Designer for Hire

Book fest

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Photographer Laura Hennessy takes everyday objects and a macro camera lens and turns them into remarkable art. We joined the Tucson newcomer in her own festival of books, and toys… and, um, loofahs. By Gillian Drummond.

Book Bend_web

Photo by Laura Hennessy

Laura Hennessy is many things: a photographer, a graphic designer, a lover of art and architecture, a former flower buyer and a picker-apart of objects. Thanks to the direction her photography has taken her, you can also add thrift shopper and sculptor to that list.

Laura Hennessy photo

Laura Hennessy. Photo courtesy of Laura Hennessy

Laura has a fascination with everyday objects and the physics behind them: the thickness and the fanning of the pages of a book; the way flower petals bunch or splay; how the husk of an ear of corn can look like the swirling fabric of a dancer’s dress. She plays with the objects – deconstructing them, spray-painting them, and using duct tape to sculpt them and hold them in certain positions  – before turning them into close-up photographs. There is barely any digital trickery involved  – a little color enhancement, if anything. She blows them up into still-life essays that are 30 inches tall.


Photo by Laura Hennessy

“I strive to surprise, going to great lengths to make the ordinary extraordinary, whimsical, remarkable,” she writes on her website. And the lengths are indeed great. Preparing her subjects for a shoot – whether it be painting them, or manipulating them – can take hours.

And sometimes the search itself is arduous. Once, after discovering color-coded AAA  manuals and loving how the colored page edges made for a great photo, she set out to find more. It turned into a goose chase in San Francisco. As she went from one AAA office to the other, she found that their policy had changed and the color-coded manuals were no longer used. They had reverted to plain white.

Growing up the daughter of an architect and the step-daughter of an interior designer, Laura found she had an intrinsic love for materials and detail. When she talks about her working adult life, she is self-deprecating. There was not much direction and there were many different jobs, she says. College didn’t last long; she dropped out. But she always loved photography – initially slide film and, later, digital photography.

Book Vessel web

A book’s pages are curled into themselves, resembling a plant or sea life. Photo by Laura Hennessy

After living in and around San Francisco, dabbling in photography and working at a number of “random” jobs, Laura got the career jolt she needed in the form of a move to a tiny town in Pennsylvania. Her then-boyfriend got work there, and Laura decided to join him. In between freelance jobs she devoted a lot of time to her photography, submitting her work to exhibitions, shows and magazines. Her photographs of books, in particular, caught the eye of magazine editors and gallery owners. Her images have appeared in the likes of Creative Quarterly, Communication Arts Magazine and Smithsonian Magazine, in galleries from Los Angeles to New York to Paris, and have earned her numerous awards.


A plastic toy takes on a new identity. Photo by Laura Hennessy

It was a cheap romance novel that led to her book experiments. She was in a thrift store, looking for something inexpensive to take home and photograph, and she picked up a book with red-tipped pages. Back at home, the experimentation began. She took off the cover and started bending the spine and playing with the pages. She wet the pages to make them more malleable. Then she let it dry.

“A book has these natural design elements. You have all these lines that are already there,” she says. The book fest continued. Laura found one of those AAA color-coded manuals. She bought an encyclopedia, its white pages speckled down the outside rim, and added her own spray paint. With others, she painstakingly curled each wet page into itself, and let them dry. The result? Something resembling a plant or sea life.

Laura spent a year in Pennsylvania before splitting with her boyfriend. She’s not sad to have left the “redneck little town” where little happened and friends were sparse. But she’s grateful that she emerged from the experience with a resumé that’s as dazzling as her photos.

4 Blue 2

An AAA manual’s color-coded sections provide an eye-catching edge for photographs. Photo by Laura Hennessy

When it came time to leave, she realized she didn’t want to return to the Bay Area. Living away for a time had allowed her to breathe, she says. She recalled spending one night in Tucson twelve years earlier, when she had stopped off on a road trip. She had stayed at Hotel Congress and, though downtown was not very happening, took a liking to the city and its “funkiness.”

Four months ago she came back for two nights to check it out again, and shortly afterwards made Tucson home. And although she loves its affordability, its rich arts scene, and historic neighborhoods like Sam Hughes, she’s less keen on its strip malls.

loofa spray green

A loofah is spray-painted green. Photo by Laura Hennessy

As a fine art photographer, however, nothing is too ordinary for Laura, and no object is off limits – from frozen seaweed, to a cork, to some lichen.

At a community college course in photography, she found herself not only “obsessed” with the macro lens of a camera, but also taking things apart. ‘I was taking apart the flower and trying to find the parts that were odd, to find something that wasn’t recognizable. The interest in abstraction was always there.”

As a flower buyer, she held on to the nets that were used to protect the heads of gerbera daisies. And working as a graphic designer and photographer for Whole Foods for a time led to interesting still life studies of food.


