Art: The Soul of Jerome, Arizona

The major reason Jerome is an unusual art mecca is because its resident artists are deeply entwined in the collective identity of the town. Artists are the heart of the town’s quirky, and sometimes contentious, soulfulness.

Since 1970, the annual ratio of artists to residents has averaged 25%—at least 100 out of 400 or so of its permanent residents. Few other art towns/cities can claim that high a percentage. Artists nourish and encourage each other, giving rise to a feedback loop that challenges them to improve and flourish.

Artists in Jerome Arizona are Business People

Many artists own successful shops and galleries. They help disprove clichés that artists should starve for the sake of their art and aren’t cut out to be business people. The oldest of the uptown galleries is Made in Jerome, co-founded in 1972 by potter David Hall and two students from Prescott College who were eventually bought out by Hall. Others artist-owned galleries and shops in the main part of town include Nellie Bly II (painter Diane Geoghegan), Aurum Jewelry (co-owner artist Sharon Watson), Raku Gallery (glass blower and potter Tracy Weisel, Designs on You (owned by Leigh Hay Martin, a gifted quilter), and Caduceus Cellars (owned by noted vintner and rock star Maynard Keenan) Artists own and operate all the studio businesses in the high school complex.

Made i Jerome Pottery, Jerome, AZ

Jane Moore’s paintings on pottery, available at Made in Jerome, are famous and very lovely. (

Jerome Arizona Artists Participate in Politics

Even more unusual is that many Jerome artists participate in politics. In a town that has at least 110 volunteer positions, artists quickly learned that if they wanted a say in the safety, restoration and future of the town, they needed to actively involve themselves. Artists helped draft Jerome’s Comprehensive Plan and Zoning and Design Review ordinances. Artist have been elected to the Jerome Town Council and appointed to serve on Planning and Zoning and Design Review; voted by members of the Jerome Historical Society to serve as board members; and served on the Jerome Fire Department and fire auxiliary. Their contributions help counter the oft-spoken opinions that the hippies that moved to Jerome were spaced out, stoned-out good for nothings and that artists shouldn’t meddle in politics.

Painter Anne Bassett who has served multiple time  on the Jerome Town Council said, “People who don’t protect their liberty, lose it. I’ve tried to protect against the developers and further the respect for Jerome’s historic elements. From the beginning of when hippies moved in and became the majority, we have been working against the mainstream. Our high appreciation for diversity is a unifying strength. I’m still a hippie and proud of it.”

DeCamp House

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

 Jerome Arizona Artists Donate Generously to Benefits

Musicians and artists have raised tens of thousands of dollars in the last few decades by donating services and art for benefiting Jeromans who are sick and needy or to organizations like the library, humane society and fire department. They also donate generously to the Children’s Christmas party every year to ensure there are gifts for every child in Jerome. Thank you artists!

Organization of the Community of Jerome Artists

Just after big mining abandoned Jerome in 1953, the first artists that moved in organized to support each other and draw attention to Jerome art. Roger Holt who had exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Corcoran Gallery, and Carnegie Institute moved to Jerome in 1954 and lived there until the mid-1960s. Shan Holt, his wife, started a group called The Verde Valley Artists. Shan found a patron and friend in portrait artist, Lilli Brant, who became president of the group. As the town struggled to survive, Lilli’s husband, the renowned geophysicist Arthur Brant, predicted that someday Jerome would become an art destination.

In 1975, The Verde Valley Artist group morphed into a formal nonprofit called the Verde Valley Artists Association (VVAA), which started featuring non-Jerome artists for major Jerome exhibitions. One featured Paolo Soleri, the Italian architect who built the futuristic desert city Arcosanti, which was based on the fusion of architecture and ecology, which Soleri termed arcology. Another show featured Lew Davis, dean of Arizona artists, who grew up in Jerome during its mining days.

"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.

The VVAA began a student art show that toured the state and sponsored studio tours. Many artists reported they sold their first pieces of art to people attending those tours.

These activities garnered support from many Verde Valley businesses, which had been standoffish and suspicious of Jerome’s hippies and helped place Jerome on the map as an art destination.

Support of Arts by the Jerome Community

From 1953 forward, the community of Jerome has actively supported the artists. The Jerome Historical Society donated the space to the Verde Valley Artists and rented space to other artists at very low costs; and voted some of their income to buy art, as did the town of Jerome. Both the society and the town have extensive and valuable art collections, as do many of its residents and businesses.

Paul Handverger, a board member of Verde Exploration Ltd. (Verde Ex), helped persuade them to purchase Mingus Union High School in 1972 for $25,000 and target artists as renters. The first renter was fine arts painter Jim Rome, who had a gallery uptown and a large following. Clothing designer Ava Guitterez was second and she eventually opened a shop on Main Street. Artists Margo Mandette and Robin Anderson turned one of the buildings into a showpiece gallery and studio. Don Bassett, an artist who made humorous assemblages from iron scrap and bedsprings, was given a small apartment and free rent in exchange for being caretaker.

Art studios abound in the old Mingus Union High School

What used to be a high school is now an art focal point in Jerome AZ. Photo by Bob Swanson (

Last but not least, the town’s aesthetics draw artists to it like bees to honey, just as they were drawn to other towns with exceptional aesthetics, such as Sedona, Taos, New Mexico and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Few other art towns, however, command the spectacular 180-mile panorama view that Jerome has from its steep mountain perch.

