Cattle Track is a work of art for people who work in art.
Home and studio to approximately 35 full- and part-time artists and artisans, the 11-acre compound is Scottsdale as it was – before the glitter and glam.
Located just off McDonald Drive, the historic arts community is bounded by Lincoln Drive on the north, the Arizona Canal east and 74th Street west.
“What makes Cattle Track special is talent, a sense of community and a great work ethic. We all pitch in and help hold each other and the place together,” said Janie Ellis, whose father and mother, George and Rachael, settled here in the early 1930s.
“I have spent years in other places but have always returned to home base,” added Ellis, who danced ballet for the great George Balanchine in New York City.
From today through Nov. 17, the compound’s gallery will feature the work of Philip Campbell Curtis, who lived and worked at Cattle Track, and two living Arizona artists, John Henry Waddell and wife Ruth Waddell in the exhibit “Three Arizona Originals.” A nonticketed reception opens the event at Cattle Track 2–6 p.m. today, Nov. 4.
After first living on a friend’s property in Scottsdale, the Ellis family purchased approximately 10 acres of then county land for $100. Cattle tracks, from herds moving back and forth from Phoenix and the mountains in central Arizona, and unlined pioneer irrigation ditches were the only human marks.
Because the home site was on the wrong side of the water rights, George dug a well.
A builder, creator and innovator, George built adobe and wood houses on the property, some still used as homes, offices and studios. And, in what is now Paradise Valley, he completed the Rose Pauson House for Frank Lloyd Wright, which burned in 1943, one year after it was finished; a site marker remains in place at “Shiprock.”
Artists found their paths to Cattle Track, including Curtis, a Michigan native who first visited Arizona in 1937, and his efforts began the Phoenix Art Center, now the Phoenix Art Museum.
At the museum, the Ullman Center for the Art of Philip C. Curtis maintains one of the world’s largest permanent collections of the artist’s paintings. His magic realism has been compared with the work of Salvador Dalí and René Magritte, but Curtis’ Victorian/Edwardian fantasy world remains a unique expression in 20th-century art.
He returned to Arizona in 1947 after serving with the Office of Strategic Services; he and his wife, Marge, lived and worked on Cattle Track until his death in 2000. Many of the desert scenes for his oils and watercolors were enacted on or incorporate elements from the site.
Other artists have worked lived and worked here: Louise Nevelson, the sculptor, and Don Barclay, a caricaturist who painted faces depicting celebrities such as John Wayne and Ted Williams and locals such as Charlie Briley, the owner of the Pink Pony restaurant, once a landmark of downtown Scottsdale, where the artist did much of his work.
Also associated with Cattle Track are Fritz Scholder, the distinguished Native American artist, who had a studio here in the 1990s; Jay Dusard, the Arizona photographer, now in his 80s, known for celebrating the last generation of American cowboys and cowgirls; Lloyd Kiva, who moved to Scottsdale in 1945 and managed his clothing boutique in Craftsmen Court downtown for many years; Southwest artist Patricia Benton; and photographers Scott Baxter and Mark Hendrickson. And, Rachael Ellis was a fine fashion designer whose work is still discussed and shown.
In addition, architects have always appreciated the Cattle Track heritage. Vern Swaback, leads SWABACK in The Studio, which he designed 25 years ago, retaining the original Ellis-built home on the site, and Brent Kendle designs from a Ranch-style adobe Ellis constructed in 1941, which Janie had moved from another part of the original home site to avoid demolition.
Today, the Cattle Track community produces artwork in many media and crafts.
Master printer and woodworker Brent Bond, for instance, is an Oklahoma native who creates limited-edition prints and crafts woods such as black limba and jatoba into fine furnishings. For the November show, he will finish Curtis-designed furniture, which Paradise Valley’s Matt Moore will be building.
And, Mary Van Dusen is a 40-year Scottsdale resident who fires stoneware pottery for clients including mugs for the new Andaz Scottsdale Resort & Spa. Matt Magee, Mark McDowell and Timothy Chapman create visual artworks in various media.
A blacksmith for 68 years – 25 for Cattle Track – Bill Smith hand forges ironworks such as table bases, hardware, fireplace equipment and tools.
The Scottsdale resident, 83, came to Scottsdale in October 1971 from Dundee, Scotland. For 18 years, he worked at Cavalliere’s Blacksmith Shop, built in 1920 in now downtown Scottsdale, a landmark third-generation city business.
“Then I found Cattle Track, and I’ve been here ever since,” he said. “In a big city, you never think of a place like this; it’s off the beaten track, so unusual today with so many other things like hotels all around.”
“Cattle Track is a community-driven art and artist’s destination. We hold events and open studios that are mostly free to the public, making art and the experience of looking at it enjoyable to everyone,” said Matt Magee, who creates artworks by transforming discards such as recycled aluminum cans and detergent bottles as well as natural materials including coral and sea urchins.
The Cattle Track artists enjoy the experience, too.
“We all feed off the energy of the other artists, share ideas and collaborate on projects,” explained Chance Phillips, the campus’ felt and fiber-arts professional. A Seattle transplant, she’s been associated with the arts compound for 14 years.
With its unique energy, Cattle Track celebrates creativity and, in particular, the tradition of the western artist, said Swaback, chairman of the board for Cattle Track Arts & Preservation, which maintains the legacy of the community through a master plan that furthers and expands the original intent of the campus.
“Cattle Track offers all of us a unifying and inspiring glow to share and regenerate its history –– to make it all happen again,” he said. “It’s a lighthouse for the future.”
Enjoy “Cattle Track Talks” the second Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. Next up: Alan Day, “Cowboy Up!”: Life Lessons from the Brother of Sandra Day O’Connor. See cattletrack.org.