Category Archives: Art

A week in the desert, part 2: Cosanti

More from our April trip to Arizona …

After our visit to Taliesin West, Eric and I headed to the Paradise Valley area of Scottsdale. I was excited to show Eric a place that had enchanted me years earlier. Cosanti, an Arizona Historic Site, is the home and studio of architect Paolo Soleri (1919 – 2013), who was once a student at Taliesin West. Soleri is best known for his experimental urban laboratory, Arcosanti, 60 miles north of Phoenix.

Cosanti logo inlaid in sidewalk.

The Cosanti logo inlaid in the sidewalk. Can you make it out? [photo:]

Soleri coined the name Cosanti from two Italian words: cosa and anti, meaning “before things” or “against things,” depending on which source you consult.

Soleri and his wife, Colly, bought five acres in Paradise Valley in in the 1950s, long before suburbia hemmed them in. The property is now surround by fashionable homes. In 1970, Soleri began building Arcosanti as a prototype self-sustaining city with a densely settled, small footprint. Artisans at both Cosanti and Arcosanti produce and sell bronze and ceramic wind bells of Soleri’s design to fund their existence.

Stepping out of the car in an unassuming gravel parking lot, we walked under lacy olive trees to the entrance of the Cosanti compound. Suddenly, it’s as if we were on another planet or on a sci-fi stage set. The setting is a feast for the eyes, and a lot to take in.

Entry to gallery at Cosanti.

You’ve never seen anyplace like this! [photo: TripAdvisor]

As at Taliesin West, concrete is the construction material of choice (cheap!), but the effect is entirely different. Soleri experimented with using concrete to construct apses—quarter spheres—most decorated with strange and fanciful designs. The apses are positioned to take advantage of sun in the cooler winters, and shade in the blazing summers. Some of the structures are partly underground for additional insulation. These shelters are made by heaping up a big mound of earth, then pouring concrete into frames laid on top. When the concrete cures, dig out the earth, and you have an apse.

Admission is free, but we chose to pay for a guided tour that had just started.

Just ahead, down an allee overhung with olive trees and sculptures, was an apse filled with our tour group and bronze wind bells. I wished for a breeze, but the hot air was still. I wished I could have all the bells.

Concrete apse at Cosanti

Entrance to a strange land.

We entered the apse. I didn’t know where to look: up at the decorated ceiling or at the forest of wind bells that surrounded us. It felt like a small cathedral … a little weird, a little awe-inspiring, and entirely engrossing.

A bronze wind bell sculpture hangs from a ceiling at Cosanti.

A large bronze pendant dominates the ceiling.

Bronze wind bells at Cosanti.

Wind bells hang from the ceiling like flowering vines.

Bronze wind bells at Cosanti.

A door to more.

White and tabby cat at Cosanti.

The only cat I saw on our entire trip.

Tour guide under apse at Cosanti.

Our tour guide explains it all.

Larry, our tour guide, had worked at Cosanti for 20 years, so he had worked with Soleri directly. He explained Cosanti’s history and architecture, and Soleri’s vision for the wind bells.  Larry referred to himself as an artisan: a person who creates art using someone else’s design.

We moved to the next apse, this one full of ceramic wind bells. And a gorgeous red roof. This was the bell assembly area.

A red stained glass roof and pink bougainvillea under an apse at Cosanti

Red roof and pink bougainvillea.

Red stained glass roof in an apse at Cosanti.

Roof detail.

A chain of wind catchers hangs from the ceiling.

A chain of wind catchers.

Larry led us on to another large apse—the bronze foundry, which would have been off-limits to us had we not been on the tour. The apse looks like it’s made from wood because wood was used to create the form for the concrete. Just as at Taliesin West, white canvas panels provide protection from the sun and a pleasant, even light.

Bronze artisans set up for a pour at Cosanti.

Artisans set up sand bell molds for a pour.

Molds are made from a special sand that can withstand high temperatures without melting. The sand is surrounded by a thick metal jacket for stabilization. There’s a funnel-shaped hole at the top of each mold into which the bronze is poured.

The day was sweltering hot, but the men who poured the molten bronze had to wear heavy buckskin coats, chaps, gauntlet gloves, and face shields for safety. They deftly moved the crucible of 2200°F, glowing yellow bronze from mold to mold, pouring smoothly. I could tell they’d done this many times.

Two men dressed in protective leather pour molten bronze into molds.

Moving the crucible of molten bronze from mold to mold. Sand molds without metal jackets are on the right.

Watching the men pour the silky looking liquid bronze was fascinating in a scary sort of way.

