Sedona as Art Mecca

When artist Max Ernst saw Sedona for the first time in 1941, he recognized it immediately. He had been painting it all his life but never knew such a place existed. Ernst was a pioneer of the Surrealist movement, a style inspired by dreams and expressions that came from the unconscious mind, a fitting framework for Sedona’s fantastical landscapes.

Several years later he would pioneer Sedona’s legacy as an arts colony of the Southwest when he moved there with artist Dorothea Tanning. They built a home and studio named Capricorn Hill where they painted, sculpted, wrote and hosted friends who came to visit including artists Andre Breton, Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, Yves Tanguy and Henri Cartier-Bresson.

By the time Ernst and Tanning decamped to France in the 1950s, the little town of Sedona had been discovered by artists like the sculptor Nassan Gobran who was so inspired by Sedona’s natural beauty that he left Boston to make it his home for the next 30 years.

Envisioning Sedona could be a Tanglewood for the arts, Gobran joined with other artists and supporters to create Canyon Kiva, now known as the Sedona Arts Center offering year-round classes, workshops, exhibitions and cultural events celebrating local and visiting artists. It’s also one of Northern Arizona’s oldest non-profit organizations.

Sedona Art Center

In 1965, painter, sculptor and cowboy Joe Beeler and several other prominent western cowboy artists gathered in a Sedona saloon to talk about the plight of cowboy art. They had become concerned that traditional western art in the style of Frederic Remington and Charles Russell was falling out of favor. Passionate about depicting the lifestyle, landscapes and history of the cowboy and the American West, they founded The Cowboy Artists of America, a society of artists committed to authentically portraying the culture of Western life in fine art. Sixty years later, artists continue to carry out their mission, holding an annual trail ride for members on a working ranch for inspiration, and an exhibition and sale of their work.

Sedona’s iconic landscape, location in the American Southwest, and Native American heritage have contributed to its identity as an art mecca. Along with a spiritual and mystical atmosphere, artistic community, myriad art galleries and studios, cultural events, festivals, workshops and art retreats, it’s a year-round destination for art lovers.

If you are thinking of buying a work of art, Sedona is worth the trip. Staying at Ambiente, a landscape hotel, you’ll be inspired not only by the jaw-dropping, elevated views but also by the art displayed throughout the hotel. Ambiente has partnered with two art galleries in town–Exposures International Gallery of Fine Art and Renee Taylor Gallery–to select pieces that reflect Ambiente’s aesthetic.

In the lobby, a tall polished stone sculpture of two stylized figures embracing sets a romantic tone for this hotel designed for adults. The graceful flowing lines and ethereal beauty are typical of local sculptor Daniel Newman’s work, more of which can be seen at Exposures.

Art in the lobby

Each of the guest Atriums, and Velvet Spa, feature one-of-a-kind burl wood wall sculptures, a nod to the surrounding forest. Artist Davd Barkby shapes the large burls on a lathe, carving sections to bring out the intrinsic beauty of the richly-colored wood. It’s no wonder guests often want to buy one to take home, and they can. More of Barkby’s work can be seen at Renee Taylor Gallery.

Art in the spa

While in residence at Ambiente, you’ll be near many of Sedona’s art galleries that are clustered together around Tlaquepaque, Hillside, Uptown, Hozho Center, West Sedona and along State Route 179.

Pick up a gallery art walk map and take your time looking at as much art as you can to get an idea of what you like. Sedona galleries are very welcoming and not at all intimidating. Southwestern and Native American art are a highlight, but there are also other genres and mediums represented, from traditional to contemporary, and from local and regional artists as well as those from other parts of the world. 

One way to explore the Sedona arts scene is by visiting on the first Friday of the month for “First Friday in the Galleries,” a free monthly event. Many galleries host an open house with music and refreshments in the early evening and you can meet and talk with a Sedona local artist, or a visiting artist represented by the gallery.

Another event is the annual Spring Open Studios, this year from April 26-28, 2024. The self-guided tour introduces you to artists in their studios throughout Sedona and the Verde Valley. It’s a chance to visit with local artists in their creative environments.

In October, the Sedona Plein Air Festival brings master artists to town to paint en plein air (“in the open air”) as popularized by the nineteenth-century Impressionists who painted entire finished pictures outdoors to better capture the effects of light. You can watch these artists paint at their easels around town, and view their works at an exhibition and sale. Additionally, Exposures International Gallery of Fine Art hosts their largest annual show in October, showcasing a diverse array of captivating artworks from renowned artists, adding to the cultural vibrancy of the season in Sedona.

Sedona’s diverse art scene is a reflection of its natural beauty, cultural influences and creative spirit. Whether you’re interested in Native American weavings, Southwestern landscapes, contemporary paintings, photography or outdoor sculpture, you’ll find a rich and inspiring experience in this art mecca of the Southwest.

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