Jason Napier

Jason Napier poses with his whimsical bronze jackrabbit, “Weedeater,” which graces the cover of Hidden in the Hill’s artist directory this year.

One of the largest free arts events in the Valley returns for its 24th year this year: the Hidden in the Hills Artist Studio Tour, coordinated by nonprofit organization Sonoran Arts League.

Boasting 140 artists and 35 private studios throughout the northern Scottsdale, Carefree, and Cave Creek areas, HITH will continue to offer downloadable and digital maps to make self-touring easy.

But what will look different at this year’s two-weekend event are Sonoran Arts League’s implementation of health and safety measures at participating studios.

“Everyone involved in HITH is committed to following strict CDC guidelines. Meetings to review proper procedures to ensure everyone’s safety have been ongoing all summer and fall,” said Carole Perry, HITH marketing chair and event co-founder.

HITH takes place Nov. 20-22 and Nov. 27-29.

The free, self-guided tour invites attendees into the studios of local artists, where they can not only view their work, but can also speak with the artists and purchase one-of-a-kind artworks.

Many of the participating artists and studios are also planning a “safer, expanded space with more art and creative activity outside.”

“We hope everyone who decides to visit some of the amazing artists and studios will honor our efforts to keep them and ourselves safe,” said Perry, a glass artist and host of Laughing Glass Studio No. 23 in Cave Creek. 

Artists from across the Valley participate in HITH.

Gilbert resident Seth Fairweather, for example, is a first-time participant who will show his work at Stuart Yankell’s Studio No. 16 in Cave Creek.

Fairweather will exhibit brand-new pieces at HITH this year, including “Sullen,” a piece cast in dark gray glass.

Fairweather calls the pandemic one of his busiest years.

“I have been lucky enough to find quite a few commissions, my galleries are moving my work fairly quickly and regularly, and I’m actually doing a lot of outdoor work for a new resort hotel opening up in Phoenix,” he said.

Chandler resident and first-time HITH participant Lauri Koo also found inspiration amid the pandemic, thanks to the support of her artist friends.

Koo is a photographer and painter who will show at Robin’s Nest No. 26 in Cave Creek.

“I had the opportunity to volunteer at a couple of studios last year. It was wonderful to meet so many artists and guests. I was so inspired to see the artists interacting and sharing their process,” Koo said.

Koo is excited to show off her new, 18x24 acrylic titled “Awaiting.”

“The title ‘Awaiting’ came to me from the events and impact of COVID-19 while experiencing isolation, along with a record-breaking hot summer,” she said. “I think the palette and mood of this piece is inviting and uplifting, as the holidays are upon us.”

Farther north in Scottsdale, returning participant Bruce Larrabee will be a guest artist at Mark Lewanski’s Glass Studio No. 12.

Larrabee, a soon-to-be full-time Mesa resident, is a full-time potter and owner of Larrabee Ceramics in Park City, Utah.

While Larrabee typically creates unique cups, bowls, and more, he created large, “interior design-oriented” vases — “some of them as large as 3 to 4 feet tall” — specifically for the HITH event.

Also showing at Lewanski’s studio is Scottsdale resident and bronze artist Jason Napier, whose whimsical jackrabbit “Weedeater” graces the cover of Hidden in the Hill’s artist directory this year.

“Danielle [Napier’s wife] and I were hiking up Granite Mountain when we saw what we thought was a coyote. But as we got closer, we realized that it was a big jackrabbit eating what looked like a dead desert daisy. He had such big ears and long legs that we couldn’t help but laugh. I immediately knew I had to sculpt him,” said Napier, a first-time HITH participant.

“Weedeater” was among more than 100 pieces of fine art entries submitted for consideration of the HITH cover art during an online juried selection process.  

“We had many wonderful entries, but Weedeater won our hearts for this year’s cover art,” said HITH co-chair, mixed media sculptor and studio host Joanie Wolter. “Jason is masterful with his form, and he brings each piece to life with rich and colorful patina finishes.”

Overall participation is down compared to past years. Last year’s HITH featured 199 artists and 47 studio locations.

“The decrease in the number of studios and artists is due 100 percent to COVID-19,” Perry said. “Those artists who felt their studio did not allow sufficient social distancing wisely opted out this year.”

As for attendance, HITH saw a 10 to 15 percent increase every year; and not only did established studios welcome more than 1,000 visitors, but the five new studios last year had at least 500 to 600 visitors.

This year? 

“Attendance is uncertain,” Perry said, “but we feel confident that the many serious art lovers who’ve been starved for the opportunity to view new art again will be coming up to the Hidden in the Hills Studio Tour in significant numbers.”

“Even with the COVID-safe guidelines in place, we intend to engage with our visitors as we always do; welcoming, demonstrating, answering questions and showing off the new, brilliant artwork we’ve been creating for the past year,” Perry added.

Information and a downloadable:  hiddeninthehills.org or call 480-575-6624.