Tag Archives: Arizona

A Box for Tomatoes and a Box for an Artist

“Toss the box idea.”

In the late 50s (1957-58?), there was a man (Henry) in his (also) late 50s. He was born close to the turn of the 20th century, wow, 112 years ago or so.

Henry was a morning coffee friend of my father’s, in a small town in the  high desert of northwestern Arizona. Henry was an inventive type and during his lifetime had already witnessed many new inventions, among them sliced bread in 1928. It was claimed “the greatest forward step in baking since wrapping bread” (nowadays, new inventions compare themselves by saying “the greatest thing since sliced bread).”

Prior to that, loaves of dough were just hand shaped and baked, but being uneven in size and shape they didn’t fit into the slicer, so dough loafs were placed into rectangle loaf pans and could then all fit into the slicing machine. The shape of modern bread slices became squares and sandwiches became popular.

This gave rise to Henrys big idea – did I mention among other things he was a hobby farmer; he raised tomatoes. Not a few plants, and not just regular tomatoes. He grew giant tomatoes, delivered fresh in season and very competitive because in those days shipping fresh food was not what it is today. Henry could service about a hundred miles around with fresh succulent giant tomatoes. This included Las Vegas Nevada and Phoenix Arizona as well as a dozen other small towns in Northern Arizona, all with small family cafes and family restaurants.

This is why Henry built a large green house just a couple miles outside of town. Keep in mind, this was a desert town in northern Arizona – dry, hot and water was valuable. The green house was not a hot house, it was a cool house with A/C (also new in Henry’s lifetime) (mine too) to protect the tomatoes from the sun, and modulate the temps in winter as well. This extended his growing season to nearly nine months for tomatoes.

He was moderately successful at this.  His selling point was that one giant tomato slice would cover the entire sandwich and then some, and each tomato could make several such sandwiches, more than justifying the price by pound with less waste.

But Henry himself didn’t like the “extra tomato sticking out the side of the sandwich.” It made it hard to get a good first bite and you had to nibble your way through just tomato into the bread.

“Wouldn’t it be great if the tomatoes were square, then they would be the same as the bread,” Henry concluded, and he was off and running.

I saw the first prototype tomato square making device in my father’s workshop, and heard the entire story.  My father laughed as he explained Henry’s idea, but also said he thought it was good and timely and really a fun idea. My father was a creative woodworker/mechanical-minded man himself. As Henry’s friend and now confidant, my father was engaged to make working models of the mechanism for “squaring the round.” I was not allowed to discuss this cuisine-changing invention with anyone, and the workshop was under lockdown. Meaning, I couldn’t have my friends over to work on contraptions of our own, fix our bikes, etc.

Here was the plan:  A square box-like thing, light enough to not break the plant stem, clear enough to allow natural light in, perforations so the plant could breath but so placed as to not leave dimples or scars on the tomato, with a support wire to hold it in place from a frame above while the tomato grew and was forced into the corners of the box.

A hole in the top for the stem, and a hinged side that would allow the box to open in two halves to get the tomato out, then used on another waiting sprout. The box had to allow maximum tomato growth, but restrict its shape into a neat square. Weeks of experiments went on.

One day in my lunch box at school, I opened it up and to my surprise saw a bologna, cheese and “square” tomato sandwich. Yes, it did actually work, it actually worked delightfully well.  For a few months we had square tomatoes. So, why aren’t there square tomatoes in the stores everywhere?

Right off, every one wanted a square tomato.  Demand was great, actually so great, Henry found the cost of labor out-paced profits. To form, harvest, crate and handle these tomatoes drove the cost to double a regular giant tomato. It was a novelty item at best. The great giant square tomato went the way of the Edsel.

My mother suggested they just make the boxes and sell them to individuals, maybe as kits, maybe even mail order.

Today you can get kits to grow your own square tomatoes, instructions and all on the internet.  Square-tomatoes-4_web

Well, as a young artist observing all this, I wondered if the boxes would work on oranges, or roses or tree trunks. Maybe pumpkins and water mellons, just think! I wondered if there were other boxes, other shapes, other systems of containment. Containment is one of those useful words like fastening devices or repurpose or enlightenment. Those types of words carry ideas both good and not good.

