Sedona Area’s Astonishing Copper Museum

Shell Casing Art, Copper Art Museum

Shell Casing Art, photo: Vicki Weisfeld

The tiny town of Clarkdale, Arizona, midway between Cottonwood and Jerome, in the outskirts of the much-visited Sedona region, hosts the not-to-be-missed Copper Art Museum. One of the first metals humans discovered—it and gold are the only ones that have a “color”—copper has been mined and worked for ten thousand years. Clarkdale was a company town for copper mining in the nearby mountains.

Through imaginative displays in the town’s former high school (built 1928), visitors see much more than art, they get a taste of mineralogy, astronomy, and history, plus the beautiful and varied ways copper has been put to use in architectural decoration, kitchens, winemaking, and war. Who knew?

On display are 525 brass (copper + zinc) artillery shell casings that World War I soldiers scavenged and transformed into one-of-a-kind artworks, startlingly intricate molds inspiring lavish desserts, religious works and paintings on copper, a wall of beer steins.

The extent of the collection suggests a seriousness of purpose, yet the curators have a light touch. They include yearbook pages from the high school, binding the current use of the building to its past. They include amusing and interesting “fast facts,” such as details about various copper-related crimes. They explain why copper is the desired material for certain medical uses, doorknobs, and in jewelry. And they provide a straight-faced set of definitions for carrot, caret, carat, and karat, for the confused. You make your way through the museum following copper footprints embedded in the floor.

There’s something fascinating and beautiful for everyone here!

Crime novels set in and around Arizona:

The Sinister Pig – A disused Mexican copper mine figures in this Tony Hillerman classic
The Blue Hammer – Ross MacDonald’s Lew Archer and a leggy blonde in the desert
Rage Against the Dying – female protagonist takes on a serial killer in Becky Masterman’s exciting debut

Or pick your own mayhem at Scottsdale’s fantastic Poisoned Pen Bookstore, 4014 N. Goldwater Boulevard. Floor-to-ceiling mysteries, thrillers, and crime and 300 author events a year!

Queen City Culture

Taft Museum, Cincinnati

Taft Museum of Art

Last week I reported on the remarkable hotels and some of the sights and history of Cincinnati. Here’s a rundown of arts opportunities for tourists, and we certainly did not get to all of them!


The Taft family has done much to create a lasting legacy of arts programs in the city. One of the family mansions downtown has been turned into the Taft Museum of Art, whose permanent collection includes a wide representation of different artists and styles, and a lot of beautiful Chinese porcelain. Nicely displayed, approachable.

We made no attempt to cover all the ground of the Cincinnati Art Museum, ignoring the permanent collection in favor of interesting temporary exhibits, “Van Gogh in the Undergrowth,” effectively curated to demonstrate the influence of painters of his era on each other. Plus an exhibit of the work of the legendary Lexington, Kentucky, Camera Club. Lovely gift shop, too.

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is a memorial, a detailed story of the slave trade, and an enlightening examination of the people who sought freedom north of the Ohio River and those who aided them along the way. Multimedia presentations.

American Sign Museum

American Sign Museum; photo: 5chw4r7z, creative commons license

The quirky American Sign Museum, whose main exhibition is set up like an old-time Main Street, the museum explores the evolution of advertising signs of every type (who knew there were so many!). It’s designed to tickle your nostalgia centers, like Simple Simon with the pieman on the sign for Howard Johnson’s 28 Flavors—pistachio was my favorite.


We didn’t partake of the renowned Cincinnati Orchestra (also started by a Mrs. Taft), and the Kennedy Center had invited the Cincinnati Ballet to perform its “Nutcracker” in the nation’s capital. But we did see a lively, well-staged performance of Much Ado About Nothing by the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, which is soon moving to new and expanded quarters.


Loved the Romanesque City Hall and the old telephone exchange, with a parade of dial phones carved into a frieze above exterior windows. Many other buildings had charming art deco details. And cannot overlook the beautiful fish sculpture on the exterior of McCormick and Schmick’s downtown outpost!


