For almost 30 years, the Valley has hosted one of the country’s premier art events: the Celebration of Fine Art. Sprawled under white tents in Scottsdale from January to March, this juried, invitational show and art sale showcases over 100 artists from around the country, who continuously create and sell their pieces from within personal open studios.
Patrons are free to wander about, chat with artists, and experience the artistic process while seeing new pieces come to life. The creativity is entrancing; even artists agree, saying the collaborations are fulfilling.
Visitors can also learn about the inspiration, techniques and stories behind mediums during the Friday afternoon one-hour Art Discovery series, from blown glass and jewelry to steel sculptures and impressionistic influence.
Arts & Antiques Magazine called the Celebration of Fine Art, “One of the West’s Premier Art Events”—and much of these accolades come from the work of Susan Morrow Potje, the second-generation owner of the Celebration of Fine Art. Along with her husband, Jake, she’s increased the annual revenue to over $6 million and is known for her unique approach to connecting artists and their customers.
Woven glass artist Mark Lewanski is a first-time participant who quickly learned the effect he and his peers have on guests who walk through the 40,000-square-foot space.
“A guy broke down and cried when he saw my weaving,” says Lewanski, a Michigan native. “People see my weaving and sometimes think of a rug, which I understand. I don’t take it in a bad way, considering the size of the fibers and the color.
“But a man saw my weaving and it brought back such a strong memory of his grandmother making these rubs. It brought him back. It was such an emotional response and a moving moment.”
He was referred to the show by his friend and fellow artist Carlos Page.
“We’ve been friends for 12 years now, so I trust him,” he says. “It’s completely lived up to all the promises he made. It’s been really good. Usually, your first year in the market, you have to establish yourself. But we hit the ground running, really.”
Anthony Barbano is another newbie to the Celebration of Fine Art. Barbano, a Tempe resident, is so well regarded that Potje wears one of his glass pieces on a chain around her neck.
“I enjoy the camaraderie of the artists and there are a lot of collaborations,” he says. “The owners, they do an amazing job curating the show. There are a few other glass artists here, but none of us has a similar style. They have an amazing following, too.”
The colors of Barbano’s glass is achieved through gold and silver, with the orange color being 24K gold. Some of the pieces have opals in the middle which reflect nicely.
The Celebration of Fine Art’s roots are in the late-1980s when the founders, Tom and Ann Morrow—Potje’s mother and father—spent time in Laguna Beach visiting three art shows, which ran for eight weeks during the summer.
It occurred to them that Scottsdale would be a perfect spot for an extended art show in the winter. There was a learning curve, but over the years, the show evolved into a magical experience for artists and visitors/collectors.
“It is a true community that fosters a sense of excitement and joy and enthusiasm is shared freely,” Potje says.
Potje and her husband, Jake, have been involved in one fashion or another since the beginning of the show. Jake built the display walls for the artists’ studios prior to the opening in 1991. In 2004, the couple became partners and took over ownership a few years after that.
The Celebration of Fine Art has become an integral part of Scottsdale’s art experience. It is a juried and carefully curated show limited to around 100 artists. The jury looks for a variety of things including quality of art, variety of styles and mediums, ability for the artist to be present during the 10 weeks and ability to connect with visitors.
Walking through the show, Potje says when guests enter the white tents, any misconceptions they have are dissipated.
“Each season we have people who tell us they have been driving by for years and finally decided to stop in and see what it is all about,” she shares.
“Although we might be known as the ‘big white tent art show,’ people literally forget about the tent once they take a few steps into the show. Everything about the Celebration is a transformative experience. Starting from the fact we turn an empty lot, blank canvas into an extraordinary art community. The show is thoughtfully curated throughout the year to offer an extraordinary art collection as well as kind, giving and enthusiastic artists willing to share their gifts with the visitors. We also have a cafe and courtyard where people can relax.”
Relax is a key phrase to the Celebration of Fine Art. Comfortable chairs greet guests upon entry, and the setup works. Potje heard a visitor say he would rather sip his coffee in the exhibit than Starbucks.
Another aspect that makes show special is the Artist Discovery Series, held from 4 to 5 p.m. Fridays. During the talks, guests can discover inspiration, techniques and stories behind the creation of art while enjoying wine and cheese. For more information or to reserve your spot, call 480-443-7695 or email email@example.com.
“Even though I know more about most of the artists than probably anyone here, I always learn something new myself,” Potje says.
Clearly, Potje loves what she does.
“Buying art is usually an emotional response to the art and how it makes a person feel,” she says. “It is impossible to leave here without feeling better than you did when you arrived. Art lifts spirits. Connecting with others lifts spirits. This truly is a Celebration of Fine Art and a celebration of life.”P
Celebration of Fine Art
Various times through March 24
Southwest corner of Hayden Road and the Loop 101
$10; free for children 12 and younger