Gotta Have Art

Acclaimed artists head to the ‘festive white tents’

By Susan Kern-Fleischer

Cave Creek award-winning pencil artist Dick Mueller relies heavily on the Old West for his artwork. He didn’t live on a ranch, though. He credits his passion for the Old West and cowboys to radio.

“I grew up pre-TV and listened to old radio programs about the west and its people,” Mueller says. “Some of the programs were ‘The American Trail,’ ‘Death Valley Days,’ ‘Gunsmoke,’ ‘Hopalong Cassidy’ and ‘Roy Rogers.’ They stirred my imagination and I developed an interest in the Old West.”

Mueller will be one of the many artists at the Arizona Fine Art Expo, which runs daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday, January 10, to Sunday, March 22, under the “festive white tents” at 26540 N. Scottsdale Road at Jomax Road.

Art demonstrations, live music and art are among the many reasons to attend the event.

Drawing came naturally, especially because his mother did the same. When he graduated from high school, he enrolled at the Minneapolis School of Art, now called the Minneapolis College of Art & Design.

In 1969, he moved to St. Louis to work as a technical illustrator for McDonnell Douglas.

“I left McDonnell when they lost the Space Shuttle contract, and I began working in the electrical field,” he says. “In my spare time I painted for about 10 years, and then switched to graphite and colored pencil more than 20 years ago.”

When people view Mueller’s work, they often comment on how his drawings look photographic, which is exactly why Mueller prefers working with graphite and colored pencil.

“Brushes dry out, but pencils don’t,” he says. “There is much less mess and it is easier to get fine details.”

He also embraces the challenges he encounters and says that makes his work more interesting.

“Working from old photos sometimes requires research for details,” he says old photos frequently cut people off at the knees.

“What would a cowboy wear on his feet in 1900?” he says. “Another photo showed cowboys sitting around the chuckwagon, and they were all wearing plaid shirts. What colors would the shirts have been in the early 1900s?”

A visitor to Arizona Fine Art Expo gave him the idea to start his “Portraits from the Past” series, where he takes old photos of family members or friends and creates drawings of them.

“The expo patron wanted a drawing of his father dressed as a cowboy when he was about 9 years old. He was so pleased that he had me do his grandfather and a friend in a saloon in Wyoming in 1903,” he says.

While he was working on the first piece, another expo visitor saw what he was doing and asked if he would do a drawing of his grandfather and his “rounder buddies” playing cards in a saloon in Illinois in 1912.

“That drawing required looking at hundreds of beer labels to figure out what they were drinking,” he says.

During Arizona Fine Art Expo, Mueller will be working on a new bobcat drawing, wildlife, trains, portraits, buildings as well as “Portraits from the Past” and other commission work.

Dazzling designs

Joining Mueller is Beth Benowich, a talented jeweler who is returning to Arizona Fine Art Expo for her sixth year. When she began making jewelry nearly 16 years ago, her goal was simple—to fill up her jewelry box.

Today, she is an acclaimed jeweler and successful entrepreneur who helps others fill their jewelry boxes with her contemporary necklaces, bracelets, earrings, rings and pendants.

“My work has evolved tremendously since I started making jewelry,” Benowich says. “I have not been afraid to push myself out of the box. I love to experiment, and so many things inspire me, including nature and texture.”

Benowich grew up in the Bronx. She earned a Master of Social Work from Fordham University and spent more than eight years running a summer travel camp for middle-school students. She was always fascinated with jewelry and decided to close the camp in 2004 and take jewelry making and design classes in New York City. As she honed her skills further, she launched her business, BBDesigns.

She and her husband moved to Cave Creek in 2011, and the desert inspired her to explore different techniques and designs. She specializes in lost wax casting, and, while most jewelers carve hard wax, she prefers working in soft wax because of its fluidity.

“I have always layered my wax to create texture or depth in a piece. I love having positive and negative space in my designs, and I play with using different shapes to create a different, more contemporary feel in some of my designs,” she says.

Benowich loves working with silver and gold, and she sometimes experiments with Keum-boo, an ancient Korean gilding technique used to apply thin sheets of 24-karat gold to fine silver. Recently, she started a collection using triangles as her primary design. She also jumps at the chance to cast with lace, stating that there’s usually a wonderful story or memory associated with the lace, which makes her work more meaningful.

“When I see a piece of lace it talks to me,” she says. “Sometimes it is beautiful but not suitable for jewelry. Sometimes it says it is meant to be a bracelet. I just used lace from a mother’s wedding dress to create a wedding band for her daughter. Then I took that same lace to make a stunning pendant/brooch that the bride might wear on her wedding gown.”

She’s also experimenting with red stone from Sedona.

“I’m hoping to have this ready for the expo,” she says. “I call it ‘Sedona Dust’ because I put it into jewelry pieces similar to the way inlaid stones are set.”

Many of her pieces also include some of her favorite natural stones, including opals, tourmalines, sapphires, garnets and druzy stones.

She also embraces any chance to share her passion for jewelry with others.

“I tell all my customers that I make the jewelry for me and that I share it with them,” she says. She does custom work in addition to her own designs.

During the Arizona Fine Art Expo, Benowich will exhibit new designs from her Gold Flower Collection and her Real Lace Pieces collection. In addition to one-of-a-kind jewelry for women, she’ll have several pieces for men, including pendants, rings and cuffs.   

Arizona Fine Art Expo

10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Friday, January 10, to Sunday, March 22

Under the Festive White Tents,

26540 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale

Season passes cost $10; season passes for seniors and military are $8; and children under 12 are free. Parking is free.

480-837-7163, arizonafineartexpo.com

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