and Fire, offers the requisite blazing Phoenix bird of Greek mythology, rising from a desert date tree and surrounded by clouds raining into our very own Roosevelt Lake, the first water project of the National Reclamation Act of 1902. The third panel, The Air, is a hopeful tribute to Arizona's future that portrays outstretched hands, reaching for a sky filled with modernist symbols of ranching, mining, and agriculture.

It's a lot prettier than it sounds.

Coze, well-known in his native France, moved to the United States in the '30s and to Phoenix, as the French Consul to Arizona, in 1954. He ran an art school and became a favored public artist, commissioned to do many sculptures and murals here.

Fortunately for us, the Terminal 2 mural isn't the only one of those artworks remaining. His Western and Native Indian murals hang still in the largely passé Veterans Memorial Coliseum, and one of his giant wall paintings graces offices at the Phoenix City Council chambers. Coze's best-known piece is also his most ravaged: The 18-foot-tall bronze and glass Phoenix that graces the entry to Town and Country Shopping Center at Camelback Road and 20th Street, created in 1958, has been treated more like a pesky crow. It's still there, but it's been moved at least once, remounted to a new pedestal, and — horrors! — even painted white.

I can almost bear the damage done to the Town and Country bird, so long as I get to sometimes see Coze's Terminal 2 mural. To my eyes, the Phoenix in this assemblage promises something greater — glamour, art, history — than the city itself offers. I love this prominent artwork, but my relationship with it is bittersweet.

Mr. Lucky's

As with so many old-time local hotspots, the sign remains though the business is kaput. But the Mr. Lucky's sign is more than just a gaudy gravestone for a once-flourishing nightclub; it's the main attraction in a clutch of the coolest vintage signs in the city. Along Grand Avenue, between Roosevelt and 57th Drive, you'll find the rusted-out Smith Radiator Exchange marquee; the brightly Modernist sign for the City Center Motel; the fast-fading marker for the Crystal Motel; and the Mel's Diner sign, made famous in the film Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (and the subsequent TV show, Alice).

But it's the Mr. Lucky's sign that's legendary. And what a sign. A demented court jester leers knowingly at the traffic speeding by, his three-pointed hat decked with dangly red pom-pons. The light-up "Dancing" and "Cocktails" placards have been replaced with signs promising "Musica" and "En Vivo," remnants of Mr. Lucky's last incarnation as a Mexican mariachi club. Neon aficionados far and wide remain concerned about the future of this gorgeous landmark (at 3660 Grand Avenue) — proof of its prominence and real beauty.

Once our town's hottest saloon, the former hotspot began as a smartly appointed casino in 1966. Shortly after, public gambling became verboten here, and owner Bob Sikora turned his casino into a honky-tonk, with country music headliners performing most nights upstairs and live rock bands in the club's cavernous basement.

The house band, The Rogues (fronted by J. David Sloan, a former member of Willie Nelson's touring band and now a local celeb in his own right) occasionally fronted visiting dignitaries, who included Waylon Jennings, Marty Robbins, Glen Campbell, and Charley Pride.

Today, Mr. Lucky's amateur hour contests and Friday night fish fry are mere memories; the club closed in 2004 (although it's reportedly available to rent for party events), leaving behind a big, gorgeous reminder: the towering neon sign out front, surrounded by chain link, its bulbs as dead as the club it once announced.

Vintage Phoenix Collection: Danny Zelisko's Concert Memorabilia

Danny Zelisko has so much concert memorabilia that some of it is even boxed up by artist, sometimes untouched for years.

He may not know exactly what is in there, but based on the remainder of his extensive collection of signed posters and shirts, it's bound to be impressive. Zelisko, founder of the concert-promoting business Evening Star Productions, began his work in the live-music industry in 1974 and estimates that he has since been involved in the production of between 9,000 and 10,000 concerts. He began promoting straight out of high school, starting with local smaller-venue shows, and now has put on productions for artists as huge as Paul McCartney and Billy Joel.

Take a video tour of Danny Zelisko's Concert Memorabilia collection here.

From that multitude of shows, Zelisko has kept every artist contract, backstage pass, ticket, setlist, T-shirt, and anything else that he has been able to secure afterward. His collection is spread over various locations, between his office, warehouse storage, and even Alice Cooper'sTown restaurant.

