November 16th, 2021 Newsletter

November 16th, 2021 Newsletter

Pumpkin Spice Things Up...Custom Backsplash for a Local Superfan...What's the Story With: The Pumpkin Apse?...
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November 16th, 2021 Volume 23

Home is Where the Art Is

A Local Superfan Collaborates with Cosanti Originals

Callen S. of Tempe, AZ can’t remember a time when she didn’t know about Cosanti and the hand-crafted bronze windbells made there by Cosanti Originals' artisans. She's taken the tour, seen the pour many times, and built a beautiful collection of our iconic windbells.


But lately, this bronze windbell collector has really been leaning into Cosanti Originals’ hand-carved ceramic tiles. With their rich colored glazes, interesting designs ranging from abstract shapes and desert botany to animals and faces, Callen is not alone in her love of these popular pieces. So, when she recently began the process of designing and commissioning her custom kitchen backsplash, reaching out to Cosanti Originals was her first step. “I was confident they’d see my vision and help me bring it to life. Plus, I really liked the idea of collaborating with a local artist.”


“Spencer created a showstopper mosaic,” says Callen. “It is the first thing you notice in our kitchen and connects everything together through its inventive use of color and pattern.” 

The inspiration for her backsplash came from a Turkish kilim rug with beautiful colors and intricate patterns. “I have never done something like commission a custom project before, and I don't live in a fancy neighborhood,” she says, “but have always hoped to be lucky enough to live in a house with thoughtful design and artistic touches.” Callen worked closely with ceramicist Spencer Smith to make her vision become a reality, experimenting with designs, patterns, and colors.


Without a doubt, the project was a creative one...but not entirely in the way you might think. Says ASU Fine Arts graduate Spencer, “This project really touched on all parts of what goes into the field of ceramics. With the glazing, it’s all about science and how the glazes will react with the clay when fired. You need to perfect the glazing recipe because you want the tiles to turn out looking uniform, if not identical. I had to be a mathematician, too with this project. I went to Callen's house and measured and mapped out the space on the wall to figure out how I was going to create a design in proportion with the motif on the rug. It was important that my design look like it related to Callen's rug which would be right nearby, on the kitchen floor."


Several months later, a unique mosaic of 180 individually hand-carved, glazed, and fired ceramic tiles have become the focal point of Callen's kitchen, much to the delight of this local Cosanti Originals Superfan!

Photo credits (top to bottom): Callen S., David Blakeman, Callen S. (2)

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What’s the Story With…

The Pumpkin Apse at Cosanti?


Inspired By Its Past, This Unique Structure Finds a New Purpose

Ah, autumn. What better season to tell the story behind the Pumpkin Apse, one of Cosanti’s most interesting architectural experiments, than this time of the year?


So named because of its resemblance to a giant pumpkin in both shape and proportion, the Pumpkin Apse was built between 1968 and 1971. It forms the enclosed end of the central barrel vault and has a series of round glass lenses embedded in its ceiling that reflect a particular constellation whose stars line up with them once a year. 

But this fascinating building wasn’t always known by this name.


In the beginning it was called, "Jacob's Apse," for the young designer-builder-Soleri apprentice Jacob Portnoy who died prematurely, shortly after the apse was built. Jacob was the primary figure who shaped the mound of earth with a bulldozer into its distinctive pumpkin-shape, creating the formwork for the concrete that created the structure’s shell.

Like many of Soleri’s structures at Cosanti, the Pumpkin Apse was built inversely from the top down and outside in, rather than ground up, inside out.


Before the concrete was poured, Jacob and other Soleri apprentices carved the Pumpkin Apse’s sculptural ribs, facets, skylight, and other details by hand into the mounded sandy soil. The raw earth mound was painted with several colors of vibrant concrete pigment for what would become the design of the apse's interior. 


Concrete was poured onto the mounded, carved soil. When it had cured, the dirt inside was removed and the pumpkin-shaped shell of the structure remained. The pigments had adhered to the underside of the concrete, creating a colorful interior ceiling within the apse.

With special thanks to Jeff Stein for his insightful contribution to this story and Sue Kirsch for her thoughtful curation of these archival photos.

Over the years, the Pumpkin Apse has served as a workshop - as have all the structures at Cosanti - and for many years, was home to the giant architectural model of a city called "3D JERSEY," a precursor to the idea of an arcology, the name Soleri gave to his philosophy of blending the built world with the natural one through architecture for the mutual benefit of the environment and humankind.


The Pumpkin Apse has also served as a performance venue (lively acoustics!), a woodshop, and storage space. While its once-bright colors have faded and the structure has fallen into disrepair over the years, the Pumpkin Apse is currently staging a comeback.


Currently undergoing extensive renovation and restoration (as are some of the other architectural experiments at Cosanti), he Pumpkin Apse is being reimagined once again as a studio and exhibition space for graduate students enrolled at The School of Architecture. 

Guided Tours of Cosanti Are Offered Daily! Schedule Online Here
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Artisanti Editor & Creative Director: Kelly Bird

Contributing Writer: Chloe Sykes

Graphic Designer: Jesca Wales

Photo credits: David Blakeman (header), Jessica Jameson Photo (footer)