Scottsdale & Phoenix Resorts:
A Cultural Oasis

Arizona artists are gaining a foothold in the unlikeliest of places.

AAA Home & Away

Arizona seduces its visitors with a dramatic landscape of sculptured red rocks, succulent covered deserts and sensational sunsets. The growing number of lavish resorts and spas provide a further lure for a nurturing getaway. But it is the plethora of art within these resorts, beyond nature’s artistic landscape, which create an added enticement and valuable cultural experience.

After a week of combing through the indoor and outdoor galleries of several resorts, I developed a profound appreciation and respect for the American Indian heritage and artists. The heartfelt stories told to me by tribal people working at these establishments flavored the art with a special spirit and life.

 

Artistic Retreat
It is no wonder some of Arizona’s resorts have become venues for artists. From the turn of the century, artists and writers have gravitated to the beauty and serenity of Sedona (sometimes called “the museum without walls”) and the Sonoran Desert surrounding Phoenix and Scottsdale. Prominent architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright and Paolo Soleri were inspired to create here.

Scottsdale’s Old Town, Main Street and Marshall Way comprise a slew of studios and noteworthy galleries, with weekly art walks, showcasing American Indian to Contemporary and European works, and Sedona’s Tlaquepaque features an endless row of art galleries. However, viewing art in the atmosphere of a luxury resort feels more relaxing and personal, and presents a totally different environment for appreciation.

The Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort and Spa at Gainey Ranch is an unlikely place to find a Native America and Environmental Learning Center introducing the tribal art, textiles, and weaving of the Hopi tribes.

As I meandered through the main exhibit, The Hopi Voice, I experienced the culture first-hand through my tour guide Moontee Sinquah, a member of the Hopi tribe who has been at the center for 10 years. Moontee educates adults and children through his family’s collection of carved dolls and jewelry, songs, and dances. He showed me his handmade beaded belts that he wears for dance performances and his warrior mouse that took him three years to carve using his grandfather’s tools.

“I can share what my great-grandparents have passed on and the uniqueness of my culture,” Moontee said.

We also wandered through the Native Heritage Seed Garden to explore some of the 30 indigenous plants representative of Native American culture spanning hundreds of years. In the Fountain Court are several impressive sculptures, including a life-size bronze Gahn dancer.

My eye kept shifting from the surrounding art to the picturesque natural setting. The 27-acre resort, influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright’s designs, sits in full view of giant cacti, wildflowers and the McDowell Mountains—a living landscape when viewed through the ceiling-to-floor glass doors.

 

Keepers of the Culture
Located in the heart of Scottsdale not far from here, The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa also showcases and supports the arts. As I strolled through the long lobby, I noticed a wall plaque titled Culture Keepers, honoring resident artists, writers, photographers and philanthropists who have made a cultural contribution to the state of Arizona.

The vibrant, abstract paintings of noted Cuban artist Nelson Garcia-Miranda, who worked as a steward at the hotel, are startling. Garcia-Miranda, now the resort's resident artist, came to Phoenix after seeking exile from Cuba and was discovered by another employee while he was sketching during a break. Now, his intensely colorful paintings, which embody the music and legends of the Cuban countryside, can be seen throughout the resort and Deseo restaurant.

The ultimate getaway for both a cultural and pampering escape is Scottsdale’s majestic 250-acre Phoenician at the base of the scenic Camelback Mountain. Here, one can luxuriate with a caviar facial and relaxing body massage, dine in one of three first-class restaurants, while surrounded by contemporary to European furnishings and works of art amid marble walls and floors.

The life-size American Indian sculptures by Allan Houser, which greeted me at the grand entranceway, and Cavello’s renaissance triptych are only a few of the precious pieces from the resort’s $25 million collection of fine art and antiques.

I enjoyed a self-guided audio tour starting from the front desk through the east and west wings and lower meeting rooms. I observed 23 works from Flemish paintings, 17th- and 18th-century tapestries to fossils from 70 million years ago and photorealist waterscapes and Southwestern landscapes. The audio tour is complimentary for guests of the Phoenician. Guests who take the tour also receive two complimentary tickets to the Phoenix Art Museum.

 

The idea behind the investment of this extensive art collection was to tastefully blend the rich European tradition with the indigenous colors and textures of the American Southwest.

Heading south on Camelback Road from the Phoenician in a residential area called Paradise Valley, I stopped off for a scrumptious brunch at Lon’s at the 1930s adobe-style Hermosa Inn, former home of cowboy artist Lon Megargee. The AAA Four Diamond-rated, hacienda-style restaurant features Megargee’s paintings, woodcuts and even a Stetson hat embellished with his famous painting The Last Drop. My favorite piece was The Cowboy’s Dream, which was more surrealistic and left room for the imagination.

The establishment offers an unusual Artist-in-Residence Series year-round for guests, where one can enjoy an artful dinner and artist lecture combined.

 

‘Resort With a Heart’
Afterward, I headed toward Phoenix to the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa, located on the Gila River Indian Community. I had quite an introduction and education of the Pima and Maricopa culture with the nation’s only cultural concierge, Ginger Sunbird Martin, born and raised Pima.

She described this place as a “resort with a heart.” I was particularly touched by the entrance saying, which Sunbird Martin interpreted: My friend, come into my house. I feel honored to see you. May the creator be with you.

Sunbird Martin pointed to the circular ceiling in the entranceway decorated with 10 bold, colorful murals by Penrose Fulwilder, depicting the creation of the world and life according to the tribes. She said all the artwork was created by tribal members and that the integrity of the tribes was maintained throughout. In addition to historical photography, the work of 40 to 50 living artists was represented.

The rooms in the resort are split into two wings, celebrating each of the two tribe’s art forms. The Pima rooms reflect the art of basketry, and the Maricopa wing features pottery.

After my cultural tour, I treated myself to the Aji Spa’s Blue Coyote Wrap Signature Treatment derived from the Pima legend of the bluebird and coyote, symbolic of the coyote turning his coat into an exquisite blue color.

My dinner at the AAA Five Diamond-rated, award-winning KAI restaurant was also an artful experience, with 60 menus covered in original watercolors by a local tribal artist. Much of the restaurant’s produce is bought from the reservation’s farms cultivated by their local school children.

A trip for an art aficionado would not be complete without a visit to Sedona’s painted mountainside and exquisite red rock formations, which is less than two hours north of Phoenix and Scottsdale. From the luxurious Enchantment Resort, I had a bird’s-eye view of nature’s chiseled skyline—a perfect backdrop for any work of art.

For vacation-planning help, contact your AAA Travel agent or AAA.com/travel.

Information on the featured resorts:

• Hermosa Inn & Lon’s Restaurant: (800) 241-1210; www.hermosainn.com
• Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort and Spa at Gainey Ranch: (480) 444-1234;   www.scottsdale.hyatt.com
• The Phoenician: (800) 888-8234; www.thephoenician.com
• Sheraton Wild Horse Resort & Spa: (602) 225-0100; www.wildhorsepassresort.com
• Westin Kierland Resort & Spa: (800) 354-5892; www.kierlandresort.com

For general information on Phoenix and Scottsdale:

• Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau: (877) 225-5749, www.visitphoenix.com.
• Scottsdale Convention &Visitors Bureau: (800) 782-1117;    www.experiencescottsdale.com.

 

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