In a region filled with cultural gems, it’s hard to single out just a few top picks, but I’ve included my three favourite museums and cultural wonders below.
Phoenix’s Heard Museum opened in 1929 and has become one of the best places to check out some fine examples of Southwest and Native American art and history. Within its 10 exhibit galleries, outdoor courtyard, and sculpture garden is a myriad of art waiting to be discovered.
I recently read that the Heard’s been voted one of of the country’s best Native American experiences by USA Today readers.
The Houser/Haozous Family: Celebrating a Century is currently on display, focusing on the art of a family of acclaimed artists including Allan Houser and sons Bob and Phillip Haozous. Allan is the descendant of Sam and Blossom Haozous, part of the Chiricahua Apache people who were at one time prisoners of war.
Ongoing collections include Native People in the Southwest (the Heard’s signature collection) and Every Picture Tells a Story, a family-friendly exhibit focusing on the wildlife and vegetation of seven different regions and how they’ve influenced Native artists.
When you’re ready for a break, there’s a tree-filled courtyard with a café and cantina. The Museum shop will be hard to leave if you’re a fan of silver and turquoise Navajo jewellery.
The shop has a reputation for selling some of the highest quality pieces around as well as pottery, sculpture, and weavings. The Heard Museum is located at 2301 North Central Avenue in Phoenix.
If you’re a fan of modern architecture, you shouldn’t miss Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West, located above Scottsdale, in a prime desert location in the hills. Driving up here is an experience in and of itself as you wind your way up Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard. Before too long, you’ll arrive at the main building, its slanted roof and stone formations surrounded by desert shrubs.
The only way to visit is via a guided 90-minute tour. Duane is a passionate storyteller and served as our guide on the morning of my visit. Wright wanted nothing more than to put nature back into architecture. He believed that Americans were caged and was fond of saying “Never let a building be more important than you”.
With 50,000 square feet comprising 29 buildings (surrounding 640 acres), the tour only takes you through a portion of the property. Taliesin West isn’t technically a museum, but a living residence and school where Wright’s students would come to learn – mostly on their own, as it would turn out – from the master.
Wright had a very unorthodox teaching style, giving his students plenty of room to grow. In the first year, students were given housing without a rooftop. It was up to them to design a roof. Wright believed that building codes were designed to destroy an architect’s creativity — they should be inspired to rewrite the code with each new design they create!
Needless to say, Wright’s ideas were considered too radical for the US. He was headhunted and stolen by the Germans to continue developing his style, which would three decades later come to be known as the International Style of architecture.
Wright invented numerous ways to save money on his clients’ utility bills and built roofs of canvas, creating natural light. He is also credited for inventing recessed lighting, being the first designer to put a cover on a lightbulb. He was validated two decades later by scientists, when the term recessed lighting was officially coined.
“Give me another 15 years and I’ll design the rest of America.”
During the tour, I became fascinated by how much we take for granted in architecture. Frank Lloyd Wright built with nature, not against it, and at one time possessed the world’s largest private collection of Asian block prints.
Wright enjoyed a 72-year career, working up to five days before his death in 1959 at age 91.
Guided tours cost $32 and it’s advisable to book in advance online. Taliesin West is located at 2621 North Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard in Scottsdale.
Scottsdale’s Museum of the West
Get your Western culture fix at Scottsdale’s Museum of the West, the city’s newest cultural gem. Opened this part January, its numerous galleries showcase how the West was won, including the story of Lewis and Clark featuring the artwork of Charles Fritz.
The journey of the Corps of Discovery began in 1804 when the Expedition ascended the Missouri River from St. Louis.
Artist Fritz illustrated the journals of the Corps in 1998, visiting the same spots as Lewis and Clark, researching their lives in order to portray them as historically accurate as possible.
I highly recommend visiting the second floor exhibit, Confluence of Cultures in the American West, once you’ve explored Fritz’s collection.
In addition to the gallery spaces, there’s a sculpture courtyard and A.P. Hays’ Spirit of the West’s fine collection of saddles, spurs, and other memorabilia. On a hot afternoon, you could do much worse than spend an afternoon here.
Museum of the West is located at 3830 North Marshall Way in Scottsdale.
My entrance fees to Heard Museum, Taliesin West, and Museum of the West were complimentary for the purpose of this feature. Opinions, as always, are my own.