There’s no better way to sample the ethos of a destination than to take a tour through its art scene. When you do so in Sedona, Arizona, pack comfortable walking shoes—hiking boots, too—because you’ll find miles and miles to roam, some of which are off-road. With more than 80 art galleries, art-inspired festivals and events happening year-round and heritage sites that exhibit the ancient art of the area’s earliest inhabitants, Sedona inspires creativity.
It makes sense that Sedona’s roots come from ranching since Oak Creek and the nearby Verde River provided early settlers with abundant irrigation, but the pioneers were drawn to this oasis for more than its perennial water source. Beyond its verdant valleys, Sedona’s rock faces and formations stimulated the imaginations of these providential people and yielded picturesque names for sites like Chimney Rock, Coffee Pot Rock, and Cathedral Rock, to name a few.
You’ll see Sedona’s early history portrayed in the Western art exhibited in many of the galleries, but don’t think Sedona’s location in the U.S. governs the type of art you’ll find here. As this video about the Sedona art scene illustrates, the diversity of mediums and styles found in the city are as wide-ranging as the hues in its sunsets. Art is an expression of the self, of the environment, of the times, and the artists and gallery owners in Sedona have a lot to say.
You’ll find artists mainly in West Sedona, Uptown Sedona and Gallery Row (a mile-long stretch along State Route 179 with some 50 galleries) who present a prolific community of creative sensibilities. Mediums include paintings with oil, acrylic and watercolor; sculptures in bronze, steel, clay, stone, wood, ivory and glass; drawings in charcoal, pastels, pencils and pens; fiber art using wool, silk, paper, plants and animal parts; functional art like pottery, rugs, furnishings and fixtures; photography, jewelry and mixed mediums with intriguing combinations at play. You’ll also find abstracts, figurative forms, landscapes, whimsical creations and so much more.
“It’s evolving to be more modern, more contemporary, more eclectic, a little bit wilder, and more diverse than just that Southwest art,” says Kelli Klymenko of Sedona Arts Center, and perhaps it is through education that evolution occurs. Originally called Canyon Kiva, Sedona Arts Center prides itself on the instruction being the foundation for the center. In 1958, Nassan Gobron, a sculptor from Egypt, visited Sedona and became inspired to create a place where artists could work while also educating the community about their craft. This idea developed from what had been the Jordan Apple Packing Barn, now known as the Art Barn, where today its School of the Arts provides workshops, ongoing classes and organizes field expeditions. Meanwhile, the Sedona Arts Center Gallery showcases the largest collection of art by Sedonans, representing more than 100 local artists.
The area’s earliest artists from the pre-Columbian Sinagua culture used yucca-leaf brushes, or simply their fingers, dipped into colored minerals to paint pictographs onto smooth rock walls, or they chiseled at the stone with tools to create petroglyph designs. More than a thousand of these rare works of art—dating back to circa 1150 A.D.—are preserved at V Bar V, Honanki and Palatki Heritage Sites.
When Janeen Trevillyan retired in Sedona, preservation of its historical and cultural narratives became her passion. “I don’t think people can come to Sedona and not be affected,” she said. Now, as president of the Sedona Heritage Museum Board, she focuses its efforts on education, protection and sharing the unique history of what is arguably the most beautiful place on earth. It’s something to be celebrated.
And, celebrate they do with the Sedona Heritage Museum’s Fall Arts & Crafts Show. It’s a community gathering with local artists and craftspeople showcasing one-of-a-kind handmade items and sharing the special stories behind them. Go behind the scenes every fall and spring during the Open Studios Tours when artists invite the public into their studios, revealing their techniques. Watch the landscape take shape during the Sedona Plein Air Festival, a weeklong event presented by the Sedona Arts Center that includes master painters, intimate receptions, exhibitions, demonstrations, lectures, a cookout and an exciting awards presentation. Since 1989, artists from across the U.S. have convened for the Sedona Arts Festival, the city’s oldest and largest art gathering. This event goes beyond the exhibition, however, and has raised more than $300,000 to support community programs including scholarships to help young artists pursue their dreams.
Klymenko, a professional photographer, tells his students, “If you want to be a good photographer, move to Sedona and have a camera.” It may just be that simple. Inspiration surrounds you—from every angle—whether it’s a vista, a sunset or an artist painting en plein air. Linda Goldenstein of Goldenstein Gallery (which evolved from her grandfather’s 1940s grocery store) believes there’s a heartfelt connection in Sedona which stems from the artists. Whether it’s the artists who breed Sedona’s creative vibe or it’s Sedona’s natural beauty and mystical energy that feed artistic inspiration, it is most certainly a powerful symbiotic relationship.
Find more inspiration of Sedona’s art scene at the Sedona Secret Seven art sites or consider this three-day Arts & Culture Itinerary. As you peruse the art scene, notice how creativity flourishes at the restaurants where you gather around the table to relish organic farm-to-table fare and local dishes. At Sedona’s resorts and spas where you can dream in luxurious comfort about the art you’ll take home. At the world-renowned spiritual and wellness retreats where your soul will awaken, or on the trail where art is manifested in the delicate petals of wildflowers, the shapes of the leaves and the clouds in the sky.
No matter where you go or what you do in Sedona, prepare to be amazed.