Art Connection - Winter/Spring '24

When it comes to artwork in all of its various forms, there's often more than meets the eye. As you begin to go beyond the surface, you often discover a rich story, and perhaps some surprising materials. This issue of Art Connection the world of abstract art along with some of the unexpected mediums artists are using to create their work. Then venture inside metal sculpture artist Ryan Schmidt's studio and discover the many processes used to create his work. Finally, we pull back the curtains on the Celebration of Fine Art, providing a glimpse into just some of the work that goes into putting this show on each year.

ART CONNECTION By the Celebration of Fine Art

Vol. 2 Issue 3 Winter/Spring 2024

when unexpected mediums become art

generations of abstract

editor’s WELCOME A s we have just wrapped up our 34th season of the Celebration of Fine Art our hearts are filled with gratitude for the one-of-a-kind experience that happens under the “big white tent”. We are grate- ful to every artist and every visitor who journeyed through the door to share in the experience of inspiring energy and creativity that courses through the tent. Each day we heard people express the delight and joy they felt as they walked through the show and connected with the artists at work. The diversity of talent and mediums was unrivaled. The welcoming spirit of the artists matched the curiosity and intrigue of the visitors. A good time was had by all. And, amid all that fun, vast amounts of art were acquired by enthusiastic collectors and art lovers. We are humbled by the thought of how many homes––large and small, near and far, and modern to traditional––are enhanced by works of art from the Celebra- tion of Fine Art. The truth is, it is not just about acquiring the art, but the connection to the artist and the story that enhances the value and experience of collecting at the Celebration. More than 30 years ago, we could not have imagined what the ripple effect would be of bringing art lovers and artists together under one big roof. In this issue, we invite you to connect with and discover more about mother and son abstract artists Robin and Colin Branham. Find out more about their artistic story of legacy and growth. Next, read about how artists use unexpected mediums in expressing their artistic vision. Then get an inside look at the working studio of sculptor Ryan Schmidt. In 2025, you will find us in our new location just a stone’s throw away (quite literally) to the south of our current location. Although we are not moving far, we will be busy putting in all of the infrastructure that supports the tent allowing us to provide a home for creativity and con- nectivity where you can continue to be part of the Celebration story! To get an idea of what it takes to make it all happen each year, read “Making Magic”. The article will take you behind the scenes, giving you a glimpse of just some of the work that takes place throughout the year. Finally, stay tuned for updates throughout the year as we prepare for our 35th Anniversary. Opening January 18, 2025. And thank you again for an unforgettable 2024 season!

ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: ROBIN & COLIN BRANHAM How abstract art has influenced three generations of Branhams and how they're carrying on the legacy. UNEXPECTED MEDIUMS There is often more to art than what initially meets the eye. Discover some of the artists who are using unthinkable materials to create art rich with story.



JOURNEY INTO THE UNEXPECTED Explore more artwork composed of interesting materials that surprise and delight.



FROM THE ARTIST STUDIO: A CONVERSATION WITH RYAN SCHMIDT Journey inside the "tiny" studio where Ryan composes his massive steel sculptures. He also shares some of the complexities that come with stretching metal. MAKING MAGIC: HOW THE CELEBRATION OF FINE ART COMES TOGETHER What does it take to bring a show of this caliber to fruition every year? Susan Morrow Potje shares just some of the moving parts and pieces of this year- round operation.


Artist Spotlight: Robin & Colin Branham


10 Journey Into the


Unexpected Mediums: Using unthinkable materials to craft a story

Unexpected: Materials that surpise and delight

On the cover: "Three Generations", 60x48, acrylic, Robert, Robin and Colin Branham



From the Artist Studio: Venture inside Ryan's temporary studio at the Celebration of Fine Art.

CONTACT US Celebration of Fine Art 7900 E. Greenway Rd., Suite 101 Scottsdale, AZ 85260

480.443.7695 |

14 Beyond the Tent: Discover just some of the year-round operations that go into putting the Celebration of Fine Art together.

