5.4, Artists Towns, Do They Have a Life Cycle?

Walking around Sedona, AZ., I saw a town that had changed in the decades since I’d been there.  It had less of what was charming and more of what was not.   What was once an anthology of artists had morphed into a pastiche of pizzerias.

I’ve had this experience before, most memorably in New Hope, PA.  Just out of college I spent two months teaching a reading course at Solebury School in New Hope, PA.  My room that overlooked the Delaware River north of the area where it was navigable by commercial ships.  The town had a few shops, studios, and a coffee shop.  I remember the charming canal that once had mule-drawn barges.  I visited New Hope ten years ago.  There were hundreds on shops on every main street as well as streets I’d forgotten.   Now you can buy fudge, kites, kaleidoscopes, and SPF 45 sunscreen.

Déjà vu means something is familiar even though you’ve never experienced it.  Does it have a cousin-word:  something that it unfamiliar even though you have experienced it?  Déjà huh?

I had that feeling in Jerome, AZ—a town on the way to Sedona from Prescott.  What started life as a wicked, two-fisted mining town died after a billion dollars worth of copper, silver, and gold were excavated.  Dormant but for 50 people or so for several decades it morphed into an artists’ colony.  Today it appears to be a thriving town of 400 with many shops devoted to crafts from clever to gallery quality.   But the curio shops and quick-bite eateries are sprouting.  The day I visited, there were a fair number of people walking the streets, but in the shops they seemed to be keeping their wallets closed.  The only shop that was doing serious business was the ice cream store.

I suspect I’d have Deja huh? if I returned to St Thomas where I lived for a year in the 60s.   Then it had 17,000 residents, a couple of cruise ships visited each week, and six sailboats you could charter—one built of steel, the rest of wood.

Last I heard the population topped 100,000. You could find a dozen cruise ships filling the harbor on any given day, scores of slick fiberglass sailing bunkhouses. 

I imagine I’d have deja huh? had I ever gotten to Sausalito in the 50s when I first heard of it. 

On one corner of Sausalito, where the town’s artistic heritage thrives:   the ICB building on Gate Five Road,  (http://www.icbbuilding.com/) with 150 studios of painters, fabric artists, sculptors, jewelers, and photographers.

Some towns I’ve only heard of and I am not sure what I will find:  the arts and crafts community of Gatlinburg, TN.   What will I find in Traverse City, MI?

What is in the McDowell Colony in Peterborough, NH—reputed to be the first planned artists’ colony in the U.S.

I look forward to the comments of the eclectic readers of this blog as they share their memories and discoveries.

14 Responses to 5.4, Artists Towns, Do They Have a Life Cycle?

  1. karen wittgraf says:

    Santa Fe is still an artist’s colony. I didn’t notice any McDonalds, only a french bakery and wonderful family owned authentic NM restaurants. Shops were all art.
    Deja huh? would be my experience in seeing Grass Valley, CA, where my grandparents lived..a beautiful mountain town by “Rough n’ Ready” (real name) from the mining of gold in the infamous ’49er’s. I haven’t seen it, but I hear it’s a sprawling, plastic McDonald land now. Go to Newcastle, Maine- still a village of “down easters” with policewomen dressed in skirted suits and wearing white gloves while directing traffic. Lots of art and very “proper”. Time won’t change that place because the residents won’t allow it.

    • allevenson says:

      I’ve been through Grass Valley on a bicycle tour, but I did not have the sense it was an artist town–just a charming Sierra foothills town. I’ve heard of Rough ‘n Ready, never been there, but with a name like that it has to be worth a look. Santa Fe is on my list but I am still undecided if I will get their on this loop. I’ve been to Maine several times and will get there again as I have a sister there. I was not aware of Newcastle but will check it out. Thanks for all the iitinerary suggestions. AL

  2. Dave L says:

    What I have discovered is that return is impossible and that deja-whatever is really not there; that all experience is new and I may as well treat it that way if I hope to sufficently exploit it. Even if, through some mystical means, a town of my memory were to remain as recalled, I have certainly changed; and should I visit, the relationship would be entirely different.

  3. Dave Bauer says:

    Didn’t the Native American Indians have an expression that read something like, “You can’t step into the same stream twice”? Sorry to hear about New Hope, which I last visited circa 1964 when I backed my beautiful blue Oldsmobile Coupe into one of their light stands, damaging both the Olds and the street light. I also recall that a well known television personality accidentally drove her car into one of the canals at night and drowned in the accident
    I was in Santa Fe last summer and found that at least the “Old Town” section retained its uniqueness, having no homogenized fast food or chain retailers. The Old Town also had an array of art studios and the Georgia O’Keefe Museum.

  4. cavenoid says:

    I can’t go back to Boulder, Colorado anymore. A freeway cuts through the meadow that inspired me to invent the game “prairieopoly” in 8th grade. I can’t afford to shop or eat at the charming downtown mall where they closed a street for pedestrians only and I’d hang out during my free period in high school. The house I grew up in was razed to the ground. What’s the saying? There is no ‘there’ there.

    But I still like hiking up Flagstaff, though the view has changed – there is now city as far as the eye can see.