Eighty five years ago, the thinking of sliced bread was thinking outside the box. Fifty five years ago growing square tomatoes was thinking outside the box; now, round sliced bread to fit round tomatoes would be thinking outside the box. It is the box, the parameters that give us control. It is acting on ideas that I saw, use of imagination, sense of fun, but the big thing was the box.

I began to see the “control” box. It didn’t set in right then, but that is when the seed was planted. People build boxes to control growth. Invisible boxes are created by individuals, groups, societies, governments; one of the most powerful boxes is social. We grow to our own perceived invisible walls, and we think we see those because our environment points to them.  Others point to them in keeping with their opinion of where the box wall is.  Others, making square tomatoes out of our natural shapes.

By the time I witnessed the great square tomato adventure I had already been helped into my own box, my own perception of limits and shaping. I didn’t know the saying “outside the box” – it was not common or even existent then. Great art masters set the box size big.

It is hard to think outside the boxes, or to get out of the boxes, and even if we just throw them out, there are the environmental, the governmental, the educational boxes. It is like those dolls with a small doll inside a larger one, and that one in a larger one, and then more and more; somehow when we see those dolls we know it represents many things.

Here is what I have learned: I don’t want a square tomato, I would rather have round sliced bread. Perhaps we can’t really change the shape of mother nature, but we can contribute to changing the way in which we perceive her.

So for now I’m careful of the rules of the power boxes above me.  I mostly ignore the rules of the social boxes around me; I try to help lift the trapped people in whatever boxes are below me.

Challenge the perceptions and, above all else, the way beyond the boxes is to be a natural tomato and make the bread change. So, thinking outside the box is actually just thinking outside the current box and getting to the next one.  After all, isn’t all the art we make actually commentary on living among the boxes, or escaping them, or ignoring the boxes. All stories only work if they are defined by the confines of a box. The really good images and paintings are about all that, and that is what people recognize in good art:  the “invisible” boxes.

We don’t have to change the world to change the view, but if we change the viewpoint, maybe it helps change the world.






Art-More than one bridge to cross

One of the Greatest Lessons in Art Marketing I Ever Experienced

A great and unique event: the McCulloch Corp. had bought and moved and re-erected the real London Bridge in the Arizona Desert on the Great Colorado River at Lake Havasu. My wife and I had watched it from scratch (somewhere in our 8mm movie files we recorded it periodically).

1971 – The London Bridge was opened in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. The three day event was greatly heralded and publicized. It included: parades, music, speeches, food and games and of course, market place bazaars for local vendors, artists, and performers to ply their goods, the greatest display of fireworks we have ever seen. The vendors were in one of three giant tents. Another tent was for concessions, food, and music, and a special one on the bridge for invited guest and dignitaries only. Virtually hundreds of people showing their stuff, all was great.

After pre-renting a booth for my art work in the vendor tent, I painted and framed artwork for many days getting ready. In my late twenties it was a big deal, 50,000 people were expected, weather was perfect and the space for my table couldn’t have been better.

It was a 60 mile drive each morning to Lake Havasu for those three days, no tear down needed each night, just arrive and have a great time, we were excited, My wife, two children and I! It was fine weather in Arizona at that time.

A few booths down from mine some poor guy showed up with almost nothing, no obvious finished art or merchandise. He arrived there just before showtime; we had been set up for almost four hours. He had no backdrop, no skirting or curtains, no easels, no signs, no merchandise, well . . . no nothing except a table, a chair, a bucket, some odd supplies, paint and paper.

I sauntered down and introduced myself and asked him, “What are you doing?” He looked at me straight in the eyes, and asked, “Well, what are you doing?” “Uh, oh I’m here to show and sell my art work,” was my reply, sweeping my hand around a room filled with other mostly artists and craftspersons all set and ready, as if to include them in my questioning assessment. “Well,” he replied, “I’m here to find new owners for my pets.”

Me – “So, you’re going to paint while you find new homes for your pets?”  I’m thinking: cats, dogs, strange desert creatures?

He – “Kinda, yes.” He was being a little illusive, I thought.

“What kind of pets?” I asked.

“Oh, I’m going to get them now,” he replied, grabbing his bucket.  He said, “Be right back.”

