As the crowd mingled, taking in the three newest exhibits at the Yuma Art Center, a tall, lanky cowboy strolled into the gallery. My latest series, Tall Tales, was making its debut and one of the four characters, Slim Pickens, was now being embodied in the flesh by this lanky fella' making his rounds at the opening night reception. I eyed him from afar, not sure if one of the long-limbed characters that inhabit my imagination now had crossed over into the tangible world. Was I seeing things? What was in that lemonade? Who is this guy?
The cowboy made his way into the part of the gallery where Tall Tales was hung and stopped to take a gander. I had to approach him; this was too good to be true. I stepped to him and introduced myself, craning my neck to find the face atop his seven-foot frame. He smiled, a bit embarrassed, and we shared a laugh and a handshake. I learned that he was a local Yuman, deciding to don his western attire for a night out in the cool Arizona air. We snapped a pic and went our separate ways, both a little bewildered by the exchange.
Meeting Slim in the flesh was just one of the many interesting encounters that my family and I had during our time in Yuma, Arizona. I had lined up my second solo exhibition there after Lindsay Benacka, a talented young gallery director I'd shown with previously in Wichita, had offered me the opportunity. The highlight of the entire experience was the chance to see my paintings in a beautiful and spacious gallery space like the Yuma Art Center and debut Tall Tales to the folks of Yuma. They came out in droves during opening night and were a very engaged, educated crowd.
Yuma is a rich cultural crossroads. In twenty minutes from Main Street, you can be sipping tequila in Mexico, at a casino on the Fort Yuma Indian Reservation or in the middle of the desert. It is a big draw for retirees, who flock there for the warmth and the cheap Mexican dentistry. But Yuma also has a storied past and a vibrant arts scene, as demonstarted by the impressive turnout for the opening night reception at the gallery.
Yes, we went to Mexico and drank tequila (and then waited nearly three hours in line to reenter the US). Yes, we spent time exploring the desert (awe-inspiring Joshua Tree National Park is a only a couple of hours away). No, we didn't hit up the casino. But, I did get the chance to visit a couple of classrooms to share my art, including one high school right on the border of Mexico. In addition, two of my parents flew down for the occasion and we all went to the Yuma Territorial Prison, an incredible piece of local history that is a must-see.
I even got a little media coverage, as I was featured in the local newspaper and also lined up my very first radio interview! The interview was live on the air with Lisa Smith at Big Blend Radio. They're a mother-daughter team that is attempting to visit all 417 National Park units and they caught wind of my show in Yuma while traveling through. You can listen to the entire interview here.
All in all, the show in Yuma was great success and a rich experience. Four of the fifteen paintings found new homes, along with a number of prints. Our little family (instagram: @thefourhees) got a little taste of international travel and we survived. And I even got the chance to meet a real life Slim Pickens. The Art Adventure 2017 is off to a roaring start and we're so excited to what the rest of the year brings.
Thanks for taking the ride with us. Stay tuned...