The Spanish flag and the Mexican flag once flew over Arizona, and the sunny border state is still distinctive for its vibrant Hispanic culture. A tour of Arizona museums and galleries will yield rich troves of Latino art from Colonial days to the present.
Tucson & Southern Arizona
The charming old town of Bisbee long ago switched from copper mining to arts-making. Today, the Mexican-oriented K’s Canastas is among the galleries thriving on Main Street. Proprietors Katie and Jim Harrelson regularly travel into Chihuahua to bring back colorful woven shawls and pine-needle baskets handmade by the Tarahumara Indians of northern Mexico.
In Nogales, just steps from the Mexican border, the Pimeria Alta Historical Society Museum displays art and objects from the early days of Arizona and Sonora. Its most prized treasure is a set of large paintings by Salvador Corona, a Mexican bullfighter-turned-artist famed for many still-cherished murals in Tucson, which were created in the mid 20th century.
The Spanish first built a fort in Tubac way back in 1752. Today the historic town is an art colony with dozens of galleries. La Paloma de Tubac is well-stocked with fine crafts from all over Latin America, including Mexican terra-cotta pots, beautifully colored Talavera ceramics and Christmas ornaments.
Tucson’s Spanish heritage dates back to 1775, and the Tucson Museum of Art boasts a centuries-spanning collection of Hispanic art. Its Palice Gallery of Latin American Art, created in 2013, exhibits pre-Columbian ceramics, Peruvian weavings, Colonial-era paintings and Mexican folk art. There’s even an outdoor sculpture patio. The museum’s Casa Cordova, a historic Mexican adobe believed to be the city’s oldest house, is open to visitors.
Feisty little Raices Taller 222 Gallery and Workshop in Tucson’s warehouse arts district is a Latino co-op with a political edge. An annual women’s show – Mujeres, Mujeres, Mujeres– is a regular highlight.
Inspired by the Mexican Catholic folk imagery of his Tucson childhood, acclaimed artist Daniel Martin Diaz shows his cutting-edge paintings of saints and sinners in his own Sacred Machine Museum & Curiosity Shop.
Phoenix got its start in US Territorial days, but the Phoenix Art Museum has a permanent Latin American collection 500 works strong. Works by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera are highlights of the 20th-century Mexican holdings. The collection also includes contemporary as well as historic art, including religious paintings, portraits, decorative art and furniture from the 18th and 19th centuries.
The Arizona Latino Arts & Cultural Center/Galeria 147 in downtown Phoenix stages rotating exhibitions of contemporary Latino artists. One of the most popular shows is the annual Latina Fest, an exhibition honoring Hispanic women artists. La Tiendita gift shop plies colorful Latin folk arts; grinning Day of the Dead skeletons are a specialty.
Friends of Mexican Art, a nonprofit that raises money to buy art for museums and funds exhibitions at local museums, stages a benefit home tour of Phoenix-area houses filled with Latino art each February. Playfully called the Hacienda Tour and Mercado, the event also includes a market where local dealers sell a cornucopia of Latin American art.
Arizona’s West Coast
First visited by the Spaniards in 1540, the Colorado River town of Yuma is proud of its strong coterie of local artists. Exhibitions at the Yuma Art Center and Gift Shop display a wide array of art by these painters, potters and basketmakers, many of whom are inspired by a Mexican aesthetic.
Nuestras Raices is a Latino cultural organization in the cool North Country that regularly sponsors concerts and events. Each fall, Raices partners with Flagstaff’s Museum of Northern Arizona for a weekend of Latin-style performances and visual-arts exhibitions timed to coincide with the Mexican holiday Dìa de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.