An Art Museum for Jerome AZ—Wouldn’t it Be Great?

Jerome, Arizona needs an art museum that would introduce its numerous visitors to the marvelous art created here by painters, sculptors, photographers, jewelers, potters, etc. during its four major eras: mining days 1876-1953; ghost town years (1950-1960); restoration (1970-2000); contemporary Jerome (2000-present). Many artists, such as Lew Davis and Roger Holt, are nationally acclaimed.

Oil painting by Roger Holt

Oil painting by Roger Holt depicting Jerome in its ‘ghost town’ era.

The town of Jerome owns some art created by Jerome artists and it hangs in some of the town offices, meeting rooms and libraries. The Jerome Mine Museum on Main Street has a small collection of very fine oil paintings depicting mining days. The Jerome Historical Society archives has a considerable photography collection, only a very small portion of which has been printed and is on display. The Jerome State Historic Park has a small collection of photos and paintings. Some of that art owned by these entities is museum quality and should be protected and displayed in one location.

Sadly, however, much of the great art created in Jerome AZ before 1990 is gone—to families of artists that have died, to museums, and to visitors and residents of Jerome and the Verde Valley who had the good sense to buy it.

Three shows that occurred in Jerome within the last fifty years gave residents and visitors glimpses of the greatness of artists that once lived in Jerome.

Lew Davis: The Dean Arizona Artists

During the nineteen seventies, the Verde Valley Art Association in Jerome AZ sponsored a show of the art of Lew Davis, dean of Arizona artists, who grew up in Jerome during its mining days. The show included one of his most famous pieces, “Morning at the Little Daisy.” VVAA Director and musician Pat Jacobson and Arts Coordinator and jeweler Susan Dowling went to Phoenix in Pat’s pickup truck and borrowed all of Davis’ paintings from museums and collectors.

"Morning at the Little Daisy" by Lew Davis

“Morning at the Little Daisy,” by Lew Davis, owned by the Phoenix Art Museum. Davis grew up in Jerome, not wanting to admit to wanting to be an artist in a community of miners. After he moved out of Jerome, Davis painted a series of paintings depicting life in Jerome.

Other VVAA art shows featured the work of Arcosanti visionary Paolo Soleri and nationally renowned Verde Valley sculptor John Waddell.

The VVAA shows of Arizona artists and Jerome artists’ studio tours helped place Jerome on the map as an art destination. Shows of Jerome resident artists introduced their art to visitors and gave many artists their first sales.

1999: Images of Jerome

The Jerome Historical Society sponsored an art show in 1999 called “Images of Jerome: A Centennial Retrospective: 1899–1999.” The show depicted the culture of the community during three distinct periods: mining era, ghost town years, and restoration. A collection of more than one hundred paintings, photographs, jewelry, stained glass, tiles, sculpture, and pottery were displayed that were created by artists and artisans that lived in Jerome. The art was of excellent quality.

“Miner Pushing Ore Cart” by William D. White.

“Miner Pushing Ore Cart” by William D. White. This painting was the poster cover for
“Images of Jerome” exhibition in 1999. The painting was part of a series commissioned by Phelps Dodge Corporation in the mid-1930’s depicting copper miners. After the society formed in 1953, The American Legion loaned six of White’s paintings to the Jerome Historical Society and they were eventually accessioned by them.

I produced that show on behalf of the society. It was a propitious time to remind those of us who helped rescue the town of our deep attachments here and our roots into every aspect of its culture. The art was gathered from about 150 homes, studios, and businesses in Jerome and from the society’s collection in the Mine Museum. Curators ML Lincoln and Karen Mackenzie put in more than four hundred volunteer hours. They were astonished to find homes so chock full of Jerome art that they looked like miniature art museums. “These were not wealthy people collecting art as an investment but art to treasure as you would a good friend,” ML said. “Artists traded among each other or bartered their work for carpentry or bookkeeping or another piece of art. It was all very personal.” Lincoln and Mackenzie photographed all the art that they saw in people’s homes and donated the slides to the Jerome Historical Society for their archival records.

Vincent Family Art Exhibit

In 2012, Henry Vincent, a well-known Cottonwood CPA and resident of Jerome AZ had a showing of the art his family had gathered, much of it from Jerome artists at the old Manheim Gallery in Old Town Cottonwood. It was called the Vincent Family Art Exhibit and comprised more than thirty art works that had never been on public display and were not for sale, the majority of it by Jerome artists. Henry’s father Tom and mother Frankie remodeled a home in Jerome and moved into it in 1962. He began collecting art from Jerome artists. Their three children, Ed, Maeve and Henry continued collecting it.