The nets that protect gerbera daisies became a still life for Laura. Photo by Laura Hennessy

With her book studies, the paper quality is important. Older paper tends to be softer and tears or balls up when it’s wet. She prefers newer books, and larger ones too – encyclopedias and medical journals. Whether ironically or not, Laura is not a book lover or a big reader of the printed page. She prefers online browsing. All the same, she likes that she is re-purposing items that have their own history, that have been valued by people, and that – because of digital technology – are under threat. “There’s some satisfaction in being able to use something like a book. I think people have a connection with a book because it has this history, and you’re bringing to life something that lost so much value and is being tossed aside.”

Cheap Red

The cheap romance novel that sparked Laura’s series of book studies. Photo by Laura Hennessy

Why does she photograph the books, as opposed to making sculptures out of them? “I don’t want to do anything crafty,” she states flatly. And the magnification of the books, and other objects, is what sets her work apart, and drives her to keep going.  The objects are ordinary. The resulting art is far from it.

* To learn more about Laura Hennessy’s work, visit


Photo by Laura Hennessy

Dear Tucson…

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Love Letters to Tucson logo Each issue we link up with Rachel Miller’s Love Letters to Tucson blog for a letter from a Tucson inhabitant about why they love this fair city. This month, as Tucson gets ready for its sixth Festival of Books, bibliophile Holly Schaffer sends her city a note. Photos by Rachel Miller.

holly schaffer

“Dear Tucson,

I love you. And I love books too.

Let’s just get this out up front: I’m a bibliophile. I always have been and I always will be. But it’s okay. It’s nothing to be ashamed of (okay the stacks of books overrunning my shelves may be a little embarrassing, but it’s worth it).

I’m going to take a stab and say I’m not the only bibliophile in Tucson. Wanna know how I know? Four words: TUCSON FESTIVAL OF BOOKS.

Let’s roll back the clocks . . . March 2009. Many, many volunteers (myself included) had worked countless hours begging authors from around the country to come and take part in the first annual Festival. “But Tucson is a book-loving city,” I can hear the volunteers saying to (pleading with) publicists from such well-known companies as Random House and Simon & Schuster. And thank goodness we stuck with it.

holly1 I knew from the second my husband dropped me off on the University of Arizona mall the morning of Saturday, March 14 to work the U of A Press booth that all our work had paid off. Throngs of people at 9 a.m. grew into a crowd of more than 50,000 by the end of the second day.

That’s not a typo: 50,000 book lovers gathered in Tucson over one weekend to celebrate authors, literature, literacy, and the reading/writing community. Over the past five Festivals (held every March at the start of UA Spring Break), this annual event has continued to spread its wings, attracting 120,000 in 2013.

tfb logo Okay, okay . . . back to the point. I love Tucson. And I love books. And that includes the Tucson Festival of Books. It would be impossible to innumerate in one simple love letter all the amazing things that make the Festival the fourth largest in the nation. So allow me to use some trusted bullet points to do the job:

* The Festival features more than 300 presentations, 200 exhibitors, and countless opportunities to meet authors, poets, screenwriters and journalists. Panels are created by teams of volunteer book-lovers who are incredibly passionate about various subject areas, which means that Festival attendees are sure to get the best of all genres, from mystery and romance to science and outdoor adventures and everything in between.

* All proceeds from the Festival are directed toward improving literacy rates in Southern Arizona. In fact, since its launch in 2009, the Festival has contributed $900,000 to local literacy organizations.

* Science City! Basically a world within a world at the Festival, Science City gives attendees an opportunity to immerse themselves in engaging hands-on activities, lab tours, science talks, and dynamic performances. Visitors of all ages are invited to ignite their senses with the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of this amazing pavilion. Organizations participating in this year’s Science City include the Mount Lemmon SkyCenter, the UA Wildcat Water Lab, Sky Island Alliance, and the Marine Awareness and Conservation Society – just to name a handful.

* Fun for the whole family. And I mean FUN. Storybook characters wandering the paved walkways, a tent for tots with story performances, puppet theatre, felt board fun, and so much more. I really can’t think of a better way to spend time with the family while encouraging a love of reading. The Festival is a must for families!

* It’s an all-hands-on-deck community event. More than 2,000 volunteers take time out of their lives to assist. Over the course of two days (and even more when you count the folks who act as volunteer drivers providing author ground transportation to and from the airport) Tucsonans act as food court hosts, entertainment support, author escorts and moderators, among many other jobs. It’s truly amazing to see so many people come out year after year to keep this event going.

* Bus scholarships, generously provided by Fiesta Bowl Charities and Citi, are made available to schools and children’s organizations to assist in providing student transportation to the Festival. Need I say more?

holly schaffer I could keep going, but really . . . do I even need to? After five years, the Festival is Tucson. People travel from out of town to attend; the UA Mall is packed solid for two days; the sun shines gloriously on tents full of books and smiling authors and readers; the food court swells with families eating, laughing, reading; the culinary tent inspires people to try new foods and drink (while filling their shelves with the best new cookbooks out there); and workshops throughout the weekend help aspiring writers become the best they can be with programs focused on research, editing, the craft of writing, promotion, and on and on.