~ Susan and Jake Potje

Issue 3 | Winter/Spring 2024

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helping her with her work or doing my own. And it just slowly evolved to where I was doing more of that instead of the production assistant work.” Colin started to find success with his own work and then it was introduced at Celebration. “I brought a couple [of Colin’s pieces] to the show, and put one in the corner of my booth,” Robin said. “One of my regulars came in and just went straight in for it, visceral of everything else in the booth.” The next year Colin painted a complete body of work, which was set up adjacent to Robin’s studio. Collectors took notice, and the following year, Colin decided to take a chance on the show. Inventing and sculpting on canvas Make no mistake, while both artists paint in an abstract, sculptural style, a quick study of their work reveals very distinct differences. The color palettes, move- ment, strokes and overall design vary from mother to son. These distinctions seem to grow more prominent every year as both keep testing, experimenting and inventing in their own way––just like Robert taught them. But, while play and experimentation drive the evolu- tion of their work, it’s still very much rooted in a set of principles that were also passed down. “To my father, there were as many rules and principles in an abstract painting as any other,” Robin said. “I’m fortunate to have been taught those

rules. You don’t just throw paint or smash paint on the surface. There’s so much more. It’s all about a focal point, and shape and balance.” That thoughtful attention to tech- nique is perhaps what makes their work so enthralling. It has a way of inviting viewers in, urging them to create their own story about what’s happening on the canvas.

Robin Branham at work in her studio.

"Yours Now Mine", acrylic, 65" x 75" by Robin Branham

it was 1995 and Robin Branham As she made the trek from California to Arizona, she felt a mix of terror and excitement. She didn’t know what this 10-week commitment in an unknown town would bring, but something compelled her to take a chance on the opportunity and herself. Just prior, Robin had been juggling three jobs: single mom, professional artist and cocktail waitress––a job she was ready to leave. The day after she mustered up the courage to quit, she saw an ad in a newspaper that would forever change her life. had just loaded up a van with her artwork and her infant son, Colin. “I had just walked off my job and the next morning I went to a coffee shop with Colin, opened the newspaper, and saw a picture of the tents. I said, ‘I’m going to find that!’,” Robin said. The tents pictured were none other than the Celebration of Fine Art and the next day, Robin sent a let - ter and small original painting off to then-owner Tom Morrow. Taking chances Robin was immediately accepted into the show and that marked the start of her full-time career as professional

professor said, ‘I don’t think you’re go- ing to be a curator. I think you’re going to be a painter. You need to pursue this and take this to galleries right now.’ That’s how I started,” Robin said. After she graduated, Robin’s father worked with her every day, offering techniques, principles and critiques to dial in her abstract work. This contin- ued for 15 years and it’s what helped shape Robin’s unique style that’s more sculptural than paint on canvas. “He taught me everything I know,” she said. “Mostly he taught me to be an inventive artist. He worked on sets in the movie industry before CGI, so he had to physically make the sets. It was always about molding, sanding and carving. He drilled into my head “You don’t just throw paint or smash paint on the surface. There’s so much more.”

to experiment, play and invent new techniques. And that’s why my work varies so much.” Over the years, Robin passed this rich knowledge on to Colin. Still, while both start from the foundations Rob- ert taught them, they’ve developed their own techniques and voice. “Sometimes when I’m talking to Col- in, critiquing and working with him, I hear my father’s voice coming out,” Robin said. “He taught me his tech- niques and I changed them over the years. And that’s exactly what Colin is doing. I teach him first what grandpa taught me, then he interprets it and goes his way.” Despite having an innate talent for art, Colin, like his mom, was on a dif- ferent path. While attending UC Irvine and working as a production assistant on a film set, he had his sights set on either going into the TV and film industry or becoming a police officer or firefighter. Art wasn’t necessarily on his radar. But life intervened and Colin decided to lean in. “When I was home from college and between working as a production assistant on film sets, I worked in my mom’s studio,” Colin said. “I was either

artist. It also kickstarted what would become an almost 30-year tradition. Colin, her son, was just two years old when he began accompanying Robin to the Celebration of Fine Art. While they may not have known it at the time, that experience was imprinting on him. A couple decades later, Colin would become a third-generation artist in the family and soon have his own studio at the show. Though fine art was in their lin- eage––Robin’s father, Robert Bran- ham, was a well-known fine art and commercial artist in Hollywood––it was not the initial career path for Robin or Colin. Building a legacy “Watching my father paint my whole life…no one could touch him,” Robin said. “He was the painter and there was no way I was ever going to pick up a paintbrush. I went to school to be a museum curator.” During her fourth year in college, however, Robin took a painting class as an elective. The professor saw a latent talent in her and urged Robin to rethink her chosen career path. “By the end of the semester, the

Watch Colin's interview here.

