Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Busy in Bisbee

Ask around for fun things to do around Tucson and sooner or later you’re bound to hear “You should check out Bisbee!” Bisbee, as it turns out, is a small ‘artist’s community’ located about a two hour drive south of Tucson.

The term ‘artist’s community’ is bandied about so frequently that it’s come to mean just about any community that doesn’t fit neatly into any other category. Sedona is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of ‘artist’s community’ even though it has long been too expensive to live for any artist I’ve ever known.

Bisbee Strip Mining
But while Sedona probably attracted artists mainly because of its natural beauty, Bisbee had another draw: cheap housing. Incorporated in 1902, Bisbee was initially a copper rich boom town with its population reaching a high of over 9,000 by 1910. In 1917, open pit mining was successfully introduced to meet the heavy copper demand due to World War I. [1] In the photo above I circled and enlarged an earth mover to give you an idea of the size of this pit.

There is only so much copper you can strip from any mine and by 1975 the copper industry left Bisbee. What was bad news for copper miners turned out to be good news for starving artists and they grabbed up housing as the home prices of the fleeing miners plummeted.

Bisbee Houses
Drive into Bisbee and one of the first things you’ll notice is how the houses are stuck into the side of the mountains. Almost as if a huge canon loaded with cute little chateaus was haphazardly fired against the picturesque rocks. Once safely parked and outside of your car, the narrow, hilly streets are unlike almost any other town in the U.S. This is one of Bisbee’s most attractive qualities in my opinion. Many beautiful photo opportunities can be found, so be sure to bring your camera.

I was fortunate enough to be traveling with a friend from the area that was kind enough to take me on a tour of Bisbee. As we walked up and down main street I noticed a familiar pattern: antique shop, diner, jewelry shop. Every so often an art gallery would show up. OK, so maybe I’m exaggerating a little bit. But I’m willing to bet the antique shops outnumber the art galleries two to one. This is fine if you’ve come to town to shop for antiques. Not so much if you’re expecting a town full of beatniks and hippies, as I was. Bummer, dude.

Bisbee street
Ah, well. The weather was beautiful and my friend and I enjoyed exploring the local shops. She discovered some valuable jewelry information regarding items in her collection, and I came away with some killer honey. Literally. Killer Bee Honey to be exact. Tasty stuff. Another one of my discoveries was Old Bisbee Roasters coffee. This was worth the trip alone, for me. And who’s to say a perfectly brewed cup of joe doesn’t qualify as a work of art. Hey, you won’t get any argument from me.

Bisbee Angels
I'm sure there is a fascinating story to go along with the photo above. I was too scared to ask.

Bisbee is a fun day trip if you’re looking for a beautiful setting with unique architecture, and a fun day of food, jewelry, and antique shopping. They even have some art there.

Source: [1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bisbee,_Arizona


Ann said...

hey :D

i think this is a fair write-up on bisbee.

i agree with your thoughts on people describing places as an "artist community" - what does that mean? Also imho there are a lot of fine craftspeople or artisans there, which is an honorable thing but I would call them that - fine craftspeople or artisans, not artists. perhaps it's a bit snooty of me but nothing is intended by it other than a way to clarify intention of the person making the object. (in fact sometimes i question myself by bringing too many non-utilitarian objects into the world but that's another story.)

but i do love the red hills and charming houses built into them. it's beautiful. it's a lovely place to go to get away, drink coffee, go antique shopping and buy some beautiful ceramics. but imho it's certainly not the place to go to see the latest in contemporary art.

i don't know if i could ever live there. i'd LOVE to move someplace more rural, but i don't think i could live more than an hour from a bigger city.

Robert said...

Thanks, Ann. And I agree completely with your comment about artisans vs. artists. Both are very creative individuals, but their end results are vastly different... not 'better or worse' or 'more or less important', but worthy of individual distinction.