Tucson, I love you. You are quirky and wonderful and hot as hell and beautiful. And you are a book loving town. And really, as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t get much better.

Oh – one quick thing before I go. If you didn’t already know this, the Festival’s website is live NOW! Check it out. This year they’ve made a color-coded genre grid with an option to create your own customized Festival schedule.

Love, your friend,

Holly Schaffer is the Publicity Manager at the University of Arizona Press. She’s volunteered on the Tucson Festival of Books Author Committee since its inception in 2009. She’s currently reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro. A first-time mom, Holly is most excited about attending this year’s Festival with her 18-month-old son Elliott. When she’s not enjoying some fresh air and story time in the kids’ area, you will find her working at the University of Arizona Press booth.

* Visit this year’s Tucson Festival of Books March 15th to 16th at the University of Arizona. More info here.

Pleased to Meet You

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Bisbee artist Brenna Curry on steel, heels and spitting (the latter is David Bowie’s fault). By Kaleigh Shufeldt. Photos courtesy of Brenna Curry.


Brenna Curry was a professional photographer. Now she works with stainless steel in her studio in Bisbee, AZ.

Early bird or night owl? “Definitely a night owl. My dad was a night owl, my mom was a night owl. It is just easier. It’s quiet. I don’t get bothered by people or phone calls. I’ve always been nocturnal. When the sun comes up, I don’t like that. I feel like a vampire. The sun is fine, but I am not a morning person.”

Favorite accessory? “Tools.  I use power tools – and in particular a Dremel rotary tool – to etch into the metal I work with, to give it layers and depth. I first started using it a long time ago; I just recently started using it with my art. I use it to burnish the metal.

brennacurry1 “Stainless steel is a very hard metal to work with, and most metal artists do not work with stainless. I was hand sanding it, and [the pieces] are beautiful hand sanded but I needed a little bit more power. Someone introduced me to this little air tool disk, so I drilled a hole and cut the back off this little disk and put it on the back of my little Dremel.

brennacurry3 “Metal just came along. I am a professional photographer by trade and I was in California and I accidentally got my camera wet. I had to wait until I could find a camera and I needed to feed my soul and I had this metal laying around. I came home from work and I squeezed some paint on it, squeezed some water and some oil. I came back a couple weeks later and I thought ‘Wow, this is cool. I might be able to do something with this.’ So there it began.”

Favorite faux pas? “Spitting. It’s bad, but if I have to spit, I’m going to spit. I won’t spit on people’s sidewalk. David Bowie said ‘You gotta love a woman that could hock a good loogie.’ What do I do a lot? I spit.”

Who is your dream customer? “The dream customer is the little girl who came in and spent about an hour with her mom talking about art and the next day she came in with her birthday money and bought one of those bottle clusters that I make. And she already knew she was going to put her beach glass in the bottle. Those are the favorite customers. That will be part of her for many years and could quite possibly be part of who she becomes. That simple moment, you can touch other people’s lives.”

brennacurry4 If I weren’t an artist I would… “I already did all of it. I was never really a dreamer, I was more of a doer. I was a professional photographer by trade. I went to school for commercial photography. I was also a makeup artist and a graphic artist. I did head shots, I did model portfolios, I took shots of every golf course in the state. I was also a stagehand. But this is what I would be. This is it.

“I knew I would be a photographer when I was very young. I knew I was going to be an artist, period. If I wasn’t an artist I would be crazy. Art is the guarantee of sanity.”

If I could change one thing I would… “I would change my feet, because my feet hurt. I would change my shoes. Bisbee is a challenge; you don’t get to go shopping too much. I am on my feet all the time. I haven’t found the perfect shoes yet. I have been searching though. I am a vixen metal artist and vixens have to wear heels. It’s an image.”

* Brenna Curry runs Vixen Fine Art Metal Gallery at 42 Main Street, Bisbee, Arizona. She recently received the 2013 Buffalo Exchange Visual Arts Award for her painted stainless steel and creations of woven metal. For more on Buffalo Exchange, see our feature in this issue.



Square Feet

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Michelle Hotchkiss, real estate agent and mid-century fiend, has square feet and a nose for great property. Each issue she brings us her pick of Tucson properties for sale. Property photos by Rob Horgan.



Michelle Hotchkiss. Photo by Casey Sapio

Where it is: Downtown Tucson

Listed by: Tierra Antigua Realty

The damage: Studio and one-bedroom units start at $105,000-$147,000

How many square feet? 414 to 625

juliandrew9 You’ll love it because: If you want low maintenance, urban style living close to everything going on in the heart of the Downtown renaissance, the Flats at Julian Drew Block are well worth considering.  Formerly the Tiburon apartments, these studio and one-bedroom ‘flats’ were built in 1964, renovated in 1980, and completely updated and modernized in 2008. Finishing touches have just been completed and they’ve ‘gone condo’.

