Thursday, September 19, 2013

Exploring Bisbee with Arizona Highways

Ten minutes after parking my car along Main Street in Bisbee, I had made a friend — Nicole, a dress maker, artist, bodyworker and all-around good gal. In one brief conversation I had the lay of the land and a list of locals I had to meet.

Bisbee residents like to brag about their little town, and for good reason. With its steep, winding streets and patchwork houses, this old mining settlement is a place where it’s easy to feel inspired. People don't come to Bisbee to escape; they come to create. The town is crawling with artists and creative types, and not just in the galleries and studios. On a lazy Sunday I was invited to shoe-box bar for “Drink and Draw,”a weekly social gathering where artists and non-artists alike gather to fill sketch pads and drain beer bottles. 

Locals in Bisbee are really good at welcoming you, but they’re even better at making it hard to leave their town. After four days of being invited into homes, studios and galleries, I was reluctant to hit the highway back to Phoenix. I'm grateful to all the folks who were so hospitable to me.

You can see the Arizona Highways feature on Bisbee here.

Retired miner Sonny Tovar & town of Bisbee. 2013. Bisbee, AZ. ©Jill Richards Photography
Sonny Tovar was born in Bisbee in 1935. He was 40 years old when the Queen Mine closed. He is now one of several retired miners who give daily tours of the mine. He says he still loves the smell of the mine. "I enjoy the tours. I knew what I was talking about. I would put my heart into it. I felt proud to be a miner." 

St. Elmo, Arizona's longest running bar. 2013. Bisbee, AZ. ©Jill Richards Photography
Sue Sargent, St. Elmo bartender & 1948 Willys. 2013. Bisbee, AZ. ©Jill Richards Photography
Sue Sargent has spent almost 25 years tending bar. These days you’ll find her at St. Elmo's Bar, the oldest continually operating bar in Arizona. Be sure to try one of her classic martinis. "I make them dirty," she said. 

Artist Poe Dismuke. 2013. Bisbee, AZ. ©Jill Richards Photography
Poe Dismuke is a big ol' kid and he's having more fun than all of us. He sketches, sculpts, designs Rube Goldberg machines and builds soap-box-derby cars. He is a collector of the coolest crap you've ever seen, including a fuselage. As if that wasn't enough, he's married to the amazing Sam Woolcott.

Artists Sam Woolcott and Poe Dismuke's work. 2013. Bisbee, AZ. ©Jill Richards Photography
Painter and mixed media artist Sam Woolcott. 2013. Bisbee, AZ. ©Jill Richards Photography
Sam Woolcott is married to Poe, and lately she can be found laying in a drainage ditch with a sketchbook, studying the pathways, power lines and house fronts of Bisbee from an entirely new perspective. She's an artist with an architect's brain, and shes inspiring. I dare you to spend an afternoon at her old schoolhouse studio and not want to quit your job and move to Bisbee.

Poe Dismuke. 2013. Bisbee, AZ. ©Jill Richards Photography
Pie from High Desert Market & Bisbee resident Nichole Welch. 2013. Bisbee, AZ. ©Jill Richards Photography
The Kenneth Brian Band traveling through Bisbee. 2013. Bisbee, AZ. ©Jill Richards Photography
Optimo Hatworks. 2013. Bisbee, AZ. ©Jill Richards Photography
S. Grant Sergot with customer at Optimo Hatworks. 2013. Bisbee, AZ. ©Jill Richards Photography
S. Grant Sergot and his custom, hand-formed hats are a fixture on Main Street and a first stop for many visitors to Bisbee. Sergot is the authority on fitting hats for every type and his panama and fur-felt hats are a thing of perfection. Sergot was gracious enough to give me an afternoon tour of Bisbee and all its natural surroundings in his 1948 Willy Jeep.

Off Main Street. 2013. Bisbee, AZ. ©Jill Richards Photography

Sculptor Art Herman. 2013. Bisbee, AZ. ©Jill Richards Photography
Art Herman’s studio is located in a small dark room behind a garage-turned-gallery on Main Street. Art walks with a cane due to a bad back, most likely from years laboring as a commercial diver, a carpenter, an electrician and a plumber. He works with his hands. Always has. Now a full-time artist, Herman sculpts wood and bends metal and twists new life into found objects. Herman, a kind and soft-spoken man, is entering a new chapter in his life as an artist, and his political views are a big part of that. His latest work — wood sculptures of crows — is his personal statement against Nevada's open-season hunting of crows,highly intelligent bird that he refers to as “little darlings.” This activism isn’t a stretch for a man who discovered his passion for art while stationed in San Francisco during the 60s at the height of the Beat Movement.

Artist Joe Klinger. 2013. Bisbee, AZ. ©Jill Richards Photography
If you've been to Bisbee, chances are you've seen Joe Klinger's place. It's a monument to found objects — mannequins, ice chests, benches, pipes, hoses, bed frames, etc. Bisbee's trash is his treasure. There's a certain freedom about his art. It carries over from his home and gallery to the makeshift dog park he helped create across the street. Joe’s art is not for everyone — including some city officials in Bisbee — butafter visiting with him I’ve found myself taking to second look at the discarded goods in the alley behind my house. 


  1. Seems like you went there and had a really good time there. The people there are really good and have a friendly attitude towards the guests and love to have them there.

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