Way out west on Ina Road, clear past the freeway, Pat Frederick has spent the past year making jaguars.
She's got her own welding studio at her house, and she's painstakingly created two life-sized desert cats in steel. Both will be on view this Saturday and Sunday in the Art Trails studio tour, the first of an extravaganza of tours that will have art lovers hotfooting all over town for six weekends running.
"I begin by sketching," says Frederick, a veterinarian-turned-artist, drawing the "contour of the bones. Then I do an all-steel armature." For the final animal, "I don't do extreme realism. I do it in a contemporary fashion. I try to capture mobility and motion.
"I draw with steel."
The two jaguars she's completed since January are as light and airy as any sketch. Patches of solid metal alternate with open wire mesh. The jaguars look ready to run–or flee.
The sculptures memorialize two real cats who died and shouldn't have: the late, lamented Macho B, euthanized by Arizona wildlife agents—"He died from mishandling," Frederick declares—and Corazón, a female from Sonora who was poisoned and set afire in a jaguar preserve.
Jaguars are officially listed as threatened, and Frederick, a board member of the Sky Island Alliance, intends her art to be an "attention-getting mechanism, not for me but for the cats."
During the studio tour, Frederick's visitors can view jaguar literature from the alliance and from the Northern Jaguar Project. Sky Island's executive director will speak at a public art reception at Frederick's studio Saturday evening.
Tour-goers can also get a look at the artist's steel coyotes, horses, rabbits and dogs, some life-sized, some coffee-table sized. She'll also display her pastels during the free two-day tour, which also features dozens of other artist spaces on Tucson's north, west and northwest sides, all the way into Marana and Oro Valley. The tour goes from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., both Saturday and Sunday. See arttrails.org for a list of artists, addresses and directions.
Art Trails is not the only open studios event this weekend. A second tour, run by SAACA (Southern Arizona Arts and Cultural Alliance) on the same days, has some—but not all—of the Art Trails artists on its list. And the following weekend the Heart of Tucson Art tour on Oct. 29 and 30 will run concurrently with another SAACA tour, and the artists will again partially overlap, possibly creating confusion among potential visitors.
And after that, the continuing SAACA tours will compete with a brand-new series of Tucson Studio Tours organized by arts entrepreneur David Aguirre.
Some artists worry about open-studio overload, but Frederick, who will also show her metal beasts in the Heart of Tucson Art tour next weekend, is taking the cavalcade in stride
"It's open-studio season!" she says cheerfully.
The saga of the multiple tours began last year when TPAC (Tucson Pima Arts Council), pleading poverty, cancelled the all-city fall arts tour it had been organizing for years. Artists, who rely on the tours to connect with fans and potential buyers, got busy planning their own DIY tours.
But the newly formed artist groups Art Trails and Heart of Tucson Art didn't want to replicate the all-city model, which they saw as favoring artist-heavy downtown. So they put together two smaller tours organized around specific neighborhoods.
Then, after the new artist-run tours were all planned, two private donors gave money to TPAC to reinstate its own event. In the end, the artist-run tours rolled out on separate weekends in October, and an all-city TPAC tour followed in November.
That history partly repeated itself this year. TPAC changed not only its name—it's now the Arts Foundation for Tucson—but its mission: director Debi Chess Mabie announced it would primarily be a regranting group and not a presenting organization. That meant the Foundation was getting out of the studio tour biz once and for all.
Once again, Art Trails and Heart of Tucson began organizing their own tours and signing up artists. But then the Foundation switched gears and tapped SAACA to run a tour, giving the group a $10,000 grant to stage it, says Julie Lauterback-Colby, the Foundation's deputy director.
SAACA organized four geographically limited tours on four different weekends, and stepped on some toes by scheduling two of them on the same October weekends already picked by the independent artist groups. And while SAACA was nicely funded by the Foundation's $10,000 grant, "we didn't get any money," says painter C.J. Shane, a board member of Heart of Tucson Art and publisher of Sonoran Arts Network. Neither did Art Trails.
The two artists groups had to meet their expenses by charging artists a fee to participate, while SAACA could afford to allow artists to sign up for free.
Meantime, arts entrepreneur Aguirre came up with his own quartet of open studios–one citywide tour, and three limited to Steinfeld Warehouse, which he manages. Aguirre sees no problem with the sometimes competing events.
"The more the merrier," he says.
Anyway, he adds, a year or two of regrouping is to be expected after the end of long-running TPAC tours.
"It's natural to have a period where we reshape ourselves," he says. And the new formats may lead to new creative endeavors. "I intend to do events in between the studio tours. I'm hoping to run with the studio tour concept and revive it."
The art tours will offer up art in media of all kinds, from Frederick's endangered cats to Curtis Kiwak's symbolist paintings of his childhood fears, on display in Heart of Tucson, to Karen Hymer's sleek black-and-white photographs, on view in Art Trails, on Sunday only. All tours are free for visitors. Check the attached info box for all the arts tours; consult websites for artists and locations.