I would have not believed this had I not seen it, but he returned with a bucket of stones from the shoreline of Lake Havasu. Set them to dry and began to paint faces and caricature them, gluing google eyes on and some with horn rimmed glasses. A small sign was made stating his purpose, “New homes wanted for my pet rocks.” I laughed out loud, thinking, “What a nut case.”  I didn’t see it, I didn’t get it, but it seems everyone else did. He put the rocks with a painted face in a little box with padding, handed out instructions for care and training. He sold several hundred dollars’ worth of rocks the first day; I sold 30 dollars’ worth of fine art.

It was hard to get near the guy after that, his booth was always crowded.  As best as I can recall, either he or someone else who either bought or was inspired by the idea, or perhaps it was the other way round, someone went on to form a corporation and made over a million dollars selling the pet rock fad nationwide. I do not know if this was a sample idea test, or another guy with the same idea, because it was 1971 when this happened and it wasn’t until 1975 that a man named Gary Dahl started the Rock Bottom Productions for marketing his pet rock products. I just know this guy was first and painted faces and glued personalities to his rocks. Perhaps Gary was at that show, too; how they were or were not connected I don’t know!

Here is what I learned: I misperceived the moment, I was busy being a “salesman” instead of being in the moment.  Being what I really am – an artist. That was not art – that was marketing and in marketing this guy blew us all out of the arena.

If it is money you’re after, marketing is faster. Being an artist doesn’t mean we don’t all need financial success, but it is truly a different thing than expressing art. I wish I would have photographed, or sketched this, collected his name and others who brought their best as well, or something. But as most young artists I did not see him, or them, I saw only my own opinion of art. After that day I have greatly widened my view of the world I walk around in, and have come to truly appreciate and enjoy those quirky elements and people that jump up in front of us all. That is where art really is, right in front of us. Why didn’t I capture in sketches those tents, that crowd, that very special moment in time?  I should have been making art, not trying to sell it.

Can you imagine if there were images of that day instead of just memories? 50,000 people were there who might remember that special weekend!

I wonder if it is too late to sketch from memory, “Who would care?,” I wonder.

Number one lesson in art: make art.

I am searching my own archives for resource material from this time; I think I owe it to myself to do something on this. If I can, I’ll post it.

The person given credit for the pet rock idea was Gary Dahl, an executive in an advertising firm.

Dahl called his own company Rock Bottom Productions. Using grey stones hand-picked on Rosarito Beach in Baja, Mexico. His pet rocks, just common beach stones, sold for $3.95 each.


Read more: The History of the Pet Rock | eHow.com http://www.ehow.com/about_5426489_history-pet-rock.html#ixzz2JgljBgSk


Dollar Art Show

Dollar Art, Lake Havasu Az. 1971 Art Show

Some Years You Just Can’t Get It Right (or, Don’t Try This at Home)

Recently I read an article written by Cory Huff; he and his partners have a blog/web site that deals with helping artists prosper on the internet. It is called The Abundant Artist http://theabundantartist.com/ He posted an article by one of his submitters that tells about how they listed some art work for sale at 5 dollars on a site designed for just such a purpose – selling only five dollar art.  Mr. Huff didn’t exactly endorse this but he also didn’t discourage it; he simply said there was some merit to a limited approach for some specific reasons. For some, getting out there at any price is useful but for some it is a distraction and could be counter-productive. It seems the internet roof then came down around his ears. The overwhelming backlash caught him by surprise as if he had betrayed his very own mission statement. For this, he apologized. The opinions in general seemed to be that artists are lowering themselves, selling out at five dollars and setting a precedent that is industry-wide destructive. I have a different take on this and personally, I think Cory Huff had it right in the first place and should not back off his original opinion.

Here is my story:

Back in 1971 as a much younger artist, I too, had this great promotional idea: After having a couple somewhat successful one man art shows, things had settled down to quiet, pretty much, and an upcoming art show for the opening of the London Bridge in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, prompted me to produce over two hundred small pictures (framed, mind you) for a dollar each (along with $5.00 pictures and up to $350.00 paintings). Keep in mind this is 1971. My thinking was a market spread with incentive merchandise (nowadays called loss leaders). Big miss-thinking for an artist.