Above: "Primaries", acrylic, 45" x 60" by Colin Branham Below: Colin Branham at work from the Celebration of Fine Art.

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together. They’re meant to reunite or converge. I call it the collision of the ingredients.” Though each of his mixed-media pieces is often inspired by a particu- lar “ingredient”, the story or message doesn’t reveal itself until after it all comes together. Typically that story is one of nostalgia, bringing the viewer back to a time that was simpler and more carefree. For artist Brit Hansen, it’s not about found objects or uncommon medi- ums, but rather using a traditional medium––acrylic paint––in a nontra- ditional way. Using a unique carving

rare mediums or developing a new technique, there typically isn’t any for- mal training available. Skills have to be developed through self-guided learn- ing and trial and error, and it requires a thirst for exploration and an intrepid and resilient spirit. “I was a block printer before, but I didn’t like the printing part,” Brit said. “I just loved carving. So, that got me experimenting with carving all sorts of things––wax, clay, wood. I was carving wood for a while and painting it back in. But the problem with that is that I also don’t love painting, and this felt like twice the process. So, that’s what

erly to bring the colors out.” Artist Cathy Sheeter, on the other hand, was drawn to a medium that while it can be traced back to the 19th century, never became mainstream–– and that meant resources were extremely limited. Cathy would soon change that. The medium was scratchboard, and at the time, classes were few and far between. To boot, Cathy had studied animal sciences in college, not art. Still, art called to her so she challenged herself to continuously draw to sharp- en her skills. After college, she was

unexpected mediums


Using unthinkable materials to craft a story

"Black and White Dancing Shaman", 15" x 40", Doug Fountain

C oyote toenails, dried gourds, fallen feathers, a vintage game of Twist- er––these may not sound like the makings of fine art, but at the deft hands and creative mind of a skilled artist, they are indeed. It’s the ability to see the hidden potential in these un- expected materials and use them in meaningful ways that results in truly unique artwork that’s rich with story. And often, it’s not just the way in which they’re used, but the materials themselves that convey messages and give even more depth to the story. From the journey that brought the artist to the medium to how they mastered working with it, as you begin to peel back the layers, you dis- cover there’s much more than meets the eye. The medium is the message Mass media philosopher Marshall McLuhan famously said, “The me- dium is the message.” And in many cases, when artists use mixed media or manipulate traditional mediums in a nontraditional way, that medium becomes a significant part of the story. It may communicate a specific mes- sage, or change the way the viewer perceives and engages with the story being portrayed. For instance, at first blush, feathers and gourds may carry little mean- ing but when these elements are thoughtfully combined with specific

colors and geometry, and imbued with the energy of artist Doug Foun- tain’s Native American heritage, it communicates the history and symbolism of the culture in a way no textbook ever could. “On the face of the mask, every dot is a prayer of thankfulness, gratitude and abundance,” he said. “The triangle represents unity. The rectangle, family.

Above: Hand-thrown ceramic vessels with fossil lids and hand-carved texture by Myron Whitaker Below: "Prickly Blossoms", 14" x 14", etched acrylic on wood panel by Brit Hansen

technique that she developed, Brit creates a three-dimensional, tactile experience that pulls viewers into the rich, colorful stories of the desert Southwest. “Any painting can have texture,” she said. “But the way I do my texture, it has direc- tional lines that really lead the eye. I try to create a texture that mimics nature and casts shadows that are very natural. So it gives it a 3D effect.” Achieving the vision she had in her mind’s eye for these carved pieces, however, didn’t happen overnight. It was a practice of pa- tience and a lot of trial and error. The journey to mastery When working with

got me thinking, ‘If I could just carve paint, then it’d be done.’” Brit started experimenting, and after about a year, she got the experiment to work. Initially, her palette consisted of just one color, then progressed to two. Today, she’s up to 12, which can translate to 40 to 100 coats of paint. Doug Fountain’s journey to creating his distinct Native American masks, wall art and sculptures also came through a lot of experi- mentation and leaning on prior experience to help guide him. “So much of my process has been developed through trial and error over the years,” Doug said. “Being an architect by trade and growing up in a building family, I had access to plaster and other materials, and access to gourds from farmers. I just started exper- imenting and taught myself. For instance, with the feathers, I had to first learn how to clean them prop-

