“I went to the Yuma Art Symposium and all I got was this life changing experience” Day Two

After a jet lagged deep sleep, we were up and ready to take on whatever Yuma had in store for us! Our group piled into the rental car we affectionately nick named the “Pri Pri” (Short for Prius) and headed down town. One of the interesting things Yuma is its location, West of the Colorado River and a hop skip and a jump from the Mexican and California border, if you have a passport you can squeeze in a ton of adventuring in between scheduled presentations and social events.  Also, a surprising amount of bratwurst hauses and German restaurants are peppered in between the droves of Mexican restaurants and taco shacks. The reason being, this is Snowbird country, and many retired Mid Westerners with German heritage flock here. Yuma has an average temperature of 80 degrees during the fall and winter months (very different from the 120 degree summers) making this the perfect climate to spend a few months dodging the rain and snow elsewhere. A few miles away in the border town of Algodones there are cheaper eye doctors, pharmacies, and general practitioners than in the any U.S. town and many locals refer to Algodones as the “dental capital of Mexico.”

With all the things to do that morning; needing to register, donating my pin to the pin auction, dropping off my work for the student exhibition, and signing in to work-study I had no time to pick up a quick bite for breakfast.  We first arrived at Tomkins Pottery, the brainchild of Yuma Symposium Executive director Neely Tomkins her husband George Tomkins. (Both immensely talented ceramic artists in their own right) They graciously open up their gallery every year for symposium attendees for breakfast, lunch, and the occasional bonfire blowout. We swiftly registered then walked inside and to my stomachs delight I saw a tasty array of baked goods, fresh fruit, cheese and Quiche, all made by Yuma volunteers! 

I quickly found where to drop off my pin and student work, got all set up for work-study and we were off!  To save myself from being redundant and beating a dead horse, I would like to focus more on the overall experience of the symposium not the presenters themselves. If you would like more info on who presented, or who might be presenting next year check out the website here

The assemblage of so many people from so many artistic backgrounds affords anyone (with a bit of forethought) an amazing opportunity to bounce creative ideas off one another. (For God sake I found another Metalsmith that was drawing up plans for the same mini awning brooch I was!)

For instance, when I registered back in January, an email was sent to me asking which presenter I would prefer to aid for work-study!  That by itself is an amazing amount of control to have over your overall experience, if you reply to the email with lightning speed (which I did) you might even get your first choice. Mine was Willam Volkersz an amazing installation artist who combines neon light and kitschy found objects into powerful work about growing up in war-torn Holland. As someone who works with neon myself and someone who is very interested in how the past shapes our future, I was ecstatic to aid Willam.

I dropped off my auction pin/student work and had a few minutes to look around the Yuma Art Center while they were setting up the exhibitions on view that night.  With beautiful high ceilings and great natural light this place is a stellar spot for any exhibition. So much was happening in this building, the student exhibition was in the process of being installed, the presenters exhibition just needed some labels and vinyl letters and Laura Wood and Kat Cole were putting the assembling their debut of The Jewelry Edition pop up show. These traveling pop up collaborative shows feature seven amazing contemporary artist that rotate yearly while having online representation here.

While making my rounds I got a chance to scope out this years Saw, File, Solder Race trophies and secretly made my fantasy decision of which one I would pick if our team miraculously won. The saw file and solder race is a highly anticipated yearly tradition at Yuma. The amazing handmade trophies change makers every year and are highly sought after. Each team of three comes up with a name and a themed costume and race is relay style.  One person saws out a ring band then run back to the person in charge of filing and it continues from there. The ECU Symposium has a one-person mini saw, file, solder race every year but nothing like what was about to go down on Sunday, and I had practiced and pumped.

We had lunch at Lutes Casino (Best onion rings I have ever eaten) and it felt like the day was going by entirely too fast. I already realized that Yuma is the kind of gathering where you can walk right up to a presenter and shoot the s***, talk about life without even batting an eye. (Not always the experience at larger artistic gatherings) So that is exactly what I did, I made it my mission to talk to anyone and everyone, to get the most out of my experience and I was not disappointed.  This is what I mentioned in my earlier post by making true friends not just connections. Sure, a workshop or job interview may come out of a few late night conversations at anyone of the many bars downtown, but I got the feeling that being cliquish, ego boosting or a flatterer was not going to get anyone very far in this group of artists, a very refreshing thought.

After a little R&R at the Cabana we got gussied up and hit to town!  I highly suggest (If you are a maker of adornment) wearing a piece of your own to this evening! I had just finished a necklace for me thesis exhibition that I was unsure about and thought I would give it a ride around town, AKA the most honest and rapid-fire critique ever!

That evening was jammed packed with awesome! We got to the arts center and the presenter/student exhibition opening was in full swing. At one point the place was shoulder to shoulder, and for good reason. Seeing the presenters work in person was a great privilege and the slides in their presentations just are not the same as seeing the real thing.  


On the other side of the gallery was the highly anticipated Pin Auction. With all the proceeds going to help keep the symposium running next year, the room a buzz with friendly bidding wars and excitement.

Each pin is donated by anyone who wishes to (With the word pin being used lightly, some people donated small sculptures or paintings) and is displayed on the wall with a number. Once you have found the piece you just cannot live without it is time to go hunt down the yellow card with the corresponding number and place your bid. The veteran auction goers were a sight to behold. Some would hover around their auction slips like a predator circling his or her prey, resort to playful intimidation, or wait to pounce as the last second bidder, but it is all in good fun and for great cause.

At the end of the allotted time frame, there is a ten second count down in which begins a frenzy of scribbling and laughing. I had the wonderful work-study duty of warding off any late bidding and circling the last bid with a big red pen. Once the craziness is over, the winners pick up their slips and head to the table to pay and receive their pin or five.  Being a person who donated a pin I occasionally observed my auction slip throughout the evening and watched a tiny bidding war begin over my work.  That by itself made the trip worth every penny, especially when I was able to speak with the gentleman who won my pin and ask him why he choose mine out of all the others. It felt a little like an artist to artist blind date, but without all the awkwardness.

After the auction and the exhibitions winded down the night kept on rolling.

Show your Stuff is an adult show and tell about you, your work, anything you want to share really. Formally titled “Slide Abuse” we all packed into The Pint House across the street from The Yuma Art Center and settled in for an evening of drinks, laughs, and five-minute presentations.

After Show your Stuff we piled back into the Pri Pri with our DD and headed back to the hotel to make a quick change into our bathing suits for the pool party at one of the neighboring hotels (There is always a bonfire at Tomkins Pottery each night but tonight swimming my goal. Once in the proper gear we headed to the party for an even more casual and socially lubricated gathering of friends, strangers, and people who I have only heard their names in magazines and on the Internet.  So my ridicules self got so excited about jumping into a pool in February while it was 35 degrees back home, when I cannonballed and came back up to the surface I realized I WAS THE ONLY ONE SWIMMING!  So I decided to stick it out and have the rest of my conversations with people sitting by the pool while I was enjoying floating around staring at the stars in my own private oasis in the desert. (With a little hot tub hopping sprinkled in) An amazing end to an amazing day and I was assured that Sunday would be even better.

Stay tuned for the last installment of my adventures at the 2014 Yuma Art Symposium!


Danielle James



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