Did it pay off? Not in dollars, that is for sure, I did sell almost all of them but not at that show. So for months after that I had all these small pictures I painted in a batch and as quickly as I could – not my best work, however, at the show they had been displayed alongside some of my better work of that time. I wasn’t sure if that was smart or not, but here is what happened . . .

A local businessman/politician (whom I knew) bought a couple of the better (relative) dollar art pieces, and later approached me and asked if I would paint 50 original one of a kind place setting cards of Arizona scenes for $3.00 each, He needed them in a week for an upcoming political fundraiser. I said not for $3 but I would do it for $5.00 each because the time was so short. He accepted and gave me half down, $125.00.  Wow, I was in tall cotton, that covered the rent for the month, and I could see breaking even for the show costs I had just done when I collected the balance.

Let me tell you how much work that was: 50 original one of a kind cards in about 6 days, and he wanted the good stuff on card stock, acrylic, no quickie slipshod stuff like the dollar art. I painted 18 hours a day for 6 days to get those done. After about the fifteenth card it got tough to create a new Arizona image every few hours. There was no internet to surf, there were few image resources, I did not have a home library then or time to go to the local library, and most resource stuff was in black and white anyway. I was running on my own memory of my home state of Arizona (don’t ever do this).  I got done about 4:00am on the morning they were due. I delivered them, collected my other half of the fee and went home to bed.

I was in no way prepared for what followed. A few days after their political event, I received a phone call asking if I would frame 3 of the cards I had painted, and did I have any more? This person went on to tell me that everyone else at the fund raiser was sending their cards out to be framed. Not because of the art work, but because the governor of Arizona had signed them all, personally.

It turned out that the event was for his re-election campaign, and at the event he had been asked first by one, then another to sign their place mat cards I had painted. They were swapping and trading them at dinner to get particular views they wanted; it turned into an art event with some buying cards from others. He signed them all and then they framed them for their memory collections.

Again, it was not because of the art. It was the novelty of it, and it was the governor’s signature that had value. Not that the art was bad (it wasn’t), and I was proud of the art work, but it was about the event and the fun they all had with it. The governor jokingly said he would sign the cards for a further donation, and off it went. His signature had the value.

The story goes on: One of the biggest mistakes or misjudgments of my life as an artist….. A few days after I framed those three cards and collected another $21.00 (yeah, I know – stupid) I got another call from the businessman.  He had spoken to the governor and was asked If I would accept an invitation to do a one man art show of Arizona art in the state capitol building. No one had ever had an art show at that location and he felt that it would be a natural follow up to the previous event. He said in gratitude for the response he had received he would like to offer that. He was good at marketing!

Let me share with you how quickly one can get puffed up and then deflated. The event would be within 4 months and fell just before his campaign would kick into high gear (now understand, it has been 42 years so details might get thin).

I was elated – then reality set in:  I would have to paint every wakening hour. I had been painting boats, clowns and city scenes, forests and mushrooms. With exception to the cards and the dollar art, my entire collection of art (a dozen images at best) was everything BUT Arizona!

No cowboys, no horses, nada. I could do them, I just had not. Now the money I didn’t make at the London Bridge show and the little profit I did get from the cards would not support me for 4 months, I had to work at another job every day, I had just taken a week I could ill afford, and we weren’t making it anyway. Then imagining my art in the rotunda with every one looking at it, I needed to spend a month on every painting, not one hour. They expected a couple dozen images. I went back to bed. Who did I think I was, I just got lucky, that is all.

I had no experience in funding myself, or finding funding to carry this off. I lived in a cowboy town that had no art culture, no patrons, and no understanding. I also had a myopic view of what I thought an art show should be: you know – traditional with easels and canvases and well, just think of it yourself.

I didn’t know how to ask for help or who to ask, and people around me didn’t have the good sense or perhaps the gravitas to help either.

The short of it is, I let this pass without fulfilling.  Can you imagine how many times I have gone over this in my mind.?  I did not take advantage of this, and found too many excuses. Don’t ever do that.

I could have simply painted a thousand one of a kind cards and called it good, I could have done one painting, I could have done performance art and painted in person; they didn’t care, it was political. I could have done anything I wanted, think outside the box, no – better yet, get rid of the box. I could have painted cactuses and snakes on rocks, anything – but I did nothing!