The show included a painting of the Vincent family home called “First Snow” by Jerome artist and resident Robert Knudson and four or five paintings by Roger Holt the celebrated American artist, Roger Holt, who had exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Corcoran Gallery, and Carnegie Institute. Holt and his wife, Shan, arrived in 1954 and lived in Jerome until the mid-1960s. They founded the Verde Valley Artists, which morphed into the Verde Valley Art Association in 1975.

Where Could a Jerome AZ Art Museum be Located?

But where could this museum be?” I was asked whenever I mentioned my idea to people in Jerome on a recent visit. No one disputed that it was a good idea; but they did become very dubious that a museum could find a home here.

At some point, Verde Ex could explore the possibility of donating/selling/granting some or all of the old Mingus High School buildings for an art museum. It’s a logical idea: it has the reputation already as an art studio center and has adequate parking. Verde Ex needn’t displace any of its renters, many of them artists, but it could stipulate that whenever the renter gave up the space, it would become part of the new museum.

Would Verde Ex by up for selling? That would have to be explored. Could money to buy some of all of the complex for a museum be raised from donations and grants: no doubt.

OR??????

But Wouldn’t It be Great

If an art museum did exist in Jerome AZ?

Wouldn’t it be great if special shows could be brought up to Jerome by artists that visited or lived here? Like Lew Davis. Or the great Edward Weston who photographed Jerome in the thirties.

An art museum could raise the funds and persuade the Corcoran Gallery in Washington D.C. to help mount an exhibit here in Jerome of some of the collection of William Andrews Clark, the man who started the first of Jerome ‘s great copper mines. Like his collection of rare laces. Or world-renowned collection of majolica pottery.

Wouldn’t it be great for Jerome artists, before they died or moved away, to donate one or two pieces to the museum, instead of it evaporating out of town, never to be seen again. I’m thinking of the great work by artist Paul Nonnast, who died a few years ago, and whose home and studio are on the market. Or stained glass artist Nancy Louden. Or the tiles and magnets of Jade and Rosie? Or some of the work of jeweler Shorty Powell, who lived here in the sixties. I’ve never seen any of his art.

Wouldn’t it be great if some of us who own some of the great art that has been created here in Jerome could leave it as a bequest to the new museum?

Wouldn’t it be great if there was one place our tourists could see the fantastic art that was created here in all eras of Jerome’s fantastic and colorful lives.

Fall in Jerome AZ

“Fall in Jerome” by Mark Hembleben, a plein air artist currently living and painting in Jerome. Hembleben has an art studio in the old Mingus Union High School. This painting would be one of my candidates for a new art museum in Jerome AZ. (www.markhemleben.com).

Wouldn’t it be great if there was one great art museum where visitors could recognize how deeply entwined art was in the history and collective identity of Jerome?

Ghosts of My Verde Street Home

If you are a student of Jerome AZ’s history, as I am, you study ghosts, the people that came before you, that grew up in the house you live in, planted the crab apple and apricot trees you eat from, plundered the mountain where you now walk your dog and try to figure out what they created or destroyed has to do with the present and future.” (From the prologue to Home Sweet Jerome: Death and Rebirth of Arizona’s Richest Copper Mining City.)

Meeting the Ghosts  Sometimes you get to meet the ghosts that built the house you lived in; who whispered to you when you buried Whiskers the Manx cat near the apricot tree, “Thanks for giving us a cat to be our companion. We’ve been wishing for one for a long time.”

Verde Street Home in Jerome AZ

The house at the end of Verde Street in Jerome AZ built by Nikolai Domjanovich in 1926. (Photo by JoAnn Braheny)

I was visiting Jerome AZ in May and received a phone call from Barbara Beneitone, one of the children that lived in our home at the end of Verde Street before the mines closed. “My Mom and sister and brother are going to be in Jerome. We’d love to take you to lunch.” I had been corresponding with Barbara through Facebook: she was one my loyal blog readers. At Grapes Restaurant on Jerome’s Main Street, I met Barbara’s 91-year old mother, Doris and her first-born son Don Schumacher and his wife Mary, Barbara and her sister Suzy and her partner Roy Harbin. Missing were Louis and Debbie, two other children. Doris was a sturdy, lovely woman with a lot of energy and a big heart, much like her children. After lunch, we went over to their old house, unlived in since we sold it three years ago, full of foxtails, neglect, and a lot of memories. My husband Walt and I, children Max and Michael, Amanda the dog and Whiskers the cat lived there for 35 years. The house sits sentinel over Deception Gulch.