I have been hanging around downtown since 1987 when I worked at a store called La Bamba right across from Hotel Congress – about where Diablo Burger is now. I’ve seen Downtown evolve into what we are finally seeing today: getting the best and highest use out of the available spaces in probably decades.

Here comes the but: They’re trying to get certification for FHA financing so that would mean 30% or less of the units can be sold to non-occupant investors and used as rentals.  And boo: no rooftop garden.
For more on Michelle read her Atomic Tucson Facebook page or contact Michelle Hotchkiss, a RE/MAX Catalina Foothills Realty agent, here.




My Space

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In the latest in our series on people and their favorite spaces, Melissa Watkins shares the story – of pain, joy and body confidence – behind her dance studio. Story and photos by Gabby Ferreira


Melissa Watkins (right) leads a class at Steps Dance & Fitness.

“My senior year of high school, I was in a nearly fatal car accident. I was very lucky to be okay – no broken bones – because I was very physically fit. I had a bad closed-head injury and lots of upper neck and spinal problems. I was unable to dance at that point; I had been doing mostly jazz dance up until then. All my flexibility was gone. For years I couldn’t put my hands above my head.

“College started and I failed out of a lot of my classes. I didn’t really know what was going on. I finally went to a neurologist and found out that I was walking around with this pretty bad brain injury so I was unable to retain any information.


“When they first walk in the door, their head is down,” says Melissa of her female clients.

I started going to a speech therapist who helped me. Once I conquered the mental part of it I was like, ‘OK, well now I need to deal with this chronic pain that I’m having,’ so I started going to physical therapy and really started weight training seriously. Then I found Zumba. It was like dancing again but without a lot of the stress dancing had put on my body.

“I started teaching and strangely found that I was really good at it. I never thought I would have this secret weird talent. I taught wherever I could.

“November of 2011, LA Fitness –  one of the places I taught – announced they were going to get rid of Zumba. The entrepreneur in me was like, ‘Alright. There’s about 200 people in each of these classes. It makes too much sense not to make something of this.’ The night before the grand opening of Steps Dance & Fitness, I didn’t sleep. I was so scared no one would come and 55 people came and joined that day. It was awesome. It was surreal.

melissasteps2 “I think this business started very much about me. I found something that I was great at that I was surprised I was great at. But in the last three years, it’s become so much about everyone else. Women come in here and this place is their heart and their soul. It’s become a place for women – we have some male members, but mostly women – to come and be comfortable and bring their insecurities in the door with them but not feel them when they’re here.

“As fun as it was to teach at these huge gyms and have these huge 200-person classes, Steps is not like that. I think we live in a very judgmental society in terms of women’s bodies and I sense it with women. When they first walk in the door here, their head is down, they’re terrified to walk into this space that, in terms of other gyms, is usually something that really breeds and brings out their insecurities.

“Sometimes I’ll work out at another gym in town and women don’t want to look at themselves in the mirror when they’re there – they don’t feel good about their bodies, so going and working on their biggest insecurity in a public place is terrifying.

melissasteps4 “I think that [the car accident] shaped me to be a fighter. It taught me that when life throws things at you, you can make something beautiful out of them. I still am very much like that here, because it’s not fun to run a business. Sometimes I’ll start to complain and I’ll remember that in 2007, I could barely lift my arms. I couldn’t stand for more than 5 minutes without severe back pain.

“It’s really shaped me into an entirely different person and the person that I needed to be to keep a successful business running. [Teaching] started as just my way of not having pain every day and it became like I didn’t know how to live without it.”

* Steps is located at 5813 E. Speedway Blvd, Tucson. Call 520 730 2279, visit or like it on Facebook.




The buffalo roams

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A True Tucson original, Buffalo Exchange, is celebrating its 40th birthday with a unique road trip across America. We ask: what makes this business tick? By Joan Calcagno.

Outside the Airstream. Photo by

The Airstream trailer that sets off this week on a road trip. Photo courtesy of Buffalo Exchange

It started tiny, in a 400 square foot store in the University district. Forty years later, one of Tucson’s best exports is going small once more. Buffalo Exchange, the clothing chain that now spans 49 stores and 17 states, is celebrating its 40th birthday with a road trip in a vintage Airstream trailer.

Inside the Airstream. Photo by

Inside the Airstream. Photo courtesy of Buffalo Exchange

For two and a half months, staff will take the Airstream to each of its stores for a day of celebrations. At each store, the staff will fill the Airstream with vintage western clothing and other treasures, turning it into a roaming, dynamic pop-up shop. And after the retail tour, the Airstream hopes to hit music and art festivals, including Coachella.

Many who shop at Buffalo in Tucson may be surprised by the company’s size, its 750 employees, and the $82 million dollars in sales it brings in each year. In Tucson, the company just added its fourth store, Buffalo Trading Post – a kind of “older sibling” to the original, selling clothes for the older woman.

