Modern Artist Dick Seeger Pioneered Scottsdale; Now He Turns to His Own Backyard

The home of 81-year-old artist Dick Seeger doesn't have a lot of curb appeal.

Located in a quiet, upscale neighborhood of North Scottsdale, it certainly doesn't look like it's the location of anything particularly remarkable. Half-hidden by scraggly creosote bushes, its unpaved circular driveway is littered with fallout from trees that surround the dun-colored house. It's the least-groomed place in a neighborhood of typical North Scottsdale adoboid compounds dear to the hearts of Midwestern newcomers enthused about the Southwest. Its lack of distinction is exactly what compelled the octagenarian artist to purchase it.

That makes sense when you eventually see what's inside.

However, you get a clue that this isn't your ordinary household in Cookie Cutter Big House territory from the 30-foot-high dirt pyramid surrounded by the meandering moat Seeger built completely by hand in the spacious backyard. And, of course, it's hard to ignore that 110-foot reclining Mother Spiritual Earth dirt sculpture — complete with perky boobs pointing skyward and welcoming womb — leading to the pyramid, which rises from three feet below lot grade. Not exactly your typical suburban backyard landscape treatment.

Welcome to The Magical Mystery Spiritual Experience. That's what Dick Seeger has dubbed the constantly transmuting, living-art environment he's created, and continually reconfigures, in basically every square inch of what looks to be your average upper-middle-class home, on land that once sheltered horses and stables.

Dave Hampton, an expert on Midcentury Modern art and design in the Southwest who has researched and written about Seeger and his place in the art history of the region in the 1950s and '60s, recalls the first time he met the artist and saw his jaw-dropping residence.

"It was amazing," says Hampton. "He lived alone in a great big Scottsdale — I hate to say it — McMansion, which just made the contents of the place, including its artist-in-residence, that much more unlikely. The whole place was a constantly changing display of his collections and his own art that became a surreal art experience."

A critical, yet strangely under-appreciated member of the early modern Scottsdale art scene, the still-spry Seeger — artist, gallerist, designer, collector and philosopher — is quietly hoping someone with deep pockets will make his dream of turning his artwork and vast collection of ethnic artifacts into a tangible museum, which he conceptualizes as a huge complex of — what else? — pyramids.

Whether there's a bucks-up kindred spirit out there sufficiently enthralled with his singular, pyramidal vision is anyone's guess.

Open the front doors to Dick Seeger's home/personal museum — a 5,000-square-foot residence with soaring ceilings — and you feel as though you've been sucked into a time capsule and dumped somewhere between 19th-century colonial Africa and swinging '60s America, in all its psychedelic and Age of Aquarius glory. Bespectacled Seeger greets his visitors, who have included local museum groups and looky-loos, dressed in his unchanging uniform of unadorned T-shirt, jeans, and bare feet. Though he's 81, he doesn't look a day over 65, moving from display to display like a well-trained museum docent, explaining the provenance of a particular item — if he happens to know anything about it.

"I don't know which culture this one or that one is from — I couldn't care less; these are African," says Seeger, pointing to a group of carved wooden sculptures on the floor. Though he generally knows the continent or country of origin, "[that's] as close as I want to get. I get them when I figure they would fit into a category within the museum I have planned," which he envisions as "humongous."

To the left of the foyer is what Seeger calls his ethnic room. It's a veritable rain forest of Indian necklaces strung together and dangled from the ceiling, mirrored embroideries from Gujarat, India, and Seeger-created beaded constructions, including an endless variety of African trade and other beads, both antique and new. The room has been stuffed with masks and artifacts from every conceivable culture and historical period. A gigantic bronze Buddha appearing to originate from Southeast Asia — Thailand, perhaps — anchors the crazy collection of tribal ritual sculptures, masks, and textiles Seeger has amassed from Africa, Nepal, Tibet, India, New Guinea, and Mexico.

Not content with one or two examples of a particular object, the artist/collector, who labels himself an "arranger," sucks up as many as he can. There seems to be no category limitation or quota for how many he can collect, such as antique metal bracelets once used as currency, old leather-wrapped bracelets, African beaded bracelets, and costume jewelry rings from a cache of a thousand pounds of jewelry Seeger bought and sorted through years ago. He's stacked them onto long poles, reminiscent of totemic sculpture from Africa.

A cardboard sign at the foot of a carved wooden figure in the room solemnly declares, "Life is full of diversions keeping man from learning what it's all about." Seeger's ethnic room falls squarely into the category of one of those mesmerizing distractions, not to mention the rest of the house, which has, in large part, been transformed into purely aesthetic, completely non-functional art installations.

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Kathleen Vanesian