Stained glass in Saint Peter in Chains Cathedral, Cincinnati

Right by City Hall at Eighth and Plum are two stunning religious edifices. A classic Greek design, the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Chains (1845) has large murals depicting the stations of the cross that were done by Cincinnati artist Carl Zimmerman, inspired by Greek pottery painting. The sienna background with gold, black, and white figures creates a most unusual—and beautiful—effect. A magnificent gold mosaic glows from behind the altar, and the stained glass is a plaid of colored and clear panes.

We were lucky that a bat mitzvah was about to take place at the Byzantine-Moorish Isaac M. Wise Temple (1866) across the street, and we slipped inside to see the interior before the service began. The Temple’s astonishing painted décor covers every surface, much like religious buildings you may have seen in Central Europe. This historic temple is “the fountainhead” of Reform Judaism in America.

In Mount Adams, we stopped into the Holy Cross Immaculata Church (1859), smaller and more traditional than St. Peter in Chains, soaring white and light inside, with spectacular views of the river and city from its hilltop perch.

Also in this series:

Frida Kahlo: Her Casa Is Our Casa

Kahlo, desert

photo: Jodi Goalstone

After setting all-time attendance records with 500,000 visitors at New York’s Botanical Garden (NYBG), Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life is firmly planted in Tucson through next May.

Tucson Botanical Gardens is the only other American institution to display the inspiring homage to Kahlo’s Casa Azul, her childhood home in Mexico City. That distinction is fitting because Sonoran Desert plant species are quite similar to the ones at Casa Azul. Kahlo described her beloved home this way: “Mi casa no es tan cómoda, pero tiene un color muy bonito. My house is not so comfortable, but it is nice of color.”

According to an article in the Desert Leaf, a Tucson magazine, the idea for the exhibition germinated when the NYBG’s vice president for exhibitions interviewed a job candidate who had worked and studied in Latin America. Discussing their joint botanical passions led them to the idea of showcasing Kahlo’s gardens.

NYBG engaged hundreds of scientists along with Broadway scenic designer Scott Pask (a part-time Tucson resident and graduate of the University of Arizona) to recreate the key structural elements.

Kahlo, Rivera

photo: Jodi Goalstone

Renowned for her unsmiling, direct gaze and iconic unibrow as much as her artistic acumen, Kahlo found refuge and inspiration in her gardens. After her marriage (not to mention separation, divorce and remarriage) to Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, they purchased property adjacent to Casa Azul and tripled the size of the gardens. They lived there from 1929 until 1954.

According to exhibit materials, Rivera, at Kahlo’s suggestion, designed a four-tier pyramid structure to house his large collection of pre-Hispanic artifacts. Agave and cacti crowned the palapa (woven grass) roof to reflect the blend of indigenous culture and history. This representation is what the visitor sees as a centerpiece of the exhibition. Other plantings around Casa Azul included yucca, organ pipe cactus, bougainvillea, and jacaranda.

But the area wasn’t meant only for solitary contemplation, according to Mexican artist Humberto Spindola. NYBG commissioned him to recreate The Two Fridas, a Kahlo double self-portrait using amate (bark paper) typical of Aztec and traditional Mexican folk art, which Kahlo often used in her work.

photo: Jodi Goalstone

photo: Jodi Goalstone

Spindola told the Desert Leaf: “(They) held many fiestas and gatherings at the house and gardens, entertaining their many artist, poet, writer, and communist friends” with platters of Kahlo’s wonderful food, lots of tequila, and live mariachi music. They surely made an unusual couple; Rivera was about a foot taller than the 5’3” Kahlo and was 20 years her senior.

If you are planning a Southwest sojourn, Tucson is a diverse and distinctive destination. It now is a UNESCO World City of Gastronomy, and has a host of notable attractions including the Desert Museum, Mission San Xavier del Bac, and walking, hiking, and horseback riding in Sabino Canyon in the surrounding Santa Catalina Mountains. Additionally, there now is daily non-stop air service from JFK to Tucson on American Airlines.

For more information on the Kahlo exhibition, go to

This guest post is by Tucson-based Jodi Goalstone, author of the entertaining blog Going Yard, Offbeat Baseball Musings, celebrating her 20th year living in the Old Pueblo.