July 14th, 2021 Newsletter

July 14th, 2021 Newsletter

Arcosanti's 51st Anniversary...Artisan Spotlight: Heath...and Cosanti = A Designated Arizona Historic Site!

Photo Credit: David Blakeman

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Artful, One-of-a-Kind Gifts

Handmade Decor Pieces

and So Much More


July 14, 2021 Volume 14

Please note: Due to inclement weather, guided tours of Cosanti in Paradise Valley, AZ are canceled today, Wednesday, July 14th. Additionally, bronze pours are also canceled today and will not be viewable to the public.

If You Build It, They Will Come

Breaking Ground on a Groundbreaking Urban Experiment 51 Years Ago

With the permission of Richard Register, we've reprinted an excerpt from his book, Another Beginning, published in 1975 by World Community Events, Inc. It is one of the most detailed accounts of the day construction on Arcosanti began.

July 23. 1970. It’s a sweltering 90-mile drive on the Black Canyon Highway and up the hill all the way to the site of Arcosanti, the first (a)rcology.


For some reason, I’d expected a rather barren strip of desert. Instead, I looked down from the lava mesa top into a beautiful cozy green valley with a part-time river of water and sand moving down the far side. 


In all, there were 20 of us arriving at the edge of the bluff: Soleri, his family, several students and apprentices, a friend of the Soleri’s (soon to be the first regular cook at Arcosanti), a few people from National Educational TV, William (Brun), and myself.

Everybody piled out of their cars, cameras in hand. The NET people with their ponderous 16mm equipment were the last into action. Paolo and his right-handed assistant, 29-year-old Korean-born Doug Lee rolled out the plans of the foundations and the ground floor and explained them briefly to the rest of us. There was much pointing and pacing, many questions, and few answers. 


Paolo had worked years toward the building of the first arcology and several of the people there had worked with him. He had walked this stretch of land many times before and since the land was purchased to survey and resurvey the mesa tops and the valleys — sometimes just to sit and meditate. But today was the day he and his friends would unload the first picks and shovels and sacks of cement, the first hammers and nails, the first wheelbarrows, hoes, wire cutters and axes — and begin the heavy sweating.


A beautiful day. Paolo’s family, the TV crew and three others returned to Phoenix shortly after noon leaving twelve of us there to raise the first structure, a simple wood framework covered with plastic to protect tools and sacks of dry cement from the rain. Work was done on the septic tank and the leaching field. A compost pit was started for a future garden. “With weather like this we should have corn for the next group of students,” said Paolo.

A heavy truck filled with wood, cement and nails was unloaded; an old rusty barbed wire fence was removed and the wire coiled up. Cots were assembled in the cool shade of the cottonwoods and comfortable foam rubber mats laid out. For lunch: iced melons, oranges, bananas, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, ice water and all kinds of fresh fruit juices and soft drinks. I’d been expecting privation food for some reason — like dry cereal and dehydrated milk re-hydrated with warm water from a metallic-tasting canteen.

It's striking to read Register's poignant account. Indeed, the first day of Arcosanti was a beautiful and industrious day - the first of many more in the decades to follow. Happy Anniversary, Arco!


Image credits, clockwise from top to bottom: Tyler Cannata, Julia Trahair, Ivan Pintar, Ivan Pintar, Ivan Pintar, Julia Trahair, Julia Trahair

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Artisan Spotlight

Meet Heath: Ceramicist, Guitarist, and Friend

Ceramicist Heath Vining has a humble kindness and genuine friendliness about him that draws you in. To his fellow “Arconauts,” the endearing term Arcosanti residents use to describe themselves, Heath is a good friend, a great guitarist, and an “eccentric being who captivates people with his iconic fashion and envy-worthy beard."


Since spring 2019, Heath’s been an almost omnipresent fixture in the ceramics studio at Arcosanti and there, under the domed apse, he draws his creative inspiration from the unusual structure itself. “I’m not much of an architect,” Heath admits, “but the architecture here inspires me...the angles and curves, I try to mimic them in my designs.”

Growing up on the East Coast, Heath cultivated a natural enjoyment for the outdoors, which in a way, has come in handy working year-round in an outdoor ceramics studio. With his long beard, guitar-at-the-ready, and impressive collection of tie-dye t-shirts, it might be surprising to learn that Heath enjoyed a lengthy career in the military and later, as a government contractor. Yet Heath always felt like something was missing so he began his search for “a new way to do things'' and found Arcosanti. Certainly, by comparison, living in an architectural experiment making windbells checked the “new way to do things'' box.

Like most Cosanti Originals artisans, Heath has a favorite kind of windbell to make. While some artisans identify with a particular bell model, Heath leans into a favorite process: bells made through silt casting. No doubt you’ve seen them with their irregular shape, natural ochre coloring, and grainy, textured surface. Their simplistic, rustic form belies the complexity of the silt casting method used to create them. Silt casting is a labor-intensive process that begins with collecting silt - a fine sandy soil carried by running water and deposited as sediment - from the Agua Fria River, which runs through Arcosanti’s property. After spreading the damp silt into a trough-like bed, Heath presses ceramic bell molds into it, forming holes when the molds are carefully removed. It’s like building an inverted sandcastle.

He then pours a mixture called slip (a combination of clay and water) into these cavities, and then the waiting begins. As the edges of the slip begin to form the desired thickness, excess slip is siphoned from the center. Picture baking a cake: like the way the cake’s edges set and take shape before the center does, creating the fragile outer shell of a bell made using silt casting is a process. As the bell shell sets, it slightly shrinks, allowing Heath to carefully wiggle out the bell from the silt bed. The windbell is then gently rinsed, powdered with mineral oxides, and carved with Heath’s original designs.

As inspiring as the architecture of Arcosanti is to ceramicists carving windbells, so too is: the Agua Fria River and the beautiful green of the cottonwoods. They inspire the organic and freeform patterns that help give the Cosanti Windbells their distinctive look and character. And Heath enjoys having that natural world right outside his doorstep and right beyond his work space in the ceramics apse. “I’m proud of living here,” Heath says, “It’s not paradise, but we’re a group of people who are trying to do things in a different way and that is worth celebrating.”


Photo credits (top to bottom): David Blakeman (2), Seth Winslow, Leah Wulfman, David Blakeman

Did You Know That Cosanti is Listed on Arizona's Register of Historic Places?


To the many visitors who come and tour Cosanti's otherworldly structures and dwellings, their take-away is clear: these experiments in architecture are unlike anything else. As prolific a conceptual architect as Cosanti's founder, Paolo Soleri (1919-2013) was, few of his designs were actually realized and built. Cosanti represents the largest concentration of Soleri's earliest work in the world.


Arrestingly imaginative, Cosanti's primitive-meets-futuristic structures date back to the late 1950s and early 1960s, a stark contrast to the mid-century modern trend in architecture that was popular at that time. In 1975, Cosanti was recognized by the State of Arizona with a coveted spot on its Register of Historic Places along with 22 others including Castle Hot Springs, Tucson's Citizen Building, Chandler's Jeppsen House, and Winslow's Sunset Crossing Site.


Recently, we proudly mounted a bronze plaque along the pathway leading to Cosanti to celebrate this little-known fact!


Want To Learn More? Take a Guided Tour!

Offered Monday - Saturday mornings, our tours explore Cosanti's experiments in architecture, explain Soleri's philosophy of arcology, and share insights about the 66-year handcrafted bell-making tradition that continues there today.


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Artisanti Editor & Creative Director: Kelly Bird

Contributing Writer: Chloe Sykes

Graphic Designer: Jesca Wales

Header and footer photo credit: Jessica Jameson Photo