The Beneitone family in Jerome AZ

The Beneitone family in May 2014 on the driveway of the Verde Street home in Jerome AZ: left to right: Suzy, Barbara, Doris. and Don. (Photo by JoAnn Braheny)

History of the Ghosts

“The house was built in 1926 by Marguerite and Nikolai Domjanovich, my parents,” Doris told me. “They were Croats from Delnice, Yugoslavia.  I was 3-months old when we moved to the house. Mr. Lopez, Sr. helped us build it. He lived in the house below you. Sometimes the kids threw stones to see if they could hit his tin roof.” Doris and her husband and four kids lived on the bottom floor of that old house.  Suzy slept in the closet in the bedroom Louis, Don and Barbara slept in the hallway in bunk beds. Upstairs lived Mitzi Bobbitt, Doris’ sister and her husband. “We were one big happy family in a little house,” Barbara said.

The first house that Marguerite and Nikolai lived in was near the baseball field (now a big, open flat spot near the Gold King Mine). Nicolai’s brother George was accidentally killed by a baseball hitting his chest. The family built the home at the end of Verde Street because they did not want to confront the ghosts of that memory every day. The family and I walked back to the patio where Walt built his last wall, the one with the drill press embedded in it, and stood under the mesquite tree. It was a particularly tranquil, private spot. The men admired the walls. I told them Walt built ten massive walls to protect the house from tumbling down the mountain. Don showed me the remnants of the walls his father built. I showed him the one Mr. Bobbitt built.

Drill press wall Jerome AZ

Wall with drill press in Jerome AZ built by Walter Rapaport. (Photo by Diane Rapaport)

The apricot tree their family had planted just below the patio was still there, barely alive through a few winters of drought and disregard. They made jam from the fruit, Don told me. Just below was the garden his parents kept, full of beets, turnips, cabbage and carrots. Doris made sauerkraut from the cabbages in barrels located in the old shed. She’d serve it with ‘pigs in the blankets.’ The spot was protected from the smoke of copper smelters in Cottonwood and Clarkdale AZ. “On special occasions, we’d go up to Walnut Springs for a picnic and a swim with pails full of sauerkraut and potato salad,” Don said. The remains of the concrete swimming pool are still up there.

The old Walnut Springs Pool near Jerome AZ

The swimming pool at Walnut Springs, two miles up the mountain from Jerome AZ circa 1918. (Private collection)

Their father and grandfather were miners, such a different life than the one we led in Jerome. What seemed like plundering the mountain to me was a better job for their grandfather and his brother than ones in the mines in Michigan, where it was brutally cold, and those in the low-ceilinged coal mines of New Mexico, where her grandfather to had to work stooped. He was six feet, nine inches tall and had to work stooped. Most of the family moved away in 1950. The men helped tear down the interiors of the electrical plumbing and woodworking buildings on the 500-level and recycle tools and materials for mining elsewhere. Doris’ widowed mother stayed behind. She did not want to leave Jerome. I stood with Doris at the top of the steps. “My grandfather made the copper railings and set them in iron pipes.” It gave us something to hang on to when we went down the two sets of steps. By now they were tipping toward the patio ten feet below the wall. Where my peace roses still bloomed was the location of an old bin for storing coal for the stove her mom and she cooked on.”

The Tug of Jerome

I didn’t have much desire to go down those steps with Don, Barbara and Suzy and look around. Neither did Doris. We hadn’t back since we left and we felt sad.  Lifetimes had passed, not to be measured in years. We both had tears. What we had in common is our love of Jerome, the home that meant so much to all of us in our lives, the children that grew up there and scrambled over those craggy cliffs like goats. We understood without words what it was to feel the tug back as we left Jerome for another life in another city, another set of people and circumstances. Doris and her family had always hoped to move back to that house. For them, as for me, Jerome was a favored place on earth and we shared an almost supernatural attachment to it. For us this crazy, patchwork town will always be home sweet Jerome.

Jerome, AZ 2014—America’s Loveliest Town

Jerome AZ is home when I come back to visit, as familiar and comfortable as my new home in Hines, Oregon. I was hugged back into its warmth and beauty by friends and family.

I strolled through streets that are full of magic and surprise. It’s not just the highly individual houses and gardens, but coming upon staircases that climb to nowhere, secret pathways, gussied up pink flamingos, an old dental chair planted in the grass, the body of a 1951 Chrysler New Yorker floating on a pedestal adjacent to the New State Motor Company.

Fantasy garden in Jerome AZ.

Karen calls this her Jerome AZ fantasy garden. I call it the garden of magic and surprise. lovely Lady Bank roses cascade up the large tree and the peace sign is lit at night. Photo by Karen Mackenzie

It was late spring. Thousands of trees in hundreds of varieties had greened up. Apricots and peaches were plumping out; it would be a bonanza year. Pink, red and yellow roses cascaded off porch trellises. It made me feel like I was walking through a terraced arboretum decorated with people-sized dollhouses.