And the circle of the mouth, happiness. I think those are things that some people re - ally connect with and it makes it that much more special than just a beautiful, three-di- mensional piece of art.” Similarly, at the hands of mixed media artist Tim Weldon, retired piano keys, a vintage Mr. Tap ‘n’ Go doll, and thoughtfully selected blocks, Scrab- ble pieces and colorful scrap pieces of wood come together to tell a story of dance, mu- sic and movement. “The pieces all fall into place serendipi - tously,” he said. “Like they’re meant to be

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“The pieces all fall into place serendipitously. Like they’re meant to be together. They’re meant to reunite or converge. I call it the collision of the ingredients.” -Timothy weldon

“I use these materials in a way that you’ll never notice them if I don’t tell you what they are.” -Myron whitaker

starts drawing and sketching on its own. The combination of everything in that stone designs that piece for me. When you see my work, it’s evident that the stone dictated everything about the piece.” For Tim Weldon, though the composition doesn’t always form in his head instanta- neously when he sees an ob- ject, he knows intuitively when it’s something worth collect- ing. And for him, this journey is a manifestation of a lifetime of thoughts, ideas, and a passion for hunting and collecting nostalgia, but also a desire to bring people back to a more innocent and uncomplicat- ed time. “I think I’ve been creating this type of work all along,” he said. “Being in the music business, I traveled around the country and some of the

reintroduced to scratchboard––and it was kismet. “After college, I picked up my first professional scratchboard and real- ized how effective it was for creating animal fur,” she said. “I got hooked on it because it takes so many finer lines, and I can layer and do shading much more effectively.” Though she had some exposure to the medium in grade school, to achieve the level of detail and realism she envisioned, she turned to the support of a small, but mighty online network of other scratch - board artists who were willing to share best practices and of- fer constructive critiques. “There was a pretty active online commu- nity called

“Wet Canvas” and I was already on there for my pencil drawing,” she said. “I saw there were some people doing scratchboard, so I started asking them questions, and over several years, we de- veloped a really active scratchboard commu- nity on that forum. All of us progressed much further than I think we would have in isola- tion.” This group eventually evolved into the Inter-

"Reddy or Not", 9" x 12", scratchboard by Cathy Sheeter

my mind, but I couldn’t get them out through my fingers. That was a block for me. But when I sat down to do ceramics, it was completely different. I could take what I saw in my mind and roll it out in my clay. It was natural for me. It was like I was supposed to be there.” As Myron got deeper into the world of ceramics, he saw an opportunity to elevate his work from craft to art. So, he began looking at other objects that would add to the overall composition, and that led him to a unique roster of rare objects––natural stone, coyote toe- nails, bones, alligator teeth, and even porcupine quills. “I use these materials in a way that you’ll never notice them if I don’t tell you what they are,” he said. “You’ll see it, but you won’t know what it is be- cause you see the whole composition. That’s the fun part for me.” Now, these unique materials often dictate the design direction of the ceramic piece––influencing the color, texture and shape of the ceramic. “When I see a stone I like, my mind starts building that piece,” he said. “It

national Society of Scratchboard Art- ists (ISSA), which Cathy helped form.

world, and every time we had days off, I would go to museums or art gal- leries. I always thought, if I did some kind of art, I’d combine bits from all that I was taking in. It has evolved to be more nostalgic in nature, inviting us to remember when life was good–– when we were kids, not a care in the world, wide-eyed and curious, and a bit fearless at times.” Art is a powerful storyteller and most artists intentionally craft the message their work is communicat- ing. And, chances are, when there’s an unexpected medium involved, there’s like another fascinating layer to that story.

