As we walked from reception to our room, we realised we were walking through an outdoor art gallery. I was staying at the Hermosa Inn in Phoenix’s Paradise Valley to interview their star bartender, Travis Nass, and the sculptures in the grounds were a delightful surprise. So I did what any guest at the Hermosa Inn can do, and requested a free guided art walk the next morning.
The art is a natural fit for the inn, as it was originally the home and studio of the cowboy artist, Lon Megargee, as our guide Pam Swartz explained.
‘The hotels’ reception is in what was Lon’s original home,’ Pam tells us. ‘He came out from Philadelphia in 1896 at the age of 13 to work as a ranch hand. He built the house with no blueprint, he just drew lines in the sand. He settled here in the early 1930s, on what was a 6-acre property.
‘He loved art but did many things. He lost the property in 1940 to his 6th wife. He was a ladies man, liked parties and late-night drinking. He was married seven times and died in Sedona in a car accident at the age of 77.’
Pam takes us along a corridor behind The Last Drop bar, which is named after one of Lon’s most famous paintings, and takes us down some stairs and reveals one of the tunnels that run underneath the building.
‘If they saw the sheriff’s posse coming during one of their drinking sessions,’ Pam says, ‘they would scatter to the tunnels. The turret where Lon had his studio had another purpose than just his painting. Back in the day you could see for miles from up there. He was out in the desert back then.’
The first part of the art walk introduces us to the fascinating world of Lon Megargee, who I’m sure would appreciate any or all of Travis Nass’s award-winning cocktails.
‘The hotel has one of the largest collections of his work anywhere in the world,’ Pam says, and shows us their collection in the library, along corridors and in many of the inn’s private meeting rooms. He painted postcards and magazine covers, and Pam shows us his Last Drop painting, which was commissioned by Stetson and is still used today inside every genuine Stetson hat.
The remarkable sculptures in the grounds, some hidden between the cacti and the gloriously colorful flower displays, are provided by the Figarelli Fine Art Gallery, also in Paradise Valley and specialising in contemporary Southwest US artists.
‘The majority of the pieces are by Allan Houser,’ Pam tells us. ‘He was one of the most important American artists of the 20th century. His parents were members of the Chiricahua Apache tribe, and Houser’s father, Sam Haozous, was the grand-nephew of Geronimo and worked as his translator.’
The sculptures range from powerful portrayals of buffalo hunts to touching mother and child creations.
‘Houser revered women and respected his mother,’ Pam says. ‘He did many mother and child pieces. He only carved figures from four tribes, and each one has a distinctive touch to tell you which tribe they are from. His own tribe, for example, always have upturned moccasins, while the Navajo have double knots in their hair.’
The other artist whose works stand out for their grace and charm also turns out to be a Native American. Tony Lee is a Navajo artist who grew up in New Mexico. A startling white carving of two heads, Canyon Songs, is made from Colorado marble and is very Picasso-like.
The gorgeous works go on and on, around every corner, making each journey to the bar or the restaurant an artistic delight. And, as with Travis Nass’s cocktails, we enjoy them down to the last drop.
Free guided art walks are available upon request when staying at The Hermosa Inn off-season. At busier times, the guided walks take place at 11am every Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. For more information visit the Hermosa Inn’s website.