This is a guy who definitely has trouble throwing stuff away. In the back of one of his storage units are several large boxes, each filled with rolled-up oversize posters that once were on display at Comerica Theatre to promote upcoming shows. Zelisko began keeping these posters instead of allowing them to meet the sad fate of a dumpster, and he maintains the same mentality when it comes to saving other concert memorabilia, past and present. Not only does he have boxes from small local concerts spanning his entire almost-40-year career, Zelisko has stacks of framed posters from larger shows, the majority of which are signed by the artists themselves. (When Zelisko promotes a show, he always gets an autograph.)

Among the mass of Zelisko's framed posters are a few standouts, most notably several signed Bruce Springsteen posters, one of which was among the very first events ever put on at the newly inaugurated America West Arena. Many of the posters advertise shows at venues that either no longer exist or since have been renamed, showing the connections that live music can have to Phoenix history. Performances by artists from Cher to Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band are listed at venues such as the University Activity Center at ASU and Glendale Arena, places that modern concert-going Phoenicians don't experience any longer. It would take multiple pages to list every musician or band featured on Zelisko's posters, but it's easy to tell that he is particularly fond of vintage posters and memorabilia featuring Pink Floyd, the Grateful Dead, and Jeff Beck, among many others.

To Zelisko, the most satisfying aspect of keeping his collection is knowing the story of each piece and sharing it with others who are interested. "Everything's got a value to somebody!" he says with a smile.

Bikini Lounge
Benjamin Leatherman

Housed on Grand Avenue, a road with quite a history of its own, Bikini Lounge is a Phoenix cocktail staple. In fact, the tiki-themed dive bar has been open since 1947, when Grand Avenue was at the Phoenix end of U.S. 60, long before Interstate 10 was completed. Because the diagonal street was the light at the end of the tunnel (or desert) leading from Los Angeles, Bikini Lounge (1502 Grand Avenue) welcomed many weary travelers straight off the road and into the sight of a much-needed drink.

It's rumored that most of the tiki decorations that adorn the dark, windowless walls of Bikini are the same ones that were placed there upon the lounge's opening — and looking around, we believe it.

Check out the complete slideshow of Bikini Lounge here.

Today, Bikini Lounge is a popular host to many First Friday festivities and has earned its cred as a hipster hangout. The cheap, cash-only drinks and anything-goes attitude (minus one rule: a sign reads "NO DRUNKS ON TOP OF FUSE BOX") certainly make it popular among younger crowds. An eclectic bunch of all different ages are frequent visitors, though, so don't worry about any single social group taking over the scene.

Vintage but not outdated, Bikini Lounge is still hopping, so don't be intimidated by a little grunge — join in on the fun and go tiki-crazy.

Anderson's Fifth Estate

It was 1981. We were young, and there was nothing better to do.

And so my girl friends and I — a bony chick we called Uncle who rarely spoke and her best friend, Laytchie McJeep, a corpulent girl who never stopped talking — got dressed up in funny clothes and went to discos.

Being fashionable required an entire weekend. On Saturday mornings we'd drive downtown — a daring thing for kids from the suburbs to do — because that's where the good junk stores were. We'd forage at Goodwill and Salvation Army for old military uniforms and '50s housedresses and old dinner jackets and paste brooches. Then we'd take everything back to my apartment and make it "better."

Listen to Robrt Pela's podcast "Dance Hall Days" here.

Uncle liked to belt things and wear them as dresses. She'd put on a giant men's shirt or a huge, ratty old sweater that barely covered her ass and wrap a length of chain from the hardware store around her middle, and that was her outfit. I'd cut up a pair of Boy Scout trousers with pinking shears, then safety-pin them back together. Lapel pins with punk rock sayings were my favorite accessory; I wore my "Fuck art, let's dance!" button for an entire summer.

Laytchie favored sleeveless polyester shifts in patterns so ugly, they hurt your eyes. She was proud that one of her outfits — a complicated black-and-white-checked number that Unc called The Twilight Zone Dress — made a girl vomit, right on the dance floor at Discovery one warm Saturday night.

We got drunk, and we danced. We were poseurs from the 'burbs, but never before 10 in the evening, because being seen early wasn't fashionable. We started out at more respectable places, like Anderson's Fifth Estate in downtown Scottsdale, where we danced to populist disco by Donna Summer and the Bar-Kays, and where some of our dance floor friends were discovered and became regulars on a low-rent American Bandstand knockoff that aired in Los Angeles. And at Tommy's Copa on Camelback Road, where the lighted dance floor throbbed in time to the music and where Laytchie — our designated driver because she didn't drink or smoke dope — flirted with all the ugly guys, just to be nice.

