COWBOY CORNER: The Edward Nye Fish House may well be the best little adobe in Tucson. Or to rephrase, the best little answer to a decades-old dispute in the city's art community.
The historic Fish House, a part of the Tucson Museum of Art's historic block, at long last gives a permanent home to the museum's Campbell collection of cowboy art and to changing exhibitions of what aficionados call "western realist art." Located to the west of the museum, across a courtyard, it's been rechristened the John K. Goodman Pavilion of Western Art, in honor of the Tucsonan and TMA board member who's been a tireless collector and patron of the genre--he's the one behind the Mountain Oyster Club shows.
Does the house's new status as repository of painted cowboys and bronze snakes settle the old argument about whether western art belongs in the museum?
"One would hope," says Robert Yassin, TMA director. "We've created a space for the best of western art."
And that space not only is lovely, it's architecturally appropriate for the art it will show, art that by and large offers a conservative view of the Old West. Fish, a California businessman transplanted to the Old Pueblo, started building the house as a home for his family in 1868. It's a lovely, thick-walled mud adobe finished with stucco; its ceilings are beamed with wood and saguaro ribs. It was the museum's library a few years back. In its most recent incarnation it housed the private Presidio Gallery, which has now decamped for new quarters out on Tanque Verde Road.
Though there's been bickering for years about whether the museum should go all-western or no-western, Yassin asserts that it's part of TMA's mission as a regional museum to display western art. There's no question that his solution to the rancorous debate is just plain brilliant. He's delighted the western art fans and honored their art by putting it in a sumptuous historic house, a kind of museum within a museum; at the same time, he's freed up space within the museum for contemporary art. The project cost only $140,000, raised by the Friends of Western Art and the museum's Estate of the Art raffle, though Yassin's still raising money for the Goodman Pavilion endowment. And he's also plugging away at a couple of other projects--converting storage space to a gallery, enclosing the museum's odd "outdoor lobby"--that along with the Goodman Pavilion will almost double the museum's current 11,000 square feet of exhibition space within a few years.
What's more, completion of the Fish House is another step on the way to Yassin's goal of revitalizing the historic block. The courtyard between the house and the museum will be renovated in the spring into a garden with seating. The Corbett House is on its way to becoming a repository for Arts and Crafts furniture and decorative arts. The Casa Cordova already houses a small museum of early Tucson history. If not quite of Williamsburg proportions, the historic block will be unlike anything the city has now, and its small density of attractions will likely draw visitors downtown. A people-friendly plaza is just what our sorry central city needs.
And as Yassin modestly says, all in all, "It's a much better use of our space."
| © 1995-97 Tucson Weekly . Info Booth