Yet despite its expansion, each of the 49 stores (46 owned, three franchised) manages to look like a small, independent business. That’s because every one uniquely reflects its location, and is at the same time grounded in the company’s principles. Principles and people appear to be the basis of Buffalo Exchange’s success. And as the company takes to the road for its big 4-0, it will be as much about getting back to these roots as it will be celebrating four decades in the retail fashion  business.

Kerstin Block - Founder of Buffalo Exchange

Kerstin Block, founder of Buffalo Exchange. Photo courtesy of Buffalo Exchange

Kerstin Block started the company with her husband Spencer in a 400 square foot store in the University area of Tucson on Warren Avenue near Speedway. Now Kerstin and their daughter Rebecca run the company from a head office that occupies seven rehabilitated houses on 6th Street and Helen, just a couple of miles from that first store location.

What sets Buffalo apart from thrift and consignment stores is the buy-sell-trade business model that Kerstin and Spencer created before they opened in 1974.  Each Buffalo Exchange store provides their customers a percentage of the selling price (30% cash or 50% in trade) for clothing and accessories they think will sell in the shop.


Buffalo Exchange operates on a buy-sell-trade business model. Photo by Gillian Drummond

With this new concept, the store took off right away. “We opened on a lark and the first few months were really fun,” says Kerstin. She had always been a big thrift store shopper. So when they opened, the inventory came mostly from her house. The store location had foot traffic, so people stopped in, shopped, and brought in great stuff to sell. Word spread and it was only a matter of months before Spencer quit his job and they expanded to the space next door. Within a few years they had eight stores, including a second store in Tucson and others in Phoenix, Tempe and the Bay Area. In the 1990s they started to expand to other states. (The company also has two thrift outlets, in Nogales and San Antonio, which do not buy or trade.)

Rebecca of Buffalo Exchange

Rebecca Block. Photo courtesy of Buffalo Exchange

It was at about this time that Rebecca started working full time for Buffalo Exchange. She moved into administration after working at the Tucson stores throughout high school and college. But Rebecca was helping out as early as nine years old. “It was the family business so I did [the little] things that had to be done,” she recalls.

Although Kerstin is responsible for what she calls the “big picture”, she is still very hands-on in scouting new locations. “It doesn’t work otherwise,” she says. She travels to locations being considered for new stores, looking for the same qualities that made those first stores in Tucson a success: a sizable urban, alternative, arty population, and a location close to a university or urban center.

While the team has experimented with the various management theories over the decades, it realized a few years ago that accounting and reporting systems were getting so complicated and rigid that what is really important was getting lost. The 40th anniversary, says Rebecca, is an opportunity to remember that “750 people depend on Buffalo Exchange staying a sustainable, viable business and we can best do that if we stay focused on the values.”

Spencer established those values. He was, by all accounts, a character with character. It’s all there in The Way of the Buffalo, a book of his previously unpublished essays on how to run a socially conscious and profitable business that Kerstin and Rebecca collated after Spencer’s death in 2009. There are pictures of him in some his many Hawaiian shirts, hitchhiking with a Buffalo Exchange sign and a mannequin, and ruminations on how trust, respect, leadership, communication, giving back to the community and having fun at work all make for good business. “We’re very aware of his legacy,” says Kerstin.


The Buffalo Exchange store on Congress Street in downtown Tucson. Photo by Gillian Drummond

One of the primary “Buffalo ways” is functioning in a socially responsible manner. “Being in a sustainable business – buying and trading existing clothing, not creating demand for new textiles – is the most socially responsible thing we do,” says Rebecca.

Also as part of this ethic, the company promotes a number of community-based, environmentally-focused programs. Take its Tokens for Bags program. Shoppers can choose a bag for their purchases, or they can choose a token. They drop the token into one of two or three boxes designated for a local non-profit. Each token is worth five cents. That may not seem like much, but the tokens program has raised nearly $525,000 and kept millions of bags out of the environment. Proceeds benefit local organizations chosen by employees at each store, so the donations stay in the local community.

The stores also donate clothes to local organizations. In Tucson one of these is Youth On Their Own, which provides support services to homeless kids. When The Humane Society of the United States had to discontinue Coats for Cubs – which collects fur pieces to aid animal rehabilitation – Buffalo Exchange took it over.

Each Earth Day, Buffalo Exchange picks a national charity to receive the proceeds from a one-day dollar sale held at each store (it’s April 19th this year in Tucson.) This year, as part of the focus on their roots, proceeds from all the stores will go to the Tucson-based Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

Buffalo Exchange 40th Airstream

Photo courtesy of Buffalo Exchange

People – customers and employees – are the focus at Buffalo Exchange. Unlike other retail stores that buy their goods from others and then pass it on to the customer, Buffalo’s customers are also their suppliers, so that relationship is critical, say Kerstin and Rebecca.

“Our customers are in business with us. The buying, selling and trading has to be mutually beneficial,” says Rebecca. Part of that, she says, is having a rewarding workplace, which is about “how you treat your employees and your co-workers and your customers. We want to have fun at work and have a good time with our customers, which sometimes can be hard when we aren’t buying [what people have brought in].”

