Arizona, a natural paradise of exotic beauty, has always drawn artists from everywhere—much better than artists have drawn Arizona!

In the old days, the same desert scenery which bloomed so Kodachromishly from the pages of Arizona Highways magazine, paralyzed hosts of artists into postcard painters.

In recent years Arizona has come of age artistically. When the Fourth Arizona Annual, the most important statewide show, opened in April at the Phoenix Art Museum, 300 artists submitted work. A pair of California jurors whittled it down to 107 pieces. The show avoided the potluck look of previous annuals and reflected a resourceful originality and wholesome progressiveness at odds with the state’s conservative political reputation. It was as free of sterile imitations of 57th Street, New York, as of “scenery.”

First prize was won by an Oriental-looking watercolor landscape on rice paper, notable for inspired brushwork and shorthand realism, by John Waddell.

Rose Mary Mack won top purchase prize with a non-objective piece in perfumed pastel colors that coalesce before your eyes into remembered landscape forms. Many of the exhibitors somehow retained a regional flavor distilled abstractly in the form of frequent references to rock shapes, open space effects, brilliant blond light, clarity, and heightened color.

Only a handful of the state’s score of professional sculptors survived the jury. Most dramatic piece was Five Teenage Finalists on the Beauty Bridge by Ray Fink. The lanky beauty queens were welded slag-flow forms hovering in a frightened cluster on the edge of a crescent plowshare shape.

Elsewhere in the Phoenix Art Museum a current 90-piece ceramics show by Donald Schaumburg, ceramics professor also from Arizona State, avoids experimental or tricky design, but is solidly impressive in functional integrity, craftsmanship, and synthesis of form, material, and decoration.

In Tucson, currently, the Arizona Designer Craftsmen, a state-wide group of approximately 100, is holding a spring showing at the Tucson Art Center, a vigorous community organization headed by Harold Friedly. In the three years of its existence this group has raised design standards in the state to a very high level, with excellent public acceptance, through rigorous jurying and membership qualifications as stern as those of a Medieval guild.

Art in Arizona strongly echoes the influence of the state’s two big universities, at Tuscon and Tempe, each of which has approximately 20 art professors and 200 graduate and undergraduate art majors. Out of these groups and their alumni, come half the exhibitors and nearly all the prize-winners at the 30-odd seasonal exhibitions.

The University of Arizona Art Gallery at Tucson houses the great Kress and Gallegher collections, while Arizona State University at Tempe possesses valuable American and European collections, but no gallery.

In the Phoenix Area, the Phoenix Art Museum and the Heard Museum (chiefly anthropological) and a score of commercial galleries have built a steady art public which includes thousands of winter visitors and tourists. At the Phoenix Art Museum, now nearly three years old, an ambitious program of three or four monthly exhibitions, a training program for 100 volunteer docents run by Director F. M. Hinkhouse and Assistant Director, Donne Puckle, has, in three years raised the whole climate of art-interest in Arizona. An art-rental program, operated by the adjoining Arizona Artist’s Guild, places 300 paintings a year, under the direction of Olga Lippman. All three Phoenix daily newspapers carry regular art critics.

Elsewhere in the state the Yuma Art Center, led by a dynamic contemporary painter, Louise Tester, is making encouraging growth and showing good, sometimes controversial, work. Thriving art groups at Prescott, Sedona, Mesa, and a half dozen smaller communities exhibit everything from cactus-copiers to action painting.

At the Museum of Northern Arizona, as well as at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, the state’s Navajo and Hopi craftsmen draw thousands to their annual exhibitions. Indian art is also a prominent part of the State Fair each November. Arizona’s 200-odd Indian silversmith, potters, basket and rug weavers are sure of public appreciation. But the Indian painters have problems. Half of the public insists that Indians should paint like Indians (meaning the swirly-tailed, Disneyized, Persian horse school), and the other half want them to go modern. Recent attempts by well-meaning sponsors to clarify the situation by establishing “traditional” and “non-traditional” categories for Indian art, only further confused both Indians and gallery-goers. But the painting came out as always, along with the public, and buyers were plentiful.

Dr. Harry Wood