The Arizona Trailhead series are beadworked “Pueblo-tiki” masks. To create these works of beaded wall art, classic motel signage along the Apache Trail was selected, the constituent sign elements were broken apart, sorted by color, and then reassembled to make each “face.” These new forms are intensified versions of stylistic motifs that were very popular decorative sources for classic period motels designed with ‘exotic’ Polynesian or Native American themes.
“Pueblo-tiki” seemed to be the best way to describe this mixture of aesthetic approaches. A dash of Modern Atomic and Googie exuberance completes the structural attitude for these forms. The masks are worked in slight relief, echoing the metal signs of the motels themselves.
This series will require a fifth mask to complete. The masks range from 23” to 27” high, by about 13.5” wide by 1.5” deep. These works are rendered in seed beads, with some bugle beads: a material language found in the tourist kitsch sold in southwestern motel offices, gift shops and cafes.
Each mask required about six months to bead.
Working methods vary in the masks to reflect and incorporate the loose rough-cut Polynesian and contrast this quality with the spare precision of southwestern Native American aesthetics. After the late 1940’s much of the beadwork for sale to tourists in motel gift shops was manufactured overseas; resulting in interesting cross-cultural visual interpretations and changes in forms. I find these qualities visually delightful. They produce little surprises and textural variations. Another tendency in the mass production of souvenirs incorporated some beads that were slightly off color or occasionally misshapen. Nothing was wasted.
This is addressed in my work via the shapes of the letters that make up the sign elements of each “face.” The shapes of the sign elements and letters are a little awkward – a little “off” – adding to the overall liveliness of the forms and depth of color.
Seed beads and bugle beads are sewn onto canvas sections with nymo, and the sections are sewn and beaded together. Some of the sections are slightly raised, after the whole mask is beaded together, it is attached to a baltic ply backing and edged with beads. When hung, the only materials visible are the beads themselves. Sometimes I have to use pliers to pull the beading needles through the heavy duty cotton canvas.
Most of the seed beads are size 11s or smaller.
Old episodes of “The Outer Limits,” audiobooks or music sure comes in handy during six month stints working with tiny beading needles. . . . but sometimes working in silence is the best way to go.
Loom-woven Motel Beadwork
The Tucson Inn, a striking classic Tucson motel, was getting very ragged the last time I was in Tucson, but still operating. The weaving visible on the loom below depicts the “Aztec Motel.” The Aztec Motel is one of my favorite Van Buren motels in Phoenix. Would have been great to have seen Van Buren lit up in its heyday. * * Insert sigh-of-longing here. * *
This weaving will be about 11” long. The piece features the motel sign, with the additional customary advertising for the amenities: air cooled! pool! TV! and lots of the little light bulbs often used in older motel signs. Just love the masses of little light bulbs. They are festive in a very different manner than neon. There’s not very many of these older signs still working. Hard to say where to get replacement incandescent bulbs today. The green environazis probably wouldn’t approve of them. Black market bulbs maybe?
After completing the weaving, it is removed from the loom and finished with a rounded beadwork border. These are designed to be hung directly on the wall, or framed.
…the Aztec in all its glory!
This is a set of smaller loomwoven trailheads.