Buffalo Exchange claims to have a much better retention rate than other retailers. “We work a lot on making sure people [who work for us] are growing. That’s one of the founding things – that we have people who have a good understanding of other people,” says Kerstin.

Despite the plethora of secondhand stores that have joined Buffalo Exchange in the retail sector, the company remains “very unique” in its business model, says Art Padilla, Professor in the Management and Organization Department at the Eller College of Business at the University of Arizona. He says that businesses succeed by finding a unique way to provide value to their customers, “and that is exactly what Buffalo Exchange has done”.  That, and “knowing what to put in the stores – an eye for what will sell – is key,” he says.


Photo courtesy of Buffalo Exchange

To celebrate their 30th anniversary, Kerstin and Spencer traveled to each store in the small Airstream they owned then, living in it along the way. The Airstream that takes to the road this time is bound to get a lot of attention. Tattoo artist Allyson Bennett created artwork and signage for the outside and all of the interior design and restoration work was done in-house. The maintenance staff gutted and re-wired the 25 foot vintage Airstream. Other employees worked for months to create the interior. Everywhere you look there are interesting visual details, all from salvaged materials, that add to the lustrous restored wood interior. Shelves are made from the tops of vintage suitcases; jewelry is displayed on a rusted crib mattress spring with tiny rusted-metal buffalos welded to the frame for added interest.

Inside the Airstream. Photo by

Inside the Airstream. Photo courtesy of Buffalo Exchange

The tour kicks off March 7th at the 2001 E. Speedway store in Tucson and ends May 22nd at the store in Boulder, Colorado. Five drivers and five coordinators are driving the trailer to each of the 49 stores. Each store will stock the Airstream when it comes to them for a day, so staff has been buying and saving a lot of what the first stores had when they opened and which is really popular now: fun vintage western-ware, Mexican and other ethnic pieces, hippie/”bo-ho” wear, tooled purses, cowboy boots and other accessories.

While there have been a lot of logistics to deal with for each location, like the parking restrictions in front of the NYC stores, they are “ready to go”, Rebecca says. She and her husband will start the tour and Kerstin will be going to the Minneapolis and Chicago stores.

Buffalo Exchange 40th Airstream

Photo courtesy of Buffalo Exchange 


The new Buffalo Trading Post, aimed at the older customer. Photo by Gillian Drummond

The main customer base at Buffalo Exchange stores is college-age to about 35 years old. The company’s new Tucson offshoot, Buffalo Trading Post, is aiming a little higher up the age ladder. With the same buy-sell-trade concept, the 3500 sq ft store on the far south-west side of the city sells brands like Chico’s, Eileen Fisher, Coldwater Creek, and Banana Republic. Rebecca Block, who just turned 50,  says she walked out with a stack of clothes a couple days after the store opened. (Rebecca and Kristen, 71,  shop at the stores just like everyone else.)

Intermingled with the racks of contemporary clothing are mid-century vintage dresses and memorabilia, western ware, Mexican clothes, vintage housewares and accessories. But don’t expect any sparkly, nose-bleed high platform shoes here; instead, the brands are Clarks, Dansko and Keen. And let’s not forget the cowboy boots.

The three women who work at the Buffalo Trading Post have a combined 40 years of BE management experience. Says Amy Ostlie, who manages the store: “It not like work. It’s fun.”

See you on the road.

See you on the road. Photo courtesy of Buffalo Exchange

As to the future, Rebecca and Kerstin look about a year ahead. They are scouting locations to open new stores, and after the tour they plan to start taking the Airstream boutique to music and art festivals like Coachella.

And although they are staying deeply rooted in the importance of people and principles, as Rebecca said: “We are always willing to look back to see what worked and always looking around to see what we could be doing. You cannot remain static. Change is inevitable.”

 * Find the new Buffalo Trading Post at 2740 S. Kinney Road, just north of Ajo. Open Tuesday through Sunday, 9am to 4pm. Follow the 40th Anniversary Tour here.

* For more on Buffalo Exchange, read about the latest recipient of its Visual Arts Award, Brenna Curry, in this issue’s Pleased To Meet You.

Pop goes the decor

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Pop art – now more than 60 years old – is having an interesting senior moment. It’s re-emerging not as art, but as home decor. By Kaleigh Shufeldt.

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Chairs by Italian artist Silvia Zacchello. Photo courtesy of Silvia Zacchello

When Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein turned commonplace images into art, little did they know the long-lasting impression they would leave. Six decades on, pop art is inspiring home decor itself – everything from pieces of furniture to the kitchen backsplash.

The pop art movement took images from the mass media – advertising, packaging, comic books – and added irony and humor. Proof that the mid-century art form may never go out of style came with the recent launch of a line of mosaic glass tile by Dune titled, simply, Andy.

andy detail

Dune’s ‘Andy’ line of tiles was inspired by and named after Andy Warhol. Photo courtesy of Dune

The tile is a fusion of pop culture and retro style, says Dune’s southwest regional manager Christine Jenkins. It was launched last year after the Dune marketing team traveled to major design shows throughout Milan and London where, says Christine, comics and pop culture were the inspiration for new fashion styles.