Molten bronze pours from a crucible.


Within minutes, the new bells’ temperature had fallen to a mere 1000°F, and they could be removed from the molds without damage. Wearing heavy gloves, Larry whacked the sand from the casting, revealing a luminous golden bell. When the sand fell from the middle of the bell, it rang in a clear tone. (The sand is swept up and reused.)

The bells are beautiful when they emerge from the mold, but they darken to a gray color as they age. Soleri preferred to use an acid bath to add a verdigris color. Because the color varies, no two bells are the same.

A newly cast bronze wind bell looks gold.

Newly cast wind bell.

Two bronze bells at Cosanti

A newly cast bell (left) and a finished one after an acid bath.

It was beastly hot in the foundry apse, as you can imagine. I backed out under the olive trees, hoping for a breath of air. Behind us hung a large bronze sculpture belonging to the Goldwater family, returned for restoration. You can see its natural gray color … and an iconic Cosanti window behind it.

People stand in the shade of the foundry apse at Cosanti.

Our tour group bakes in the foundry apse.

A large bell assemblage awaits restoration at Cosanti.

A large bell assemblage awaits restoration.

I was a little relieved when we left the superheated foundry apse and ventured further into the compound. We walked through a tunnel whose small entrance and large exit whooshed the cooling air through … a Wright trick. Ahh …

Concrete structures at Cosanti.

A dinosaur’s ribcage? Soleri’s office is behind the portholes at right.

On the other side of the tunnel was an apse where ceramic bells are fired. Behind that was a curious half-underground building that served as living quarters for the apprentices onsite. See those steps that go down into the pit? They’re simply timbers that stick out of the wall. I took a break sitting on the hefty timber railing of the bridge.

Dormitory building with sunken center space at Cosanti.

Dormitory with a rustic Asian vibe. [photo: Tomiaki Tomura]

We exited the earth house through the door at the top of those timber stairs. In front of us loomed the enormous concrete roof over the swimming pool. This mammoth slab is supported on 12 utility poles. Like everything else at Cosanti, it’s been there since the late 1960s. This stuff holds up.

Thick concrete slab forms the roof over the swimming pool at Cosanti.

Wonder how much it weighs.

The wall of a small apse near the pool featured this poem.

A poem is inscribed on the apse wall at Cosanti.

A poem on the apse wall.

We had reached the end of the developed property, and the tour was over. Thanks, Larry! We returned to the gallery, where we’d started.

Siadewalk between concrete structures at Cosanti.

The sidewalk near the foundry apse.

Gallery and gift shop at Cosanti.

“Exit through the gift shop,” we always joke.

Inside the gallery and gift shop at Cosanti.

Inside the gallery and gift shop. [photo: TripAdvisor]

Bronze bell assemly at Cosanti.

A display at the gallery.

We knew we wouldn’t escape without choosing something special to bring home. Because I had been to Cosanti and Arcosanti before, I already had some goodies, so I wanted Eric to pick this one. He chose one of Cosanti’s Cause Bells, which donates part of its cost to a cause of our choosing (ours benefitted the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden). This bell has a varicolored polished finish, a little different than the acid-washed bells. It’ll look good in the modern house we’ll have some day.

A polished bronxe Cause Bell from Cosanti.

A polished bronze Cause Bell.

I’ve had my two Soleri bells, both from Arcosanti, for years. They’ve accumulated more patina as they’ve aged. These bells are LOUD. I used to have them hanging on the front porch until a summer storm blew through. The next morning there was a note from the city police that they caused a disturbance, and I had to take them down. They’ve been in a box for years, but I’m going to put them back up in my backyard garden … without the wind-catchers.

These ceramic tiles are from my first visit to Cosanti.

Blue and green coaster-sized ceramic tiles from Cosanti.

Coaster-sized tiles.

Something about this desert place, with its mysterious symbology and dusty, sunbaked concrete structures from the 60s speaks to the hippie artist in me, and it feels like home. (I was never a true hippie, and can’t really call myself an artist, but I hope to become one when I grow up.) I hope you enjoyed the tour and get to explore Cosanti (and Arcosanti) for yourself someday!

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it



Happy holidays from OB2C!

Every year before Thanksgiving, Eric and I start thinking about what image we’d like feature on our Christmas cards. We enjoy making and printing our own cards. It’s a fun way to work a little creativity into the season. Eric has a high-quality printer, so normally we just buy blank cards and envelopes and print them up. But this year, Eric sent them off to be four-color offset printed because it was actually cheaper. We were a little disappointed in the quality—the color registration was off on the inside message, although the cover images seemed to be sharp. I think we’ll return to our DIY-printing tradition next year.