After we had gotten, in disco parlance, "sufficiently cocktailed," we'd head way downtown to the trashy gay nightclubs, places with names like Bullwinkle's and Hotbods Desert Dance Palace and our favorite, Sammy's Steak House — a sleazy toilet that served neither steak nor any other kind of meal. The gay clubs played the best music — a combination of hardcore disco (Lime, Sylvester, The Twins Plus Him) and dance-punk (New Order, The B-52s, The Thompson Twins) that drove us mad with pleasure. Here, in the "bad part of town" at 2 in the morning, freaking out to DJ Hubert's obscure Eurotrash mixes, we could forget the suburban strip-mall jobs and junior-college grind that awaited us on Monday. And Tuesday. And, we feared, forever.

The dumps where we danced in our weird rags are long gone; downtown Phoenix no longer is a bombed-out ruin where bored suburban teens can go to hide. Not long ago, I saw an ad for Anderson's Fifth Estate, the last of the hoary old discos of our past, now recently closed. Among its weekly themes was a Retro Night, featuring a DJ playing classics by The B-52s and The Thompson Twins.

How trashy.

She looked like an Indian princess. Tiny and dark, with huge, sad eyes that filled up her face, like a kid in a Keane painting. I was 6 years old, so it was easy for me to imagine her riding atop a big, bejeweled elephant.

Teresa Amelia Gomez was my first Mexican. Somehow, even though my family had settled on the west side, only a hundred yards from the Glendale border, I'd never met one before. I wondered: Did everyone from Mexico carry themselves with such regal bearing? Did all the girls from south of the border line their eyes with kohl and speak in tiny, hushed voices? I didn't care. Terry did, and — because she had married one of my brothers — she was my sister now.

Listen to Robrt Pela's podcast "My First Mexican" here.

Her timing was good. It was the Summer of Love, and my real sister had recently, as my father liked to say, "run off with a ditch digger. " I needed a new sister, and I got one who listened to me when I spoke, loved cats, and owned a wiglet. Terry was a superb visual artist and had flawless taste in music. When I loaned her my stack of Archies 45s, she told me she'd listened to each of them and liked them all. I knew she was just being nice, but it didn't matter. When she lied to me, it sounded like "Te amo."

My mother, usually slow to warm to people, was charmed by her new daughter-in-law. Terry taught Mom to make enchiladas and refried beans and quesadillas — strange, wonderful foods that no one I knew had ever even heard of before. And Mom, who didn't approve of house pets or guests who brought food to her dinner parties, only smiled when Terry arrived at our house on Christmas Eve with a mynah bird and seven dozen tamales. Terry was exotic.

More important, she didn't treat me like a little kid. She loaned me collections of short stories by Edgar Allan Poe and dime novels about extraterrestrials. She didn't laugh at me for wearing tie-dye and braided headbands and candy necklaces. Terry was the only grownup who saw what I saw when I looked in the mirror: a hippie who happened to also be in the first grade.

I saw less of Terry after my brother left her for the drug-addicted cocktail waitress who lived across the street, but she never abandoned me. She sent handmade Christmas cards and turned up at my high school graduation. I knew Terry was out there, somewhere, even if she couldn't join us for Christmas Eve dinner anymore.

She came to my art gallery the other night. At one point, we sat together on a bench, staring up at a complicated trio of abstract paintings I was especially proud to be showing. We gazed at the paintings for a long time without saying a word, and I thought, This is going to be one of those moments where Terry says something I never, ever forget. I was right. After awhile, Terry leaned slowly toward me and, without taking her eyes off the paintings, whispered, "No comprende."

I nearly levitated with joy.

Later that night, I asked her what it was like, marrying into my family all those years ago.

"I'd never met anyone like you guys," she said, a trace of wonderment still in her voice. "Italian people from Ohio! Your mom had a lace tablecloth, and everyone ate dinner together at the same time, and there were two dining rooms."

"Well, one was for company," I reminded her. "You were always so nice to me, even when I was pretending to be a 6-year-old beatnik."

Terry looked startled. "Sweetheart, you were my little brother," she said, then laughed. "Besides, when you were around, I didn't feel like the weirdest person in the room."