Photo courtesy of Dune

The tile is easy to install because it is made on a 28″ by 28″ ceramic tile with 2 mm wide cuts on the surface that divide the piece into 64 modules. It gives “the effect of real mosaic once it has been installed,” says Raquel Delgado in Dune’s marketing department. The pieces can be rotated to make each design random and distinctive.

Raquel says Dune used several kinds of vitreous paste to “enhance and stress” the designs. The company uses luster, transparent and iridescent paste to create a contrast of lights and shadows. Since the Andy line is rich in color, Raquel advises combining the tiles with white furniture and walls.

The Andy tile has already been specified for two homes in the Tucson area, says Elizabeth Miller, owner of Fractured Earth Tile & Stone in Tucson, which sells it. She recommends using the tile in a laundry or powder room to add a little personality and whimsy. A client of Tucson interior designer Lori Carroll has requested the tile for their laundry room because “they wanted impact”, says Lori. She plans to combine Andy with a neutral color and a simple countertop.

dune tile

The ‘Andy’ tile is best combined with simple color schemes, says Dune. Photo courtesy of Dune

Italian artist Silvia Zacchello uses recycled and vintage furniture to create a three-dimensional and graphic tribute to pop art. Silvia has made multiple Campbell’s Soup Cans chairs, each one a different variation of Andy Warhol’s famous work of art. Silvia calls Warhol a genius, “a modern Leonardo da Vinci.”

Silvia paints trunks, desks and wall panels, but her main focus is chairs, which retail from $275 upwards. Chairs mean many things, says Silvia. “You sit in a chair to stop and think, to share your meal with your family and your friends, to talk, to relax.” Pop art has unifying properties too, she says. “Pop art is everywhere and it belongs to everyone.”


One of Silvia Zacchello’s pop art-inspired chairs. Photo courtesy of Silvia Zacchello

An old chair in her cellar first inspired the artist. Reluctant to throw it away, Silvia wanted to give it a new life and paint a reproduction of a famous pop art piece.

Each object takes three to four days to complete. Silvia first sands the furniture, covers it with white primer, draws the design in pencil and then paints it with acrylics. After the piece is dry, she covers it with a shiny clear parquet varnish.


A comic book-inspired trunk by Silvia Zacchello. Photo courtesy of Silvia Zacchello

Silvia says it’s important to use the right balance when using the furniture in a room. Her pieces go well with moderate colors and dressed wood, and mix well with a Scandinavian design that is simple and clean.

Tucson interior designer Pat Mooney, owner of Designlines, who also does color consultations, says bright, colorful home decor accessories are hugely popular. “And a lot of new colors have hit the market – peacock blue, coral, salmon, yellow.” Why? Low economic times may have something to do with it, says Pat. “Color is used as a pick-me-up.”

For architect Roger Hirsch, a 1950s Wrigley’s Gum poster gives a splash of color and architectural interest to his home on Fire Island, New York. The large wall can be seen from all parts of his home. He picked up the billboard from a poster shop and had it mounted onto canvas and professionally restored. Now, glued directly to the wall, it forms a permanent art installation.


Roger Hirsch’s Fire Island house. Photo by Michael Moran/OTTO

“We wanted to create a large pop element in the center of the home,” says Roger, who also wanted something to cover the entire wall. “An original billboard met the size requirements while also being unique.” And the colors fit the character of the house, says Roger: it is minimalist but not completely monotone, and benefits from having a little pop.

Sometimes the pop comes simply with color itself. Interior designer Tracy Murdock of Tracy Murdock Design and Management in Beverly Hills is known for using splashes of color in her design. Her trademark yellow is a feature in a black and white room she designed for a loft owned by Italian fashion company Fendi.

The large print was originally a photograph from Phyllis Morris, a custom furniture maker, which Tracy had blown up and printed at Aztek Imaging. The dramatic picture gives the space an old Hollywood feel, says Tracy, and the yellow pillows and throws provide contrast against an otherwise dark room. And with the repetition of the giant image, there are also shades of Warhol.

* The ‘Andy’ tile by Dune costs $50 per square foot. For more information, visit Dune or contact Fractured Earth Tile & Stone in Tucson (open to the design trade only).


Pops of yellow and a repetitive black and white image create impact in this loft designed by interior designer Tracy Murdock. Photo courtesy of Tracy Murdock



Ground Floor

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Every issue, landscape designer Darbi Davis digs deep to bring you stories for your outdoor space. This month: a 24-hour desert gardening competition. Plus: scroll down for cool product picks from BoxhillCover photo courtesy of Boxhill.