The path to the unexpected

What called these artists to these unexpected medi- ums and the chal- lenge of learning to work with them? For some, it was a desire to share the experience of anoth- er culture, feel the soothing effects of nature or travel back to a simpler time. For others, it was an - swering the call of a passion that was deep inside. “I always loved art, but I was never good at what I considered art,” said sculpture artist Myron Whitaker. “I can’t draw or paint. I would get images in

Far left: "Composition", mixed media by Tim Weldon Middle: "Prickly Fruit", 24" x 36", etched acrylic by Brit Hansen Right: Gourd sculpture, mixed media by Doug Fountain

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metal & ceramic

wood & stone

Journey into the unexpected

materials that surprise & delight!


From the top: "Circularity" by Mari & Joe Giddings-Axton; "Dragon Egg" by Brian Sykes; "The Ledge" by Jeremy Firehammer; "Eye of the Tiger" by Brad & Sundie Ruppert; "Blazing Blue" by Sheri Meldrum; "Happy Day" by Veronica and Gabriel Sandoval; "Sumo Wrestler's Kimono" by Karen O'Hanlon.




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Issue 3 | Winter/Spring 2024

from the artist studio

Making light work of challenges The highly involved nature of Ry- an’s work requires some heavy-duty equipment and there was a lot he had to consider when setting up his space––environmental elements like wind and rain, controlling sparks from grinding and welding, mitigating sur-

the structural load, but also create balance and beauty. “I got to go into one of the legs and see how the interior was made,” he said. “There’s a lot of history that structure made with its triangular form, and most of the work I do now is in a triangular form on a curve.” Eventually, he figured it out, but even today, stretch- ing and manipulating the metal into the design he envisioned remains one of the primary challenges of his work. “Figuring out how to stretch the metal into a

A conversation ryan schmidt

"Inception", stainless steel by Ryan Schmidt

with new designs. The concepts, how- ever, are the easy part. “I can sit down with a blank piece of paper and freeform start sketching,” Ryan said. “Most of the time with clay work, I’ll just sit down and start adding and taking away…just freeform some- thing from the clay. It kind of comes naturally to me.” The hard part is manipulating the steel into the design he sketched or modeled. From concept to fin- ished sculpture, Ryan goes through upwards of 15 steps, but to him, the interaction that’s created from the mirror-like finish makes it all worth it. And luckily, he enjoys the journey along the way. “What’s rewarding to me is the assembly, the completion of some- thing whether it’s a new form or new idea,” he said. “Exploring the unknown is what makes this enjoyable, and the fact that other people appreciate it enough to purchase it for their home or business makes it rewarding as well.”

situation where it’s going to do what I want it to do is the challenge,” he said. “Sometimes that process takes years to figure out how to perfect it. Some- times you have to go with the flow and that might mean the project has to change.” Ryan’s resilience and ability to roll with the punches, however, keeps him continually seeking bigger––even monumental–– challenges. Working toward monumental Though a childhood fascination with origami certainly contributed to Ryan’s style of work, what ultimately kickstarted this path was that trip to the St. Louis Arch. “If I had not visited the Gateway Arch in person, and rode 630 feet to the top, I may not have been inspired to dream big,” he said. “To me, monu- mental work is full of emotion that is mostly experienced by engagement firsthand.” And he is inching his way up to monumental works. Currently, Ryan is working on one of his largest projects to date, a commission

Operating on a finer scale Looking at Ryan’s body of work and everything he stocked into his tem- porary setup, it’s evident this is an exuberant, ambitious, vibrant and hospitable soul. He embraces all life has to offer. He doesn’t shy away from hard work, but also enjoys indulging himself and others in the opulence life has to offer. This is seen not only in his highly polished sculptures, which immerse viewers in the surrounding beauty that’s reflected through the mirror-fin- ish surface, but also in the thoughtful touches he put into his temporary studio. In fact, his space has become a bit of an artist retreat as Ryan routinely invites others in for a shot of chilled elderberry or an espresso––always served in a fancy glass with a cocktail napkin. But don’t be fooled by these little luxuries. This space is first and fore- most built for hard work––cutting, bending, stretching, welding, grinding and polishing large sheets of steel into beautiful sculptures that are full of motion. The setup alone is labor in- tensive, and something most wouldn’t even attempt for a temporary setting. But Ryan seems to make easy work of challenges. Ryan Schmidt in action at his temporary studio.

