The annual art event Hidden in the Hills Artist Studio Tour (HITH) allows the public to peek inside artists’ private studios to learn more about their methodology and to process and purchase art directly from the creators.
The free, self-guided tour, presented by the non-profit Sonoran Arts League, celebrates its 26th year and features 174 artists at 47 private studios in the communities of Cave Creek, Carefree and North Scottsdale.
This year the event will take place on November 18-20 and 25-27 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m
HITH attracts both nationally recognized and emerging artists. Included in this year’s tour are some local Jewish artists.
When Bobby Harr was in junior high school, his art teacher told him he would never be an artist — and her prediction stuck with him for years.
He never went to museums or galleries unless someone took him. Harr was a partner in a Phoenix company that designed and built displays for retail stores, malls and themed special events. He was one of the “vision” people in the company, artistically active but never involved in the actual creation of the pieces they produced.
In 1998, Harr gave himself permission to explore his artistic side.
“I tried a few mediums and then came across fused glass,” he said. “I basically had to teach myself because I couldn’t find any classes at the time.
“I love working with the glass because I can lay it out and play around with the pieces before firing it. The glass is very forgiving – my pieces don’t have to be perfect.”
Harr creates Judaica and art objects from dichroic glass, which reveals vibrant, varied colors depending on the light.
His work has been featured in over 200 galleries and stores across the United States and Canada, including the Jewish Museum in New York City and the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles.
He has taught more than 900 students in the Phoenix area how to make molten, kiln-formed glass, including at the Valley of the Sun Jewish Community Center.
These days he doesn’t have time to teach as he travels five months a year for art shows throughout the Midwest.
“My biggest challenge is not having a permanent studio,” Harr said. “I’m an apartment dweller so I put everything away when I leave Phoenix every April and then get a new apartment in October when I come back. I can only take limited supplies as I only have a standard van which is mostly occupied and set up with my art exhibition tent.”
Harr, currently unaffiliated, was a member of Ruach Hamidbar in Phoenix for several years and was a founding member of a small congregation called Kol Ahava. He was also one of the founders of a defunct group called the Jewish Artists of the Valley (JAVA), which once had 300 members.
“I try to give my pieces an emotional connection to Judaism. I know a lot of Jews don’t buy much Judaica other than Mezuzah and Menorah,” Harr said. “I joke that my work is not for our ‘grandparents’ Judaica, but for their life and decoration today. I am very content to offer art that fulfills that emotional connection to Judaism that many Jews desire.”
For more information visit bobbyharr.com.
Linda Singer, who lives in Scottsdale, moved to Phoenix in 1981. Born in Rochester, NY, Singer taught her to knit and crochet at the age of 10, beginning her creative journey.
Singer is the owner and designer of Soup to Nuts Jewelry. She started her jewelry business in 2014 and before that owned an event planning company of the same name, Soup to Nuts, for 16 years.
“My friend was taking a jewelry making class, so I went with him,” Singer said. “I loved it straight away and decided it was going to be a great hobby.”
Her hobby soon turned into a business when a small boutique in Scottsdale called Femme asked her to sell her jewelry in their shop and others asked her to create bespoke pieces.
“The materials I use are mostly freshwater pearls, semi-precious stones, Swarovski crystals, sterling silver, gold and leather,” Singer said. This is her first participation in HITH.
Singer has been a member of the Beth Israel Congregation for many years and said her children had their bar and bat mitzvah there and that her daughter was also married there.
“As a kid, our family was conservative, and I became a bat mitzvah before my 13th birthday,” Singer said. “I learned my organizational skills and my perfectionism from my mother.”
When asked how her Judaism affects her art, she said, “I think it’s all kind of connected.”
For more information visit souptonutsjewelry.com.
Genius Swanstrom began her artistic career as a painter. Ever since she was young, she wanted to be an artist and was encouraged by both her parents and her teachers. Her mother was an ikebana (Japanese flower arranging) artist and gardener, so she remembers her childhood being filled with flowers and nature.
“I am very inspired by nature. All of its beauty and complexity appeal to me, and clay seems like the perfect medium to depict the life, movement and texture of the natural world,” Swanstrom said.
She took a pottery class at the University of Minnesota and loved it. She believes clay is the most expressive and frustrating medium in the art world.
“It practically breaks when you look at it, especially here in Arizona,” Swanstrom said. “You can create a beautiful piece and the kiln can backfire and turn it into a piece of junk. I’ve been working with clay for 20 years and I still haven’t explored the depths of this amazing medium.”
She studied fine arts in Minnesota at Hamline University and the University of Minnesota and has taken workshops with the nation’s top ceramic artists. During her master’s degree, she was struck by the universal human desire to create art.
“I love learning about new cultures and lived in a third world country for a year,” Swanstrom said. “I love to travel and a few years ago I spent a month in China and took the opportunity to study art there.”
Recently, she has incorporated more personally meaningful imagery into her pieces. “When I was young, my Aunt Rose took me birding, and birdwatching became a lifelong hobby,” Swanstrom said. “Arizona lovebirds have recently moved into my neighborhood – and onto my pottery. Birds have become an integral part of my work. As a kind of homage to her and her influence on my life, I also added my mother’s flowers to my artwork.”
She likes to experiment with different techniques, but admits that throwing and hand building are her favorites. She adds underglazes to the clay so she can cut through it, and occasionally adds bits of metal to her sculptures.
“I spend a lot of time glazing my work, layering oxides, stains and multiple glazes to get a rich finish,” she said. “I love experimenting with new techniques and even creating my own glazes. There’s always this urge to find the perfect surface for my work.”
She is active in the local art community, has served on several boards and has directed art exhibitions in the Phoenix area. Swanstrom’s work is exhibited through Practical Art in Phoenix and in store at the Mesa Arts Center. She has been teaching ceramics classes at the center for more than 13 years.
Swanstrom, a member of Temple Beth Sholom in the East Valley, believes that whatever a Jewish artist pours his soul into has an intrinsic connection to his Judaism.
“I’m particularly interested in the idea of Tikkun Olam, repairing the world,” she shared. “Art is very therapeutic and I enjoy sharing my skills with the community and helping them grow as artists and people. The imagery I put into my work is all about nature and at its core is that appreciating nature leads to protecting nature. It’s not intrusive or obvious, but that’s what I’m striving for.”
For more information visit swanstromstudios.com. JN
Downloadable tickets for the Hidden in the Hills Artist Studio Tour and details on participating artists will be available ahead of the event at hiddenindenhills.org. For more information, call 480-575-6624.