Pick of the Week

Sonoran Art

Nestled within the grounds of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, the Ironwood Gallery has been the home of the Southern Arizona Watercolor Guild's annual Fiesta Sonora exhibition for the past 10 years. The show includes work from local watercolor artists and focuses on themes from the Sonoran Desert.

Currently on display, the juried show had 189 entries by 104 artists. Eighty-seven pieces were selected for the show, from 61 artists. A remaining 29 pieces were chosen for the photo file, an extension of the show. (When a piece is sold and removed from the exhibition, a photo file selection is placed on display.) The show is co-chaired by Gretchen Huff and Susan Libby.

This year's jury process was especially difficult. Huff says judge Mary Deloyht-Arendt proclaimed, "It was one of the most difficult jurying because of the quality." Deloyht-Arendt had "trouble saying, 'This painting is better than this painting'" due to the high quality of entries, says Huff.

Deloyht-Arendt is a member of the National Watercolor Society and a signature member of the Plein-Air Painters of America. She's won more than 40 awards, including Best of Show in Desert Plein Art of La Quinta Fine Arts Council's 2000 show. She displays work at galleries in Scottsdale, Michigan, England and Laguna Beach, Calif.

The guild has more than 400 members and continues to grow from its humble beginnings in 1967. Tucson watercolorist "Gerry Pierce had a group of students and encouraged them to form a chapter of the Southwestern Watercolor Society of Dallas," says Huff. "There were 10 members. By 1970, they were 80 strong. They decided to form the Southern Arizona Watercolor Guild in Tucson." This was formalized in 1971. In 1974, the guild became a founding member of an alliance of Western watercolor groups known as the Western Federation of Watercolor Societies.

"The guild's mission is to advance and develop watercolor as an important painting medium. It provides members with educational and cultural opportunities. There are about eight workshops each year with national and prominent artists and teachers," says Huff. In 2008, the guild will host the Western Federation of Watercolor Societies 33rd annual show in Tubac. The Southern Arizona Watercolor Guild also has members' works currently on display at other galleries in town. Their annual signature show continues through Saturday, Dec. 23, at Stone Avenue Gallery, and Southern Arizona Sights and Symbols continues through Sunday, Jan. 7, at Brandi Fenton Memorial Park Gallery.

The guild's Fiesta Sonora show offers viewers a colorful expression of the Sonoran region. The region reaches west across the southern tip of California to El Centro and Indio; north to the Mogollon Rim; east to the base of the White Mountains; and south into Mexico, including Rocky Point, Kino Bay, Hermosillo and Guaymas. With such a large region, there are many subjects to consider, including cactuses, desert flowers, birds, buildings, trees and the ocean. Portraits are even accepted, and two pieces of bearded gentlemen were selected for the show.

"This is a popular show for all the members," says Huff. "We all love watercolor. There are several types. It comes in transparent, gouache (an opaque media) and acrylic. There's also mixed media.

"You try to have a balanced show ... with a good variety of styles. Pieces are selected for the use of color, media and format ... to show the talent of the group. They want to pick a dynamic show," says Huff.

The Louise Wyant Memorial Best of Show was awarded to Judith Faitsch for her "Octopus Agave." Faitsch receives $500 for this award. Best award is named after Louise Wyant, a member of the guild from the mid-'70s. She co-chaired the show from 2000 to 2004, the year she passed away.

First place was awarded to Pamela Howe for "Still, the Raven ... Evermore." The piece was painted in a class called "Eye on Raptors," held at the Desert Museum's Art Institute.

Second place was awarded to Barry F. Sapp for "Sonoran Transport." Third place was awarded to Larry D. Wollam for "White Crowned Sparrow." All pieces are on sale.

The Southern Arizona Watercolor Guild presents Fiesta Sonora 2006 at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum's Ironwood Gallery. The show continues through Sunday, Jan. 28, and is free with admission to the museum. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., daily. Call ahead to check for special closures and admission fees. The Desert Museum is located at 2021 N. Kinney Road. Call 883-2702 for the museum. Visit www.watercolor-sawg.org for more information about the Southern Arizona Watercolor Guild.