Okay. It’s not a real gorilla. It’s a painting. But it’s big. King Kong big, with gentle luminous eyes peering out from lush green vegetation. The gorilla is part of a huge outdoor mural running the length of an entire building. You can see this delightful work on the west side of Highway 85 as you drive north through Ajo.
This particular mural — one of many in town — is the creation of local artist Mike (Lonewolf/DaWolf) Baker. He spent much of this past summer bringing his tropical vision to life. It’s not your typical desert scene but then Ajo isn’t your typical desert town.
Like many small places, Ajo fell on hard times. The huge copper mine, owned by Phelps Dodge, was the lifeblood of the community for nearly a century. When it closed in the mid-1980s the good times disappeared.
That could have been the end of Ajo. But the same year the mine closed, something else happened. It was a small thing, insignificant in the face of Ajo’s looming economic disaster.
“Several quilters and artists were having a show in the Plaza,” says longtime Ajo resident and artist Diane Carnright. “Someone from Phelps Dodge was in town. He came over afterwards to speak to us. He asked one woman to start a quilting club and he asked me to start an art club.”
And she did.
Nearly 30 years later, Diane is still here and still painting. The little art club she started, now known as the Desert Artist Guild (DAG), has chugged along for years and has really come into its own.
Sherry Fritschle, DAG chairperson and a professional artist who winters in Ajo, says, “The laid-back lifestyle of Ajo attracts and supports a thriving and eclectic art community. You’ll find artists working in many media here — from painting, water colors, and pen and ink to photography and pottery, fabrics, wood, glass, metal and stone.”
Not only can you buy high-quality art you can make your own. For example, last winter several artists began a weekly Sketch Class to hone their drawing skills. DAG’s monthly meetings often offer critiquing sessions and professional development programs. Visiting artists are welcome to attend. In fact, you don’t have to be an artist at all — if you’d like to know more about Ajo’s art community, drop by.
DAG is not the only art group in town. This corner of the Sonoran Desert is fertile ground for many artistic endeavors.
Curley School, built in 1918 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has become Curley School Artisan Housing with 30 spacious live/work apartments for artists of every variety. Its ceramic and woodworking studios are open to visiting artists and the public, with instruction available.
Self-Guided Tour of Outdoor Art
Lonewolf’s gorilla is just one of many examples of Ajo’s street art.
If you enjoy discovering such art, you’ll want to get a copy of a new brochure due out soon. This self-guided tour will show you where to find most of Ajo’s outdoor works. An ideal companion for a walkabout in town.
For example, one of the most eye-catching murals is painted on the side of the Ajo Copper News and Bookstore, part of the Ajo Street Art Project.
Artist and newspaper publisher, Hop David, and DaWolf created an amazing vista of desert animals. It’s not unusual to see people on the sidewalk trying to identify them all, or perhaps humming the tune from the notes painted on the sky.
Hop and DaWolf are also working on a new mural that wraps around the building hosting Jovita Wallace’s new store, aVita Boutique in The Ravens Nest on Hwy 85.
An accomplished artist from the New York City Metro area, Jovita is a strong supporter of the arts in Ajo. Her unique clothing store includes a collection of works by local, regional and national artists. The store’s grand opening, October 31 and November 1st, featured Ajo artists in a Day of the Dead Festival along with a Classic Car Show and other activities, the first year of a proposed annual event.
Now’s the Time for Art in Ajo
The coming months are an ideal time to explore the art scene here. They’re filled with events featuring both local and snowbird artists from across the USA and Canada. Ajo’s Visitor Center in the Plaza, along with many businesses and restaurants, features artworks and the Ajo library hosts monthly art shows.
And here’s a heads-up about an event happening this spring. Ajo will host a special Community Arts Gathering March 14 to 18, 2015. It will feature artists and art activities that engage communities in social change. There will be a special emphasis on traditional and contemporary folk arts, music and theater.
Sometimes small ideas have unexpected outcomes. Far from art schools, urban galleries and a large population center, this once-upon-a-time mining town is re-creating itself as a vibrant artistic community. Ajo and the arts — come see what we’re about!
Some Upcoming Events
Fri. Nov 14 Opening Reception, 6 – 8pm
Native American Art Show, Plaza Gallery.
Fri. Nov 28 Opening Reception 6 – 8pm
Special Holiday Show, Plaza Gallery.
Fri. Nov 28 & Sat. Nov 29 Open Studio Tour, 10 – 3pm
19th Annual Tour. Local artists open their studios to the public.
Sat. Dec 6 Special One-Day Art Show, 10 – 4pm
The Desert Artist Guild, the Federated Church.
Fri. Jan 9 Opening Reception, 6 – 8pm
The Desert Artist Guild’s annual show, Plaza Gallery.
You’ll also find artists and artisans in the Plaza on Second Saturdays from 9 to 11 AM along with a great Farmers’ Market. (Dec 13 features a special holiday market.) In January, February and March you’ll find everyone at the Plaza twice a month — 2nd and 4th Saturdays.
For more information on Ajo’s art scene, check us out online: https://ajoartists.wordpress.com and www.isdanet.org.