Eight years ago, sculptor Al Glann decamped from Phoenix and moved south to Tucson.
"Tucson is smaller. It has good art community," he said, smiling in his cluttered studio in Metal Arts Village where he was getting ready for this weekend's SculptureTucson Festival Show & Sale.
His place was chock-a-block with metal and bronze sculptures he'll be exhibiting at the show in Brandi Fenton Park: a larger-than-life St. Francis of Assisi, towering totems and a minimalist horse in fire-engine-red.
A farm boy originally from rural Ohio, Glann taught 3D art techniques for many years at his alma mater, and later, after he moved West, at the now-defunct Art Institute of Phoenix.
"I got tired of teaching after 29 years," he said. "I told myself I need to start now to do art fulltime." Tucson seemed to be a good place to make the leap. "Phoenix is so spread out. It's hard to get connected."
He knew no one when he arrived in the Old Pueblo, but in its close-knit art community he quickly made friends.
And after a couple of "dodgy years," Glann prospered in Tucson. The Metal Arts Village's monthly full moon openings bring in customers. And he sells his works, large and small, at Madera Gallery in Tucson, and in four other galleries around the country, in Sedona, Denver, Palm Desert and Lexington, Kentucky, where his horse sculptures are popular.
But until last year, he said, something essential was missing on the local arts scene: a big-time, juried sculpture show.
The major exhibitions around the country are important both for sculptors' careers and for furthering the art form, he noted. They also do their part to help the local economy.
"I do shows a couple of times a year," Glann says, meeting potential buyers and dealers—and selling his works. One of his must-do annual stops is the Sculpture in the Park show in Loveland, Colorado, a respected annual festival that's gone international.
"Artists come from all over," he said, drawing thousands of art lovers every August.
Thanks to three local sculptors, Tucson now has a juried show of its own, inspired by the one in Loveland and others. The sculptors, Barbara Grygutis, an internationally known maker of public art; Jeff Timan, a partner in Hacienda de Sol; and Steve Kimble, a retired attorney who created Metal Arts Village, began brainstorming the idea three years ago.
"Jeff got us together," Kimble said. "It's tough to make a living in art and sculpture is even harder. It requires space"—unlike paintings that can go on the wells. "And we could do a lot better with public art in Tucson.
The festival, run by the nonprofit SculptureTucson, has two goals: to help sculptors and to beautify the region with more public art.
Inspired by Loveland, a "little town that has a world-class show," the founders envisioned their version with a Tucson twist: "like the Gem Show but for sculpture." It would be held each year in balmy early April and with luck become an annual cultural destination, made even more festive by live music and artist talks and demos.
And each year SculptureTucson would do its part for its hometown by buying pieces of art and donating them to the city or Pima County.
The 2018 inaugural show drew a crowd estimated in the thousands.
"We opened the gates in the morning and people flooded in," Glann remembers.
Some 30 artists participated, each showing up to 15 sculptural pieces. This year's edition will be twice as big. More than 110 artists applied, many from out of state; a Phoenix juror, Donna Valdez of the art group Xico, winnowed that number down to some 60 artists.
Their artworks are wildly diverse, with some loyal to traditional forms and others experimenting with contemporary innovations. (For a sneak peek, see the website sculpturetucson.org.)
Shirley Wagner scavenges wood, wire and other found objects and shapes them into earth-toned wall works. Timothy Arand-Mcllranth makes his own fiber, dyes it and strings the threads onto delicate branches. Susan Kay Johnson makes beguiling figures in ceramic, while Gerald Rockwell works with alabaster and marble.
William Lesch, a well-known Tucson photographer gifted in multiple media—lately he's been incorporating copper into his color photos—here is trying out three-dimensional work, smoothing and shaping luxurious woods into bone-like shapes.
The three founders will exhibit a few works of their own. Festival-goers will get the rare opportunity to sample works by Grygutis, whose acclaimed site pieces are mostly located out of town. Several advisers to the festival, sculptors Moira Geoffrion, Terrol Dew Johnson and Steven Derks, will also exhibit pieces, and so will some artists connected to the Jane Hamilton and Wilde Meyer galleries.
If last year's show is any indication, this year's iteration should achieve the goal of helping artists.
Glann was happy with the crowds who saw his work. With his prices ranging from $1,500 to $14,000, he didn't sell much at the show itself, but "I made contacts," he said. "And people came later to the studio."
And Tucson did pretty well too. A large work by Otto Rigan, chosen for the purchase award last year, will soon be erected near the Rillito River and the Chuck Huckelberry Loop, right in Brandi Fenton Park.