  5. Christine Thomas says:

    I’d hate to see what Lake Winnepesakie looks like in New Hampshire now, compared to flying in onto the Lake via private seaplane in 1976…guess you cannot repeat the novelty of a new discovery, of the innocense of not knowing what to expect….
    One hears that about many places..New Hope used to be a quaint anitque haven. Just like little towns in Connecticut one could find on bike ride or long drives. Washington, Conn was one..time and civilization erode one’s first impressions…sad….
    I think we’d all like to return to a time of a care-free world, going back to, perhaps a better time in our lives, before complications set in, or life as it has inflicted itself on us…

  6. Michael Joyce says:

    Dutch Flat CA, first arrived as a kid in 1949, raised our family there in the 70’s and 80’s, still the same general store, post office, and Aunt Aggies Antiques (and junk). A piece of New England in the Mother Lode, not commercialized, a charming small community of old houses, steeples, and big trees adjacent to square miles of moonscape “diggins,” the aftermath of placer mining that led to the first environmental congressional legislation in the 1880’s. The volunteer fire department is active, the school house now the community center, and the bridge to Nevada City and Grass Valley which was washed out over 80 years ago still has not been replaced. It is dotted with old apple orchards, deer graze freely along the country roads, and old miners trails to the American and Bear Rivers are local treasures, much unknown to the wider public.

  7. Wally Herrick says:

    Gatlinburg, gateway to the Great Smokies, is a lovely setting, filled with Ripley’s and the like and neon rivaling Las Vegas. Furthermore, you pass through Pigeon Forge, home of Dollywood on the way in. But for a week in April, Gatlinburg becomes the home of the largest regional bridge tournament in the country, rivaling many nationals. This is a “must do” for the committed player. Traverse City is not spoiled yet There you will find four real seasons in a lovely setting among blue lakes Great and small, boats of all types, lots of golf, fishing, skiing, snowmobiles, a restored Opera House, some good restaurants, and with a little notice, me. Don’t tell anybody.

  8. Elaine says:

    I have also been to Sedona, Jerome, New Hope and St Thomas decades ago, and no doubt would be disappointed today. I remember going to the big island of Hawaii when after a couple blocks the streets were unpaved. Recently I spent a couple days in Ashville, N.C. where I stopped on a cross country trip in ’97….it was not as I had remembered it, but nevertheless did retain some of its charm and character. It makes me grateful to live where I do in a small house down a short private road w/three neighbors, no street lights overlooking the harbor where mostly sailboats are moored and walking distance to my favorite place for a great fish sandwich (or a lobster). Cherish the memories and seek the roads less traveled and find those places yet to be discovered.

  9. Claudia Sims says:

    Stopped in Jerome for a cup of coffee after following a snow plow truck over the hill going from Prescott to Sedona. That truck was the only reason we made it safely in that freaky mid-March serious snow storm as the rental car (a) did not have four wheel drive and (b) did not have chains. We were equally delighted with Jerome and did pull out our wallets a little. I bought a pair of hand made shoes that I cherish for the craft and the memory even though I do not wear them that often.

  10. Colleen Rae says:

    Thomas Wolfe wrote a novel, You Can’t Go Home Again. He chronicled that no place is the same the second time around.

    I’ve been to many of the places you mentioned, Al. Jerome was a favorite of mine. I even stayed there for a few months in the ’60’s on my way across country.
    Although Sausalito doesn’t have any fast food places, it has sprouted many expensive galleries that are questionable in their Art choices. Travese City, MI is a fairly large city – not what I would call an Art Colony or town, but does have some artistic shops and boutiques. Michael Moore just recently restored the town’s movie theater to it’s original glory with extensive restoration inside, too. It’s beautiful!

    Jackson, CA is stil an original ‘wild west’ town, but artistic, not sure. Santa Fe is still pretty virgin (untouched), the old town part, I mean, and has the fab Georgia O’Keefe museum.

    My little town of Fennville, MI, has two galleries, a gourmet restaurant written up in the Chicago Sun Times, with live music on weekends, a train running through the town, a hardware store, an Art Association and a book club, an Italian restaurant, and all with 1450 population. No fast foods, anyway within miiles of our town. It is a lovely little place – very green and full of spring trees blossoming and flowers poking their stems through the ground.
    Near by is Saugatuck, the art colony of Michigan. it has a lot of artistic shops and galleries, but also some commerical shops. Both my little town and Saugatuck has music in the park in the summers. Saugatuck has the Kalamazoo River and Bay with lots of boats and big yachts. If you’re ever in Western MI. Al, you’d love to see the array of vessels and sailboats lined up at the docks.

  11. Cynthia Cooper says:

    While I deeply appreciate the sense of loss of times gone by, much of what is written is testament to years of hard work connecting the arts as an economic driver verse maintaining a town/city/community for artists.

    Cultural tourism is a powerful tool the arts community has employed to bring focus and dollars to the arts and artists. Richard Florida (Rise of the Creative Community) and others content that communities that flourish are those with thriving creative communities. Arts groups in cities around the country have fought to have the arts related to as an industry sector, deserving from the same benefits as other sectors.

    • allevenson says:

      You make two good points, one of which is another perspective on my point that artists communities and rescued and recycled towns after the primary employer left. No better example than Jerome, AZ, a mining town, now an arty tourism destination, supporting hundreds of artists.

      My second point was that by its very success artist town’s traffic attract services, developers, and gentry. And the arty flavor of the town is lost, hidden under a gilder layer, and many of the artists can no longer afford to live there. Sausalito, CA., Sedona, AZ come to mind. I suppose some artists may move on as a group and settle in other communities.

      No argument that the arts enhance the quality of life. No argument that this value does not have obvious economic impact and is too often dismissed as of little value. The same is true of art classes in schools, schools themselves, libraries, basketball in inner city vacant lots.

      To the extent I know my readership here, I know they are supportive of the arts.

      Thanks for you comments.

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