A Sedona Sojourn: Take another trip on the Sedona Open Studios Tour

Mar 30, 18 • 5enses, FeatureNo Comments

Mike Upp, right, discusses his art with a visitor to his work space during the Sedona Open Studios Tour. Courtesy photo.

By James Dungeon

[Editor’s note: The following interview was culled from conversations between the reporter and Mike Upp, potter and Sedona Open Studios Tour organizer. Find out more about the tour, April 27-29 at studios in Sedona, Cornville, Cottonwood, Clarkdale, and Camp Verde, at SedonaArtistsCoalition.Org and Facebook.]

What’s your pitch for this year’s Sedona Open Studios Tour?

The unique hook of the open studios tour is that you’re getting to interact with the artists in their workspace instead of seeing their work in a gallery or seeing it at an arts festival. This time there are 67 artists and approximately 42 physical studios for the tour, which is April 27, 28, and 29. Some of those studios have numerous people. You actually get to see what the artists’ workspaces look like and, in many spaces, there are demos of people at work. It makes it more of a learning experience, more than just a passive thing.

The tour is quite sprawling, geographically. It’s safe to assume this is self-directed?

Absolutely. People tend to get the brochure and say, OK, I like glass, ceramics, and photography, so I’m going to go to these studios. We do have a few people who pride themselves on going to all of them, but it’s mostly self-selective. You go to the art forms that you appreciate and collect, and you see what else is in the area. As far as mediums go, there’s glass, ceramics, digital art, painting, watercolors, photography, sculptures, metal work, and more. It’s a pretty wide range.

Why would you want to see an artist in their creative environment?

Well, I go to a potter’s space to get the opportunity to talk about ideas, and I can see other people’s setups which gives me ideas how to do things better myself. I like to talk about glazes and find the tour really helpful for getting new ideas. The same thing with forms. All of that’s for me as an artist. If you’re a collector, it’s about seeing and appreciating the process behind the art that you love.

Why buy art directly from artists?

In some cases, it’s cheaper to buy art from the artists directly, but some of them keep the prices the same as at galleries because that’s the retail price. It really depends on the studio. It’s really about having a connection to that art. Let’s say you get a big salad bowl for your daughter-in-law. Now you can say, hey, we went to the studio and bought this from the artist and share some of the background behind it. People ask all kinds of questions about things they buy from my studio here, and I try to educate them and give them an interesting story to tell. And, hey, especially about glazes because I’m really into glazes. Anyway, you have a personal connection and a story behind a gift, which makes it extra special.

What percentage of your patrons are artists versus collectors? How many from in/out of town?

I’d say 10-15 percent are artists and maybe 20-25 percent are collectors. Most people actually fall in between and are looking for gifts. There’s also a lot of people making a day trip out of the studio tour. … We do a pretty good job tracking where people come from and how they heard about us. It’s about 50 percent locals and 50 percent people from out of town, which includes Prescott and Flagstaff. Most people just come for the day, though people who come from Phoenix often come and spend the night. We get a grant from the city to help with the marketing, so it’s important for us to pay attention to those things and justify outreach in terms of return on investment.

In terms of day-tripping, how do you divvy up the areas on the tour?

We’ve got the four Cs: Camp Verde, Clarkdale, Cottonwood, and Cornville, and then there’s Sedona. You have the choice of starting out with the four Cs and working north or doing it in the reverse. We find that people from Prescott tend to show up here in Cornville early and then go to Sedona later. We’re kind of right on the way, which makes sense. One thing that we like to tell people who come to Cornville on the way to Sedona is that they may want to go down Page Spring Road and stop at one of the wineries to do a little wine tasting as part of their overall day. Those wineries are less than two miles from our studio, so why not?

What do you enjoy as an artist hosting people in your workspace?

I really like doing open studios as opposed to other forms of merchandizing because you get to interact with a wide range of people and, like we were talking about before, talking with someone who’s obviously very interested. For pottery, I like to go into detail about the whole process, which has so many more steps to it than most people realize. A lot of people have seen somebody throw a pot or thrown a pot themselves, but very few people have seen someone put a handle on a pitcher or mug. That’s what I demo here. Most people are surprised by how labor intensive it is. It’s not just a simple thing of sticking this handle on this vessel and you’re done. When you have a greater appreciation of the amount of work that goes into ceramics you can better appreciate good craftsmanship. … I get a lot of questions like, “How long does it take to make a bowl?” I like to quote Shoji Hamada, a famous Japanese potter, who said, “It takes five minutes and my entire life.” I’ve always thought that’s a great answer because it’s true. The actual throwing of a piece doesn’t take so long, but everything associated with it takes much longer. It’s really the collective sum of your experiences as you get better and better at your craft.

Can you give us a little bit of background about the Sedona Open Studios Tour and what’s changed?

One new thing this year is that we have a partnership with the Sedona Arts Center. We have three artists displaying and demoing there, in the heart of uptown Sedona. They’ve been around since the 1950s and they’re one of the cornerstones of the arts in Sedona. Their new executive director is very supportive of open studios. They’re not only a participant, but also a sponsor. There’s also a new studio participating in Clarkdale, the Reitz Ranch Center for Ceramic Arts. It was the studio of the world-famous potter Don Reitz, who died a couple of years ago. A couple from Phoenix bought the space and they’re turning it into an educational facility for ceramics and also have working potters there. I believe four of those potters are participating. … The fact that we have 67 artists now is great. It just keeps growing. Last year we had 57. When you look back to 2013, there were only 28. The tour and the Sedona Visual Artists’ Coalition is continuing to grow and get better and better, and it’s a great time to visit.



The Sedona Open Studio tour is 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday through Saturday, April 27-29 at studios in Sedona, Cornville, Cottonwood, Clarkdale, and Camp Verde. Proceeds benefit the Sedona Visual Artists’ Coalition. Find out more at SedonaArtistsCoalition.Org and Facebook.

James Dungeon is a figment of his own imagination. And he likes cats. Contact him at JamesDungeonCats@Gmail.Com.

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