Gotta Have Art: Hidden in the Hills returns to the North Valley

By Sue Kern-Fleischer

Arizona’s largest and longest-running artist studio tour, Hidden in the Hills, returns to the North Valley on Fridays, November 18 and 26, Saturdays, November 19 and 26, and Sundays, November 20 and 27.

Coordinated by the nonprofit Sonoran Arts League, this year’s free, self-guided tour features 174 artists in 47 private studios in the scenic Desert Foothills communities of Cave Creek, Carefree and North Scottsdale.

Featuring nationally recognized and emerging artists, Hidden in the Hills attracts thousands of patrons who appreciate fine art and seek a variety of mediums, styles and price ranges.

The large sculpture garden features various works

Guests visiting Michael D’Ambrosi’s Studio No. 41 at Cave Creek will be mesmerized by its eclectic sculpture garden featuring nearly 100 diverse sculptural works of art that blend beautifully into lush landscape and desert views. Nestled on the side of Black Mountain, D’Ambrosi’s home studio has been a popular stop on the Hidden in the Hills tour for more than two decades.

Growing up in Manhattan Beach, California, D’Ambrosi spent much of her youth sandboarding, skimboarding and surfing. He credits his late oil painter-sculptor father, Jasper, as the springboard for his creativity.

“My father embraced life with an Italian enthusiasm that infected almost everyone near him,” D’Ambrosi says. “One day he asked me if I would agree to work at the Artist and Sculptors foundry in Burbank with my brother Marc. Working at the foundry helped me learn the trade in order to open our own shop.

In 1977, D’Ambrosi and his family opened Arizona Bronze, an art foundry. For the next 20 years he absorbed everything he could from his fellow sculptors. He has developed and perfected his craft skills, from steel armatures to clay modeling, rubber molds and all phases of the lost wax process.

D’Ambrosi’s first commission was shared with Marc. When their father died, they were commissioned to expand Jasper’s Jacobs Ladder, a 20-foot memorial honoring World War II merchant marines. The powerful sculpture is on public display in the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro. In 1989 the US Air Force commissioned him to create The Falcon, now on display at Luke Air Force Base. Other notable commissions include The Guardian, a life-size Apache bronze for the Cochise-Geronimo Golf Course at Desert Mountain in North Scottsdale, and The Nomad, a life-size Native American that can be seen at Desert Mountain’s Renegade Course. .

D’Ambrosi has always approached art with optimism and a pinch of humour. From his whimsical yet eerily realistic dinosaurs to his heroically sized Native American monuments, he shows a love of life and nature in his sculpture.

“I’ve always jumped with subject matter and style. And aside from a few commissions, I’ve always sculpted what inspired me to build. One can criticize the work but never the sincerity of my efforts,” he says .

Throughout his career he loved the dramatic effect of sculpting life-size and monumental pieces, but time took a toll on his hands.

“At 68, my heart is young and creative thoughts or pushing clay or wax are not a problem. Casting bronze becomes more difficult as my human parts wear out. But after 45 years of casting , everything tends to wear out,” he says.

While guests can watch him work in his studio, many will enjoy strolling through the nearly one-acre sculpture garden.

“The bronze sculptures of my brother and my father sit proudly among my work, as well as the sculptures of my colleagues. We affectionately call our sculpture garden a national treasure, and this is mainly due to the landscaping and green thumb of my wife Gloria.

D’Ambrosi also hosts two guest artists on the Studio Art Tour: oil painters Linda Storey-London and David Flitner.

Painter inspired by nature

Award-winning artist Cynthia Eral enjoys spending time outdoors exploring the beauty of nature, and each of her paintings tells a story of what she sees and experiences. Growing up in Minnesota, Eral started painting at the age of 9 when his parents gave him a set of oil paints. Throughout her career, working both in the fashion industry and as an interior designer, she always found time to paint. Five years ago, after deciding to pursue her passion full time, she joined the Sonoran Arts League and began participating in the Hidden in the Hills Artist Studio Tour.

In many ways, Eral’s paintings reflect his adventurous life. A resident of Anthem, she and her husband fell in love with the western United States after taking a month-long motorcycle trip some 25 years ago.

Passionate hiker, she sometimes takes her easel deep into the desert or a forest to paint outdoors. Other times, she creates original paintings of flora and fauna in her studio using a compilation of photos she’s taken on long road trips or exploring new terrain closer to home.

“I enjoy spending a lot of time outdoors with wildlife to get a glimpse of their personality by observing their mannerisms before returning to my studio. It gives me time to visualize the subject in its natural state,” she says.

She affectionately calls oil paint “an old friend”, noting that their colors have more depth and she is able to layer and create more texture.

“I like the way the oil paints flow from the brush, especially with larger canvases. And, as they dry slowly, I can change my mind and blend colors to enhance areas if I ‘need it,’” she says.

She prefers to work on larger canvases as they have a greater impact in telling a story. Additionally, many of his commissioned pieces are destined for larger houses.

“With my experience working in interior design, I have seen that the connection between art and interior design can be powerful. It creates a mood, a special place and will even nourish the soul,” says- she.

During the studio tour, Eral will be a guest artist at Beverly Carlson-Bradshaw’s Hummingbird Haven Studio No. 8 at Carefree. In addition to showcasing her new work, she will be demonstrating on both weekends of the event.

“Every time I manifest, it always opens up conversations with our guests,” she says, adding that she hopes to inspire young, up-and-coming artists.

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