(I think my wife tried to tell me, but hey I knew better, right?)

So here is the bow on the story: it is not how much you sell your work for, it is how much you sell yourself for, and if you do sell yourself, have the good sense to collect the fee you have earned.

Oh, make no mistake, that is not the only super blunder I have made. That is why I wanted to blog.

Now about weighing in on Cory Huff: people who think five dollar art is a mistake, it is not, just don’t think you can do it as a main dish for a living. Do it for marketing or recognition or whatever motive you choose, just don’t try to make a living at that without also adding who and what you truly are. Have a bigger plan than that. It is always ourselves that we are selling, we’re just converting ourselves into marketable images.

Personally, I prefer art priced in ranges from $500.00 to $5000.00 and who wouldn’t like to get $50K for their work, but I still push a pencil for 5 bucks at times, too.

Opportunity comes in sizes that can’t be calculated in dollars. I no longer measure profit and progress with the same ruler.

In 1971 dollars my dollar art worked out to about 5 bucks profit an hour. The average wage in 1971 was about 4.50 hr.

The marketing value was huge. The experience was painfully huge, and now the story value is . . . well, we will see. I sold around two hundred dollar art images in 1971. That is 600 gallons of gas in 1971, or 2,500 postage stamps, or 133 trips to the movies.

Now figure that today’s cost of living is 5 times 1971, so a five dollar piece of artwork today has the same purchasing power as a one dollar piece in 1971.

So paint 200 pieces of $5.00 art, do it well enough to get them all sold, do it every week – If you could keep up the pace it would be 50 grand a year and it would kill you. (I don’t suggest you actually do this, just do the math, and paint something more worthwhile).

The value was in marketing and the mistake was in not harvesting the investment opportunity. Better idea is to paint what you want and price it high enough to make a good living. Let’s all go do that instead. This entire adventure was too costly, too painful, and now too long ago. Still, it started with dollar art.                                                                           (See dollar art samples below).

10 Desert Images

Cost Of Living 1971How Much things cost in 1971Yearly Inflation Rate USA 4.3% Dow Jones Industrial Average 890 Average cost of new house $25,250.00Average Income per year $10,600.00Average monthly rent $150.00Cost of a gallon of gas 40 centsDatsun 1200 Sports Coupe $1,866.00United States postage stamp 8 centsLadies 2 piece knit suit $9.98

Movie Ticket $1.50

2” X 3” art by Me $1.00



Two Centurys

two-centuries-Az_web_01Two Century Sisters (6.5×7.5 Acrylic on Upson Board, painted 1972).

I’m surprised at how well the acrylic paints hold up. This was painted back when acrylics were relatively new and no one really knew if they were going to hold up as promised. I remember every artist arguing about whether or not it was a real media or a fad. True purists said only oil was real art.  I have come to think of acrylic as the other oil that dries faster. Then came alkides!

As for century plants, (these are in Arizona) they bloom approximately every hundred years (so they say), and accordingly named them such. I have seen them bloom in ten year cycles or as the rain comes in unpredictable cycles in the Arizona desert, no one really knows.


Desert Thunderheads

Thunderheads   Oil paint on canvas 5″x5″ (miniature), painted 1969. This is a small original studio painting done originally for a sidewalk art show. Oil paint really holds its vibrance over time and if you varnish the oil after a year or so it will last hundreds of years.

The wind preceding a storm in the Arizona desert often kicks up huge clouds of dust that mix with the rain clouds and reflect wonderful colors in that late Arizona afternoon sun.

This storm was approaching just at sundown, when the desert floor was already dark but the high clouds caught the setting sunlight. I love when that happens – it makes great scenes, and make the colors sing!  One can only observe or photograph these storms, as they move and change so quickly. This one is mostly a memory piece, as no camera was available.


Red Rock Bluffs

Oak Creek-3

Oil paint on canvas 5″x5″ (plein air miniature)

A painting done on location early in 1968 – Oak Creek Canyon, Arizona. My wife and I were newlyweds and going to college in Flagstaff, Arizona. Oak Creek was only 14 miles from the campus, but you dropped from 6000 feet to less than 600 above sea level in that short distance.

This was a favorite place to go for college students – you can see why. From snow to sunbathing in 30 minutes!