Scottsdale, Arizona has one of the best public art programs in the country and you can tour the art with local expert Ace Bailey. With many of the most fascinating permanent pieces on display throughout Old Town, the mid-century modern gem, Hotel Valley Ho, is the perfect base for getting out and exploring Scottsdale public art.
About the Public Art Tour
On the tour, visitors are treated to a leisurely three-hour walking tour complete with a tasting from Super Chunk Eats & Sweets. While art is the draw, it’s the surprises, secrets, and stories held within the pieces of public art that make this tour a must-do. Ace Bailey unwraps the fun side of art as she guides you from piece to piece.
Much of what she points out and explains, wouldn’t be known from just looking at the art and reading the plaques. Ace, who has her own tour company, Ultimate Art & Cultural Tours, has worked in arts and tourism for over 20 years. It’s her sense of humor, depth of knowledge, and fascinating tidbits about the local art and history that will keep you entertained along the entire walk.
Surprises: Within the Doors
I’ve been by the corner in front of P.F. Chang’s a number of times. The tall piece looks like castle gates, resting on each other with iron studs and massive round handles. It will make you look because it’s different. But on the tour, I was totally surprised by what was inside the sculpture and what it actually represented.
The Doors, by Artist Donald Lipski I learned, was made of Brazilian hardwood, mirror polished stainless steel, L.E.D. lights, and thousands of hand forged stainless steel rivets and strapping. But the surprise was that it was designed to give the visitor the sense of being inside a Kaleidescope. Yes, you go INSIDE! Once you enter the mirrored structure, you’ll find multiple reflections of yourself and an optical illusion that makes you think there is a geodesic dome above you. At night, points of light surround the viewer.
But there is another surprise—the sounds around you. The experience within the sculpture is enhanced with Sound Passage by sound artist Jim Green. Once I quit being amazed by the dizzying reflections, I heard sounds like those of the Soleri bells at Cosanti (I have a couple in my yard), and surprising sounds of water, singing, flute notes, and drumming. Do go in. It’s an experience!
Secrets: The Soleri Bridge
Without a guide to this bridge over the Arizona Canal, you’d never know its secrets. Scottsdale’s Soleri Bridge and Plaza, by renowned artist, architect, and philosopher Paolo Soleri, is a colorful pedestrian passage anchored by massive Soleri Bells, originally made for Goldwater department store, owned by the family of AZ Senator Barry Goldwater. But the big secret is that the bridge is also a solar calendar. As I enjoyed looking up and photographing the bells, our guide told us how the solar calendar works.
The bridge is anchored by two 64-foot pylons and is twenty-seven feet wide on the south side narrowing to eighteen feet on the north. Built on a a true north axis, the bridge is itself a solar calendar marking solar events produced by the sun’s shadow. The six-inch gap between both sets of pylons allows the sun to create a shaft of light as the earth moves. Each solar noon, light coming through the gap produces a shadow and that shadow varies in length according to the time of year.
At each summer solstice (June 21st) when the sun is highest in the sky, you won’t see a shadow at all. Then at each winter solstice (December 21st) when the sun is lowest in the sky, the shadow is the longest, reaching to the bridge structure. A red stripe along the length of the bridge deck follows the light.
Stories: Not Just Passing the Mail
Farther along the Arizona Canal and just across the bridge at the exciting Scottsdale Waterfront there is an action-packed bronze of what I thought was two Pony Express riders passing a mailbag from one to the next. But if you go on a public art tour you’ll hear that there’s much more to this story.
The Passing the Legacy bronze is the finish point for the annual Hashknife Pony Express ride. A legendary American tradition established in 1860 was revived in 1958 by Arizona’s Hashknife Pony Express—who have continued to deliver the U.S. mail on galloping horseback once a year with their annual 200-mile relay from Holbrook to Scottsdale.
Artist Herb Mignery created a sculpture that tells the Pony Express story and more. In Passing the Legacy, a vintage 1860s horse and rider represent the original Pony Express. The lead rider, of modern-day origin, reaches back to grasp the pouch, representing the continuance of the tradition by the Hashknife riders.
When You Go on the Scottsdale Insider Public Art Tour
This tour is offered one Saturday a month, from October through May and meets in the lobby of the Hotel Valley Ho. You can sign up via the events page at the Hotel Valley Ho or on Eventbrite. The $25 ticket includes bottled water and a 20 percent discount at ZuZu (great food!) and VH Spa at Hotel Valley Ho.
A very special event, showcasing some of the Scottsdale public art pieces and more, takes place in November on the Scottsdale Waterfront. Canal Convergence is a free festival for all ages. Taking place over a week's time, special lighted art installations along the Arizona Canal feature both water and art. Find more about great things to do in Arizona from our Wander writers. Be sure to check out Experience Scottsdale for more great things to do in Scottsdale.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with a complimentary tour for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.