Design Challenge Winner

Judges’ choice  2013, 1st Place, was by Janis & Phil Van Wyck Projects


Darbi Davis. Photo by Jen Long Photography

Darbi Davis. Photo by Jen Long Photography

GrowDown! The Great Tucson Garden Design Challenge, is back for the second year and hotter than ever. Beginning March 18th, three designers will battle the headwinds of constraint while constructing elaborate designs upon petite plots of barren space on the grounds of  Tucson Botanical Gardens.  In only 24 hours, strictly divided into three 8-hour days, each of the designers will bring their creations to life while the public observes from the hedgeline.

“The public can expect to see some seriously elaborate designs. This year we have fire features, a chicken coop and lots of exciting sustainable features incorporated into the finalists’ proposed landscapes. I expect some of the designers will need to get creative to overcome unseen challenges to stick to their designs. It will be a lot of hard work for these designers,” says Melissa D’Auria, TBG’s director of marketing.

Design Challenge Winner

People’s Choice 2013 was by Scott Calhoun of Zona Gardens

After three hours of deliberation, the three finalists were chosen based on skill level and difficulty of the designs. The resulting trifecta of savvy landscape designers represents a think tank of innovative, intelligent design, and it’s safe to say they know a thing or two about performing under pressure.  All have trained hard, under the direction of The University of Arizona’s College of Architecture, Planning, and Landscape Architecture.  While each works for a different local landscape design firm, their common thread lies in their passionate respect for the preservation and conservation of our arid climate.  Their differences will reveal themselves through their individual style and how they capitalize on the microclimates or lack thereof, within the confines of their relatively tiny space.

Iylea Olson

Iylea Olson

1. Iylea Olson represents LJ Design & Consulting, a firm that competed in last year’s inaugural Growdown! competition.

About Iylea: She’s rooted in Tucson but crept eastward, expanding her expertise into eastern medicine and martial arts.  These skills complement her additional professional passions – plant science, food gardening, and community outreach. Aesthetically, she blurs the line between modern and natural through her formal use of native plants and naturally functioning earthwork features.  Her ultimate goal for any project “is to meet the needs of my clients while maintaining respect for our local context; creating spaces for people, plants and wildlife to thrive.”

She loves: As a self-proclaimed plant nerd, she loves Creosote Bush (Larrea tridentata).  “The smell of creosote after a warm summer rain is hard to beat, it makes for a lovely natural screen, and its medicinal properties are a major plus. A little salve made from the leaves is perfect for healing cuts and insect bites.”


Allen Denomy

2. Micaela Machado and Allen Denomy represent Solana Outdoor Living.

About Micaela and Allen: Both are Southern Arizona natives and sculpture artists.  They consider themselves “luxury sustainable designers who artfully blend modern design and innovative technology to enhance the surrounding natural beauty while protecting our environment.”

He loves: Allen’s favorite plant is Whales tongue (Agave ovatifolia) “for its sculptural quality, cool texture and bold statement.”

Micaela of Solana Outdoor Living

Micaela Machado

He avoids: “Oleander because it’s outdated, uses too much water and is poisonous to giraffes.”

She loves: She refers to the Chitalpa tree as a “hidden gem that is beautiful and perfect for Tucson due to its size, awesome flowers and super-cool bark.”

She avoids: You won’t find any Lantana in Micaela’s designs, because like Oleander, “they use too much water, but they can also reseed themselves, which can be a huge problem in waterways, and some varieties are also poisonous if ingested.”

3. Maria Voris represents Petrichor Design + Build

About Maria: Maria is a designer and a flamenco dancer, so it’s not surprising that her designs are choreographed for flow. “They aren’t overly complicated, and pay attention to comfort with little details that tell a story in some way or catch the eye making the space special and unique,” she says.


Maria Voris

She loves: She has a hard time choosing her favorite desert plant because, “there are so many to love! Chuparosa is looking fantastic right now and is a great nectar source for hummingbirds. I also love flattop buckwheat for its year-round great looks and ease of care.”

She avoids: She doesn’t have a specific hated plant but simply refers us to the Arizona Native Plant Society’s web site for a list of invasive plants to watch out for.  “Yucky invasives are bad for Sonoran desert health!”

* Want to see the designers get dusty in their race to construct a desert landscape? Head down to Tucson Botanical Gardens at 2150 N. Alvernon Way to cheer them on. Growdown! installation is from 7 am to 3 pm, Wednesday March 19th through Friday March 21st. Judging and awards will be held Saturday March 22nd, but the designs will be up for the public to see until May. More here.

Darbi’s Plant of the Month: Creosote Bush

Creosote Bush. Photo by Darbi Davis

Creosote bush. Photo by Darbi Davis

Creosote Bush, or larrea tridentata, is a lovely native shrub with yellow flowers that can be seen right now.  Crush a few of its petite, shiny green leaves in your hand and you will smell a fragrance reminiscent of rain in the desert.  It is also famous for its medicinal properties, from soothing skin conditions to pain relief.


What’s HOT for your desert yard

Boxhill brings us its product picks each month. This issue: Spring must-haves for the yard.