We couldn’t decide between two photos that Eric took a few years ago. One is Duke, barking at the dining room window against a background of snow-laden rhododendrons. The other is kitty prints in the snow on our deck. So, we printed them both. Why not go with a cat and dog theme? It was fun to match up what I thought each recipient would like most.

You can pick your favorite!

Boxer at window looking out on snowy rhododenrons

May the wonders of the season fill your heart


Cat prints in the snow

Prints of Peace


Happy holidays to all of my blog friends and followers. Best wishes for a peaceful and prosperous 2017!

D’Arcy & Eric and the furry gang at Our Bungalow’s 2nd Century

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it

Haute couture? Moi?

As you know by now, we are masters at finding other things to do while we are supposed to be working on our DIY projects. So what did we come up with on a rainy Saturday when we couldn’t paint outdoors? We took advantage of our Seattle Art Museum membership to attend the members-only debut of Yves Saint Laurent: The Perfection of Style.

I expected it to be fabulous. I had no idea.

A wide, quiet hallway led into the main exhibit area. Here was displayed a collection of paper dolls that Saint Laurent created when he was a young teen. He’d put on fashion shows for his sisters, and designed clothes for them. These dolls had never been displayed before, and came from the collection of YSL’s lifetime partner, Pierre Bergé (as did nearly the entire exhibition). Lesson: If your son wants to play with paper dolls, let him.

Paper doll fashions designed by young Yves Saint Laurent

Anyone remember Betsy McCall?

I was amazed to find a paper dress that I’d owned myself. Not a real Yves Saint Laurent, of course, but a vintage-style knock-off that I’d made in the 1980s. (Something that most people don’t know about me is that from my late teens into my thirties, I made most of my own clothes—everything from jeans and t-shirts to tailored suits and coats. I wasn’t a designer, but I did customize commercial patterns.)

Flowered paper doll sundress

Hey, there’s my dress!

Then we rounded the corner into a bright room and were dazzled by what looked like a stylish party of headless or hairless models.

Several 1950s dresses by YSL

Just the beginning … 1958/59

Before he turned 20, Saint Laurent was hired by Christian Dior himself. Before long, Dior picked Yves to become his successor … and then died unexpectedly, leaving Saint Laurent as the head designer at the House of Dior at the age of 21. I don’t know what you were doing when you were 21, but I didn’t know my posterior from my elbow.

If that wasn’t enough, Saint Laurent virtually saved the business in his first season by designing the wildly successful, flared “trapeze dress,” a radical departure from the constricting styles of the 1950s. However, subsequent collections weren’t as well received and, like a football coach after two losing seasons, House of Dior fired him. Also in 1960, he was drafted into the army, which, as you’d expect, was a disastrous experience for a young, gay clothing designer. After being hospitalized for depression and leaving the army, he sued Dior and won his job back, but he soon left to open his own fashion house, Yves Saint Laurent, with his partner, Pierre Bergé.

In 1966, Saint Laurent was the first designer to produce a prêt-a-porté (ready-to-wear) line at his famous YSL Rive Gauche stores. Departing from haute couture and venturing into retail revolutionized access to designer clothing. (Haute couture means, literally, “high sewing.” Couturiers make custom, one-of-a-kind clothing for high-end clients.)

Three pencil sketches by Yves Saint Laurent

So simple

The Seattle exhibit was organized roughly in chronological order, making it easy to understand how Saint Laurent’s designs were influenced and evolved. The walls of the main room were covered with collection boards, with his sketches at the bottom of the page, fabric swatches above, and notes about models at the top. I loved his sketches. The line work is spare, fluid, and confident. The figures almost seem to move.

Click to enlarge these and appreciate the detail.

He even drew a comic strip called Schmuck and Pluck, although I don’t know the context. I wanted to stand there and painstakingly read it (having forgotten all the French I never knew), but the crowd pushed me on.

A comic strip by Yves Saint Laurent

Schmuck and Pluck

Enough of history—the stars of this party were the clothes.

1966 beaded silk

1966 beaded silk cocktail dress

This grouping took me right back to my college years in the 1970s, and my favorite military-inspired raincoat.

Three YSL coats from 1970

1970 leather coats

How about this appliqued velvet wedding dress? On the front: “Love me forever.” On the back: “Or never.”

silk velvet and satin appliqued wedding dress by YSL

1970 silk velvet and satin wedding dress

In the mid-70s, Saint Laurent found inspiration in the Opera-Ballets Russes. I’d wear this graceful dress today.

