Longform

BRUSH WITH THE LAWPHOENIX'S REGAL LEGALS ARE WELL-BRIEFED IN THE ARTS

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.

@rule:
@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."

Don't ask Bud Jacobson about validators. "I just get a boost out of looking at art," he says simply. "I have no idea what the motivation is."

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at amy-silverman.com.