It was difficult to imagine that in 1953 Jerome and the surrounding mountains were denuded of vegetation.

Unlike virtually any other American town, Jerome, AZ is framed in by a wild rocky landscape. The entire town is encompassed in about one square mile. There are no perimeter condos or trailer parks; no big box stores; no fast food franchises, no blighted neighborhoods. The land surrounding the town is owned by that is owned by mining and other large entities and the US Forest Service.

Jerome AZ illustration by Anne Bassett

The entire town of Jerome AZ is encompassed in about an aereal mile. Illustration by Anne Bassett (www.jeromeartistannebasset.com) for Diane Rapaport’s book, Home Sweet Jerome—Death and Rebirth of Arizona’s Richest Copper Mining City (homesweetjerome.net).

Every stroll shows me stupendous backdrops of craggy copper-colored canyons above Jerome or sweeps my eyes 1700 feet down and across the Verde Valley to the carmine and buff buttes, which form the ramparts known as the Mogollon Rim. The lighting effects produced by any kind of weather are entrancing.

Late afternoon in Jerome AZ

Views from Jerome AZ are stupendous, especially when their are storm clouds. “Heaven on earth” is what photographer Ron Chilston calls it.  (www.ron-chilston.artistwebsites.com)

The mining history of this once fabled city is everywhere present. Just up from the post office on Main Street, I can take in the elegance of fifteen lovingly restored Victorian houses, built by William Andrews Clark, the mining mogul reputed to be richer than Rockefeller. My eyes can look at the big buildings that dominate most every neighborhood and remember how derelict they looked when I moved to Jerome in 1980. Now they are architectural showcases, lovingly used and enjoyed.

DeCamp House

The DeCamp house on Company Hill in Jerome AZ. It sits on the edge of Paradise Lane. Illustration by Anne Bassett (www.jeromeartistannebassett.com/

The restoration efforts led to Jerome AZ being declared a National Historic Landmark in 1976. A decade before, the commercial district had been designated as a National Historic District.)

The white Douglas Mansion, the largest adobe brick structure in Arizona, once belonged to Jimmy Douglas, the second wealthiest mining mogul in Jerome, AZ. The mansion is now a meticulously cared for state park and museum. Nearby, the Daisy Hotel, once a miner’s hotel, and, after the fifties, an informal child’s skateboard and hide and seek playground, is now a handsomely restored home for its owners. The old hospital has become the Grand Hotel with its gracious maroon awnings. The Mingus Union High School complex is crammed full of remarkable art studios. The old elementary school houses town hall, offices and public library.

I always gawk at Jerome’s retaining walls, its immense, and somewhat unheralded, architectural treasure. The walls behind the new fire station and down by the basketball court near the sliding jail are built with rocks so large you’d think giants lifted them. Other walls are built with trestles from old railroad beds, steel sheets, or even bedsprings. Still others are huge concrete edifices. Some 1500 retaining walls have been built in Jerome AZ and they are as individual as the homes that people have restored. The walls keep the town from toppling down the mountain.

Wall on Highway 89A, Jerome AZ

One of the first Jerome AZ walls that drivers notice on their way up from the Verde Valley is right on Highway 89A. It was built by Mexicans and Italian stonemasons in the 1930’s as a WPA project. The limestone rocks are quarried from the Martin formation just outside of town. The rocks have settled and withstood a few rumbles, which accounts for some of their curved lines. Photo by Bob Swanson (SwansonImages.com)

The Jerome Historical Society (http://jeromehistoricalsociety.com/) has displayed many mining artifacts in its parks and streets: iron ore carts, the coal coker, the huge half steel spoke outside its mine museum on Main Street. They have transformed an old Audrey head frame below the Douglas State Park Museum into a museum mini park. I stand on top of the glass walkway and look down almost 1900 feet into the old elevator shaft, a view enhanced by dramatic xenon lighting and specially designed mirrors. I saw an old elevator ‘cage’ and wonder if it was the same one that once transported me almost 5000 feet down into the large mine caverns.

Audrey Headframe

The Audrey headframe was part of the elevator that took employees down into the United Verde Extension Copper Mine in Jerome AZ.

After more than sixty years of restoration, the ghost town derelict that Jerome became after 1953 is gone. It is arguably the most photographed and painted town in America. Visually, Jerome, AZ gets my vote for the loveliest town in America.

Fall in Jerome AZ

Fall in Jerome AZ by plein aire artist Mark Hemleben (markhemleben.com).