Opera Ballets-Russes inspired black dress by YSL

1976 wool daytime dress

A Romanian-styled dress featured beaded and embroidered motifs inspired by Henri Matisse, next to a gold-embroidered evening ensemble. Yves seemed to gaze up from the photo to chat with his model.

Romanian Matisse dress by YSL

1981 Matisse evening ensemble; 1980 embroidered jacket ensemble

Gold maryjane pumps

The shoes! 1977

One of my favorite designs, but admittedly hard to sit in.

Dress with large pink bow in back by YSL

1983 silk evening gown

In 1966, Saint Laurent designed the first tuxedo for women, followed by the first pantsuit in 1967, changing forever the way women dress for work (and political debates). Here, Yves and his sister Michele pose next to some of his groundbreaking pantsuits.

1968 beige Gabardine pantsuit by YSL

1968 black silk evening pant ensemble; 1976 beige gabardine pantsuit

I would have loved to wear this black silk evening gown back in my salad days … or now, if only I could fit into it. These clothes were tiny.

1965 black silk evening gown by YSL

1965 silk evening gown

A tall spray of hat forms was the centerpiece of the next large room. Along the perimeter were examples of how these garments come to life. First, they’re sewn up in toile (pronounced twahl), a lightweight twill fabric; then they’re remade in the final fabrication. I’d never have the patience to sew a garment twice. I’d dive right into the expensive silk and ruin it. (Actually, I did make a muslin model of an important dress once. I wasn’t pleased with it, and scrapped the project entirely. I’ve messed up many others.) You can see some toile examples in the far corner.

Hat forms and toile garments by YSL

Hat forms and toile garments

More of my favorites:

These wool jersey Pop Art dresses impressed me with their construction. If you’ve ever tried to sew a smooth curved seam, you know it’s not easy. These seams were nearly invisible, and flat as a flitter. It looked like the colored pattern was printed on the fabric. The sparkly gold tights were a nice touch, too.

1966 wool jersey Pop Art dresses by YSL

1966 wool jersey Pop Art dresses

I’m not a big jewelry wearer … but wow!

The final hallway, called “From darkness to an explosion of color,” was artfully designed. Angled panels covered in fabric swatches progressed in prismatic order, shielding the upcoming dresses from view. Then, passing each set of panels, we were treated to groupings of dramatically lit mannequins. Had this been a live runway show, the models would be walking past us. Instead, we were walking past them.

Panels with fabric swatches line a long hallway

The grand finale

1991 gold lame evening ensemble by YSL

1991 gold lame evening ensemble

Dresses by YSL

The first selections were dark neutrals

1981 beaded gold organza suit; 1991 gold lame sari dress by YSL

1981 beaded gold organza suit; 1991 gold lame sari dress

Again, I marveled at the exquisite workmanship. Look at this silk coat, as light as a feather. The lapel is perfectly turned and precisely shaped. If you’ve ever seen very high-end clothes (I have only once, long ago in New York City) you’ve seen that they are hand made. Of course, it wasn’t Saint Laurent himself who wielded the needle, but my hat’s off to whoever worked this magic in silk the weight of cobweb.

1985 silk evening ensemble by YSL

1985 silk evening ensemble

1985 chiffon evening gown by YSL

1985 chiffon evening gown

1986 silk crepe evening gown; 1981 silk satin evening trench coat; 1999 silk crepe gownby YSL

1986 silk crepe evening gown; 1981 silk satin evening trench coat; 1999 silk crepe gown

1977 red and gold damask Chinese evening ensemble; 1979 silk organza cape and silk velvet sheath by YSL

1977 red and gold damask Chinese evening ensemble; 1979 silk organza cape and silk velvet sheath

1997 embroidered silk bodice and red silk pleated skirt evening gown by YSL

1997 embroidered silk bodice and red silk evening gown (another favorite)

1983 faille domino with silk velvet bustier dress; 1985 red silk gown by YSL

1983 faille domino with silk velvet bustier dress; 1985 red silk gown

Every fashion show ends with a bridal gown (or at least they used to—I don’t know if that’s still true, as I’ve never been to one), and this exhibit was no exception. I’d prefer the “Love me forever” version, if I had to pick.

1995 silk damask panniered gown by YSL

1995 silk damask panniered gown. Just what I need–panniers

And then it was over. I felt giddy, like I’d spent the day hob-nobbing with people way, way out of my class while wearing clothes I bought at Costco.

We walked, bedazzled, back to our car through the Seattle rain and wind. The spell was broken.

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it