Interdisciplinary. Community. Advocacy. Humor.
If you remember anything about traveling to the Yuma Art Symposium, let it be this. Do not; I repeat DO NOT drink copious amounts of alcoholic beverages in the desert while jumping back and forth between a salt-water pool and a hot tub. You will most certainly wake up the next morning feeling exactly how I imagine a grape feels after transforming into a raisin. (Now I know why no one else was swimming in the pool) I opened my eyes the morning of the last day and instantly felt a rush of nausea and regret hit me like a steam engine. After hugging the toilet in the hotel room for what felt like a millennium, I made myself as presentable as possible and headed to the first workshop of the day.
Kat Cole was giving her liquid enamel workshop that morning so we headed over to watch her show us her magic. After filling my notebook to the brim with notes, I stepped outside to get some fresh air and settle my still angry stomach. I had a quick chat with the always-amazing Harlan Butt about the many strange and loud birds that were flying around Yuma (Not quite a starling not quite a black bird.) then headed downtown to join the group.
Our group Yuma veteran told us that we needed to stop by Red’s Bird Cage for something called “Bloody Mary’s with Dave”. Although the thought of more alcohol floating around in my stomach made my eyes roll back into my head, when I found out the origin of this Yuma tradition, there was no way I would pass it up. Dave Pimentel was a founding member of the symposium, a wonderful artist and professor at ASU. Unfortunately Dave passed away in 2004 and to honor of his memory and celebrate the Yuma family some of the participants donated all the “fixin’s” for what I hear are “the best bloody Mary’s around”.
We celebrated life, art and friends in a bar that at one time was a whorehouse then had some free time so we did what came natural, ANTIQUE SHOPPING!
Did I mention that Yuma has the most amazing antique stores? It was almost like the stores owners anticipated a bunch of crazy artists coming through their town and were ready. Imagine a place where you can find aisle upon aisle of antique tools, an entire wall of every color tin imaginable, more kitsch figurines then your brain can handle and you pretty much get the picture. It was a collectors dream, and because we were so close to the border there were many beautiful hand raised Mexican copper vessels for sale!
I just could not believe how reasonable all the prices were either. Our only problem was creating enough space in our luggage to carry all the stuff we acquired in those three days. (Some stuff was never going to get through security so we mailed it back home)
Many participants take this break in the schedule to hunt for the perfect costume for the saw, file, solder sprints. No matter what your teams theme you can find the perfect accessory or wardrobe in one of these eclectic stores and the local goodwill has some great treasures too. After a few hours of bargain hunting my body was almost restored to normal so we headed back to the hotel to get into our team costumes, then we were off to the races!
Our team consisted of Alison Bailey (Our saw woman), Mary Klacza (Our file woman) and myself as the solder woman. We decided to call our team the East Carolina Greenvillians after our hometown of Greenville North Carolina. (Honestly, we just wanted an excuse to wear green mustaches and capes.) We were unsure about our sprinting skills because it was Alison and my first time competing so put our money on winning the best costume trophy. It became quite clear that was not going to happen while were walking up to register and saw the complex costumes the other teams had put together. So we collectively decided to do our best and most importantly have fun.
After we registered we took the ceremonial tequila shot (or four) to calm our nerves and then settled in to watch the show. We were the eleventh team in line so we got a good long look at how the other teams were doing then solidified our game plan. Right away we could see the biggest obstacle was not breaking the saw blade while sawing out the ring blank. (The table looked mighty wobbly), second was not dropping the ring while someone was passing it to you, and thirdly that damn propane torch never wanting to light correctly. Alison went back to eradicate her butterflies with a few more shots, and then we were on deck. Two teams race at the same time trying to get the lowest time possible, each with their own timekeeper and judge. We all lined up and waited what seemed like a lifetime for the gong that signaled the start of the race.
The gong rang, and Alison was off to a great start with her cape furiously flapping behind her. Since Mary and I were in line about 30 feet behind Alison all we could see was her right elbow furiously going up and down then her left elbow quickly turning the blank and then in what seemed like two seconds she finished and running back in our direction (WITHOUT BREAKING ONE SINGLE BLADE).
Mary picked up the flat ring shape (looked more like a string bean shape) and sprinted back to the table to file the crap out of it. Mary was the veteran in our team and gave us many helpful pointers during the days leading up to symposium. She knew what kind of finicky torch we would be using and to make sure to account for the unpredictable weather etc. She quickly finished filing and ran back to hand the ring blank off to me.
Making sure to not drop the ring I channeled my long forgotten catholic upbringing and made a tiny communion basket with my hands so that Mary could easily drop the blank without complication. I darted to the table while bending the ring into a roundish shape with my hands, sat down, picked up the striker and to my surprise lit the torch on the first try! Dumbfounded I dipped the entire ring in flux then immediately stick soldered the hell out of it. (For those of you who think solder does not fill gaps, you are sorely mistaken!) After quenching and a quick trip to the ring mandrel to round the ring out, I crossed the finish line in heels with an amazing time of 2 minutes and 38 seconds, the best time so far. (After some deliberation from the judges)
After a few more celebratory tequila shots we hooted, hollered and cheered for the teams that were still racing and enjoyed the family we found ourselves in. After everyone was finished we did not win best costume BUT FIRST FREAKING PLACE! I actually got to pickup, wear, and keep the trophy I had lusted over the first day we arrived, a very surreal experience.
Eventually the shock wore off and it was time to party! Directly next to the parking lot where the races are held is a lovely little outdoor area complete with a stage and light displays. The dinner provided was delicious and you guessed it, Mexican! The corn tortillas were made on literally nothing more than a metal trashcan with a fire inside topped with a sheet of steel; it gave me goose bumps to watch the lady work so diligently to make each one by hand. Everyone ate, got liquored up, and danced the night away in that order.
A first timer like me had no idea whatsoever what to expect out of this adventure. I knew almost no one and basically nothing about the west cost art scene on Thursday when we touched down in Phoenix. On Sunday I had gained a first place trophy, many newfound friends, more pride in my community, much needed inspiration, and a little bit of melancholy because I didn't want to leave. I am so grateful for this experience that almost did not happen, in retrospect I cannot believe I almost bailed on attending.
We all have our excuses, maybe the thought of being thrown in with so many new and talented artists is too intimidating, or maybe you feel like you would not fit in, possibly the cost is too high for your budget. My advice is this; that intimidation you are feeling is only in your head, if can't afford airfare and you have a pair of legs WALK to Yuma and do work-study to get your registration waived, and if you feel like a misfit in your community this is the place your can be yourself and be celebrated because of it. I often feel like in our line of work we constantly compare ourselves to each other in a negative way and define ourselves by someone else definition of success. I am guilty of this self-destructive outlook more than I would like to admit but Yuma creates a place to celebrate each other not compartmentalize. As my good friend and mentor Ken Bova always says “A victory for one artist in is a victory for every artist.” Yuma is the victory party to end all victory parties.
Thank you for reading and until next time, go forth and make good things!
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