J ust beyond the tent walls of the Celebration of Fine Art sits an unos- tentatious, beige shipping contain- er. Though it may not look like much from the outside, behind the roll-up, garage doors sits a workshop that’s equal parts workhorse and “artist cave”. There’s a lot packed into this 20-foot container, and every inch reveals a new discovery––a welder, tool chest, industrial shelving, workbench and

plenty of tools. But then something somewhat unexpected catches the eye. Something that gives a peek into the character of whoever set up this workshop. It’s an espresso machine flanked by a tray of elegant glassware, black cocktail napkins, snacks, and a beverage refrigerator, which is always stocked with home-brewed elderberry syrup (hand crafted by Ryan). Then there’s the adjacent dart board and scoreboard. And this is all set against the back- drop of the premium audio system pumping

face reflectance as he’s working with the material, and of course, the safety of surrounding artists. But Ryan is a problem-solver by na- ture, a trait that enabled him to even bring the vision for this type of sculp- ture to fruition. “In the beginning, one of the big- gest challenges was getting the metal to line up the way I wanted it to,” he said. “Because it was on a plane, I couldn’t create a compound bend.” Inspired by the St. Louis Arch, Ryan was determined to recreate the triangular structure used in architect- ing the arch. He was struck by the strength of the triangular form, and how it was used to not only support "Stupendous", stainless steel by Ryan Schmidt

Watch Ryan's interview here.

piece that will stand just shy of 20 feet tall. But he also keeps himself challenged by continually coming up

music into the space (and be - yond). Who does this temporary studio belong to? None other than stainless steel sculp-

“Exploring the unknown is what makes this enjoyable..."

tor Ryan Schmidt.

"Ascension", stainless steel by Ryan Schmidt

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components––was also designed to disappear into the background. These were all permanent investments made during the devel- opment of the site to not only lay the groundwork for an enjoyable experience, but also make for an efficient setup. “When we come to a new site, we put a lot of infrastructure in so that everything is dialed in when we come to set up for the show,” Susan said. “We put an asphalt pad down that the tent sits on top of, as well as water, sewer and electric. Every- thing is underground,

ing with my marketing and design team to create ads and marketing materials, coordinating with upwards of 15 local and national publications to place articles and ads, and planning PR and content with my PR team to get the word out to the media,” Susan said. “Then we start working on all the elements to put the show together. I have a spreadsheet with all of the items that need to be ordered and by when. Then I start securing necessary permits, which often have a long lead time. Being organized is key.” As the opening of the show nears, the asphalt pad is painted, the re - stroom and office trailers are ordered, delivered and installed, and then the interior walls, electric and all other set - up takes place. Meanwhile, the artists start planning the materials they’ll need for their studio space. “We provide foundational walls, the electric and general lighting, but the artists are allowed to build out their studio in a way that will best reflect their work, and they have one week for setup,” Susan said. “So there’s a lot of planning, coordination and communi- cation involved for everyone.” The day before opening night, there’s an artist meeting to get ev- eryone up to speed. Any new artists go through a brief training about the processes and procedures. With less than 24 hours until the big opening, the anticipation builds as artists look forward to reconnecting with their


making magic

F rom the outside, it may seem like the Celebration of Fine Art is a sea- sonal operation. But even before the show ends and artists begin packing up their temporary studios, work for the next season has already started. From the careful dismantling of the tent to the juried application and re- view process, and from the permitting to the equipment ordering, ongoing customer relations and marketing, the operations never truly cease. In fact, a majority of the work that goes into this well-oiled show actually takes place in the off season. Even for the artists, the nine months between the end of the show and start of the next becomes a time of fulfilling commission work, and planning and building their in- ventory for the next year. “I’m thinking about what I’m going to bring to the show all the time,” Ter- rell Powell said. “We always say, ‘I’ll see you next year’, but it’s really only nine months months away. So I’m working on the inventory all the time.” “People are often surprised to learn just how much goes into putting on an event like this,” said Susan Morrow Potje, co-owner and show director.

