By HARRISON REED
Arizona Sonora News
It is impossible to miss James Huffer’s house, at the corner of North Beverly Avenue and East Patricia Street in Tucson’s Old Fort Lowell neighborhood. It is surrounded by sculptures – many of them large abstract pieces fashioned out of scrap metal and wood, placed around the yard from the curb to the sides of his house.
In the gravel alongside them, there is a neat black sign with white lettering that reads: “Sculpture Inquiries,” with Huffer’s phone number printed below. Other signs with his phone number, advertising his work, are posted at other street corners in the neighborhood.
The pieces are all the work of Huffer, a 74-year-old sculptor and graphic artist. Since putting up the sign two years ago, he says he gets about a phone or two every week from people curious about his work. He says he has sold about four or five pieces, as a result.
Huffer says the signs do give him a chance to sell the art. But if not, he says he always enjoys a good talk with someone about art. “As an artist, not everything has to be based on trying to sell something,” said Huffer. “I really just look forward to having a conversation.”
Huffer’s streetside sculptor garden has also prompted some conversations among his neighbors, proving that art is in the eye of the beholder.
Daleen Good, a woman who lives across the street, said Huffer’s artwork was one of the reasons they chose to live in the area. “ I think it’s awesome what you can do creatively with your yard in this neighborhood,” said Good. Another fan is Dorothy Rine, a long-time resident, who says she always checks out the yard when she drives by, on the chance Huffer has put up a new piece.
“It’s nice to have an artist in the neighborhood. I love his sculptures,” she said.”
But another neighbor who says she moved to the area before the Huffers feels there are too many statues. “I used to look at the mountains from my back porch,” said the woman. “Now I look at his storage shed.”
Huffer worked for years as a graphic designer, along with his wife. These days, he considers himself to be both a printmaker and a sculptor, depending on what is driving him to create at the time.
Most of his sculptures positioned around his house are either monochromatic or are simply left in their natural state, reflecting his minimalist style. He feels as though adding lots of color to his sculptures takes away from the visual aesthetic of the piece.
“I always end up feeling like I’m a clown or something,’ said Huffer, who said he feels that color “takes away from the purity of the design and the relationship between the elements of that design.”
Huffer is not the only artist in the Old Lowell areas. Nearby, painters Mike Bell and Bob Brisley lead what they call the Old Fort Lowell Artist Group, whose membership includes a lot of painters. According to their website, they got more than twenty responses when they issued a ‘Call to Artist” within the neighborhood.
But their call did not attract Huffer, who says his abstract, contemporary work has little in common with other local artists drawn to the sort of Southwestern art that is popular in the area.
Instead, Huffer belongs to something called the Tucson Art Group, or TAG, which includes a lot of artists more interested in abstract work. Many of them are in the downtown Tucson area, far from his home in Old Fort Lowell
Huffer says that rather work through galleries to market his work, he relies on what he calls his “open studio.” He hosted one the weekend of November 12. That, plus putting up signs with his phone number, and then talking to anyone who calls.
But the one thing he refuses to do is requests for custom pieces. He says it is difficult to make a piece for someone who has a different vision than his own.
“When they say ‘it has to be this big, and it has to be red, green, and blue and have puppy dogs on it,’ I can’t do it,” Huffer said.