Note: My book, Home Sweet Jerome, is about how artists and hippies transformed the town from being an economically depressed ghost town into the art mecca that it is.  This blog is just a summary of some of the highlight themes. The book is availabe from Amazon at an incredible discount right now (

Late afternoon in Jerome AZ

Views from Jerome, AZ are often subjects of photographers and painters, only one of the reasons it is the most photographed and painted town in America. Photo by Ron Chilston (



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.


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. (

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?

Mining in Jerome AZ after 1953

(Short excerpt from Home Sweet Jerome: Death and Rebirth of Arizona’s Richest Copper City by Diane Rapaport  (to be published by Johnson Books, Boulder, CO., spring 2014.))

Mining activities never stopped in Jerome after the two great mines—United Verde Extension Gold, Silver and Copper Mining Company (UVX) and Phelps Dodge Corporation (successor to the United Verde Copper Company—shut their operations and the city emptied out.

In 1953, speculation ran high that the entire town of Jerome would be razed. A former official of Phelps Dodge Corporation said, “Within a year—grass will grow on the main street of Jerome—Jerome is finished.”[A]

It would have been an easy time for the mining companies to bulldoze the rest of the town. There were not a lot of people. Essential services, such as the hospital and schools, had been relocated to the Verde Valley. The mining companies owned a great deal of buildings and property in Jerome and beneath it.

The open pit just outside of Jerome. Photo by Bob Swanson (

The open pit just outside of Jerome. Photo by Bob Swanson (

The Big Hole Mine

In 1954, new activity at the open pit just outside of Jerome, fueled rumors that big scale mining would someday return.

The small mining division of Phelps Dodge leased rights to mine the slopes of the open pit  to three people that lived in the Verde Valley.[i]

They called it The Big Hole Mine and operated it until 1975.[ii]

Between eight and twelve men were employed at any given time. They scaled the sides of the pit and drilled into the steep walls and dynamited the ore-bearing rocks. “It was dangerous work,” said Robert Sandoval, one of the miners who grew up in Jerome. “The trails were narrow, we were working high up, and the overhangs were large. We’d hide in some of the small caves up there when we blasted.”

Miners would separate waste from the ore-bearing rocks, put them in pickup trucks and load them into a railroad car in Clarkdale that was sent weekly to the Phelps Dodge smelter in Douglas, Arizona.

According to Paul Handverger, a geologist living in the Verde Valley, The Big Hole Mine shipped over 200,000 tons of ore that contained 25 million pounds of copper (12,500 tons), 2,800 ounces of gold, and almost 200,000 ounces of silver.[iii]

It was a profitable small business. Mining was discontinued when the surfaces of the open pit could not be further exploited.

Gold Mining in Jerome: 1980’s

In 1980, geologist Paul Handverger discovered an unexploited source of microscopic gold in the old UVX mine. The gold, perhaps less than .02 ounces to the ton  was part of silica-rich quartz chert that could be used as flux in smelting operations and could become a profitable by-product.[1]

In 1985, Verde Ex, successor to UVX,  leased mining rights to A. F. Budge Mining Limited (Budge), a company located in Scottsdale, AZ. Repair and exploration took about three years and in early 1988, Budge started production. Their goal was to take out 100,000 pounds of chert daily, using five to eight twenty-ton trucks going up and down the hill from Jerome to Clarkdale and to employ about forty people.[2] The mine was located just below the Arizona State Park (Douglas Mansion).

Although most of the nonproduction activity occurred at night, some Jerome residents complained about lack of sleep because of the noise of the air compressor that was used to pump clean air in and out of the mine, the sounds of trucks being filled with rock and truck back-up signals. The problem was exacerbated by dogs barking and whining at night. Most oddly, there were reports of bees acting queerly—by forming in clusters, coming into homes and dying.

Like many issues in a small village, strong arguments from those for and against the mine became increasingly negative and emotionally charged. In one rancorous Jerome town council meeting, one mining geologist stood up and shook his fist shouting, “You’ll see big mining return here in the next century. The biggest zinc deposit in North America is right underneath Jerome.”[3]

Although four different mining companies professed interest as buyers of the chert, contracts for the ore were not forthcoming. Budge shut down in 1989.

Although mining for ores has stopped in the Jerome area, mining activity has not. Phelps Dodge and its successor Freeport McMoRan Copper and Gold Inc., spent millions of dollars in remediating water laden with copper sulfate and other mining wastes from flowing into Bitter Creek and potentially contaminating water resources downstream.

Drop a metal part into copper sulfate water and watch it become coated with copper. After heavy rains, the ditches above Jerome ran blue.

Drop a metal part into copper sulfate water and watch it become coated with copper. After heavy rains, the ditches above Jerome ran blue.

In 2008, exploration for a new copper ore body west of Jerome  heightened fears among Jerome residents that active mining might again return.

[A] News Bulletin, Jerome Historical Society newsletter, 1955.

[i] The owners of the Big Hole Mine were Mark Gemmill, his son Dick, and Gordon Robineau.

[ii] Douglas Mansion geologic display, The Verde Independent, April 15, 1965, and author interview with Paul Handverger, 2011.

[iii] Email to author.

[1] Verde Independent, Nov 11, 1987 and author interview with Paul Handveger 2011.

[2] Author conversations with Budge mining foreman Pete Flores and geologist Don White.

[3] Minutes of the Jerome Protection Foundation, Diane Rapaport files.