Azteca Bridal

What started as five wedding dresses in the back of a furniture shop is now the fully operational bridal, tuxedo, and quinceañera megastore that is Azteca Bridal. The original part of the store, now dedicated to fitting rooms and expansive mirrors, contains a vintage stairwell that has existed since Azteca's first days, and Royna Roselle says it is the oldest single object in the store. Even though most of Azteca's attire may be of the newest fashions for trendy Phoenicians, the store retains its classic feel. Upstairs, retro-looking colorful carpet and charming railings pop out among the racks upon racks of white dresses and highlight the store's character. The buzzing, familial staff is attentive to both the business side of things and the obvious excitement of their customers. By keeping the store in the family, the children of the Torrez store founders create a welcoming atmosphere and feel that they are continuing to honor their parents.

See our complete slideshow of Azteca Bridal here.

Roselle estimates that Azteca in some way services about 1,500 Valley weddings each year, between dresses, tuxedos, and a plethora of other decorations and supplies. Even she seems overwhelmed by the grandness of that number. With Azteca reaching its 51st year in business, it's easy to see why the store has established itself as a Phoenix wedding institution. In addition to wedding dresses, the store is packed full of everything else one could need for a ceremony and celebration, from flower girl and ring bearer attire to sparkly tiaras and cake cutters. Beyond wedding materials, Azteca's quinceañera room is an eye-popping burst of color and quite a departure from the rows of traditional white bridal gowns. Stacks of catalogs sit on a counter for girls to flip through and view their options, which also serves as a nice reminder of the pre-online shopping days. Ruffles, beads, neons, animal prints, and more: There's something for every taste, and even for a quinceañera queen's damas as well. When it comes to big dresses, stunning tuxes, and everything fit for a party, Azteca has it all. — Valerie Hoke

Vintage Phoenix Collection: Steve Davis' Mexican Folk Art

Steve Davis opens a tattered old book and flips through the pages covered with photos and descriptions of Mexican folk art. He lands on the right image and points to a standing figure of a woman, dressed in white and carrying a blue umbrella, in the artistic style of the Día de los Muertos holiday. This figure is Katrina, the original of which is standing five feet away at the foot of a bed in Davis' Paradise Valley home. He explains that a famous Diego Rivera painting called Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park inspired the three-dimensional Katrina figure because she was one of the people who strolled around the park. This book Davis references is what initially sparked his interest in vintage Mexican art, and to own such a collectible piece from its pages is very special to him.

Take a video tour of Steve Davis' home.

A Phoenix native and former stockbroker, Davis maintains a massive collection of Mexican folk and fine art that is the product of his love and appreciation for the country's culture. His vintage Mexican pottery is a highlight of the whole collection, originating mainly from the 1920s-30s. Davis was immediately drawn to the art when he first visited Mexico on a trip organized by the Phoenix Art Museum in 1988. He heard about the trip through his membership in the museum and took the opportunity to visit the country with a group of experienced guides and Spanish-speakers. It was during that travel experience that he acquired the exotic Katrina figure, making it the very first piece of his collection.

Since then, he has enjoyed filling his Southwest-style home with vintage Mexican art, with the help of his wife, Sandy, who has also gotten involved in collecting. Warm red, brown, and cream colors throughout the house provide the perfect backdrop against which to feature the masses of Mexican pottery, paintings, and figurines. Every space in the house is decorated with various pieces, because as Davis says with a smile, "when you collect art, you have to find a place to put it."

Davis specifically shows us his extensive collection of Mexican folk pottery, most of which is from a small pueblo in the Guadalajara area called Tonalá. He explains how several of the pots are signed on the bottom, which is a valuable feature since the artists so rarely felt the need to do so. A father and son by the names of Augustine and Balbino Lucano, respectively, crafted several of the pots, and Davis feels especially fortunate to have signed pieces of their work in his collection. On one of Davis' subsequent trips to Mexico, he was able to visit Tonalá, which he feels gave him greater insight into his vintage pottery. In the pueblo, Davis could observe the actual environment where so much of his pottery was made and could even view contemporary Tonalá pottery in a quaint museum.

When it comes to collecting, Davis acquires most of his art on trips to Mexico. In fact, he says that the most recent addition to his collection was at an auction in Mexico City over the summer. However, he admits that eBay can be a practical way of searching, especially for those who are knowledgeable enough about the art to know exactly what they are looking for. Although new additions to his collections occasionally fall into place, it is usually his searches for particular pieces that yield the best findings. Even though it might take him six months or a year to find the essential piece of art, the satisfaction of expanding his collection keeps him searching. — Valerie Hoke

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