it remains a small, but mighty team with Susan overseeing much of the operations and her husband Jake Pot- je helming all of the infrastructure. "We couldn't do what we do without the incredible team of people who help make it happen,” Susan said. “Our office team, setup crew and each member of our show team are all truly integral to our success. We are grateful for each of them." The monday after The Monday following the last day of the show is go-time. The artists begin the deconstruction of their studios while simultaneously wrapping up end-of-show artwork sales that contin- ue to come in throughout the weeks after, and even the rest of the year. Meanwhile, in the office, the team is preparing artwork that needs to be shipped, closing out sales, and begin- ning to label, organize and pack up the office equipment, much of which is routed back to the main office in the Scottsdale Airpark. While this flurry of activity is hap- pening, Jake and Doug Morrow, Su- san’s brother, work with their crews to start the process of

tent needs to be precisely cleaned, folded, stacked and stored. We have a sizeable warehouse in the Scotts- dale Airpark with everything stored in a particular order, as loading the warehouse properly is key. Jake has become good at Tetris. His skillset in every aspect of set up and tear down are invaluable. I couldn’t ask for a bet- ter partner in business and life.” After relocating back to the main office, Susan begins the jury process for the next season. “The first thing we do after moving everything back to our office is go through the applications to jury the returning artists in and assign their studio spaces,” she said. “That takes most of April. Once we get the return- ing artists in place, we open up the applications for new artists. Simulta- neously, however, we’re also prepping for the next year while Jake and the team continue taking down the tent.”

Jake Potje and the crew putting up the tent structure.

The groundwork Luckily, much of the substructure and above-ground infrastructure is reused each year, but this took a lot of upfront planning and labor-intensive work. Everything was designed and built to sustain the show over the long haul, but also fade seamlessly into the back- ground so the artwork was always the star of the show. “When we first started, my dad Tom Morrow and my husband Jake, designed the structure that holds the walls together,” Susan said. “They designed all of the interior walls so they could be taken apart, stacked and stored, and Jake built every one of them.” The substructure––the electrical, plumbing, asphalt pad, and other

so there’s a lot of infrastructure that’s never seen, but that’s very important to the success of the show. It takes a lot of planning to execute such a high-quality event where with- in 10 steps or so of walking in, people forget about being in a tent because the art surrounding them is so dy- namic and fabulous. The experience takes them away.” This year, in preparation for the move to the new location on the adjacent plot of land, the team will go through the process of permitting and building the infrastructure again. “Leading into 2025, we’re going to have a big project as we do the improvements on our new site, which is just across the street to the south,” Susan said. “We’ll have a new infra- structure in place and ready for us to open for our 35th anniversary in 2025.”

"When the art lovers come in and connect with the artists who are here, it brings so much joy." – Susan Morrow Potje


collectors. “There’s a lot that goes into this, but it’s worth it when we get it all put up and people walk in,” Susan said. “The key is, people forget they’re in a tent because they’re surrounded by incredible artwork and beautiful dis- plays that showcase the work. All the little details make the magic happen, and one of the things I love the most about bringing the Celebration of Fine Art to fruition and opening up to the public every year is getting to intro- duce that year’s artists to the public. When the art lovers come in and connect with the artists who are here, it brings so much joy.”

The "off season" Throughout the off season, in addition to solidifying artists, Susan and the team manage the online market- place, plan the advertising and pro- motion schedule, create the program and other marketing materials, secure necessary permits, order needed equipment, publish the quarterly Art Connection magazine, work with artists to prepare them for a success- ful show, manage the ever-growing and evolving customer database to keep everyone looped in on important dates and happenings, and the list continues. “Throughout the summer, I’m work-

"I'm always so impressed with jake's determination and focus. He is dedicated to making the show the best it can be." – Susan Morrow Potje

dismantling and prepar- ing for storage the overall structure––the cafe, tent, sculpture garden equip- ment, lighting, cabling, and other furnishings. This is typically a multi- month process and a test


of one’s strategic skills. “Putting away a 40,000-square- foot structure and everything in it takes a lot of time,” Susan said. “When you are basically setting up and taking down a building struc- ture, there are a lot of moving parts. After everything is emptied out, the

“Often, people think we work 10 weeks out of the year, but we work year round in all different capacities.” Perhaps even more surprising is the size of the team that makes all this happen year after year. While that number increases during the show,

Watch the 'Making Of' video here.

Page 14

Issue 3 | Winter/Spring 2024

Issue 3 | Winter/Spring 2024

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SAVE THE DATE for 2025! The Celebration of Fine Art returns to Scottsdale January 18 – March 30, 2025 Keep in touch and shop for your favorites any time at!

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