Downtown Scottsdale’s Old Signs and Wonders

By local contributor
Kerrick James

As the artistic epicenter of the ‘West’s Most Western Town’, downtown Scottsdale is replete with galleries and emporiums stuffed with treasures ranging from sublime to kitschy. I embrace and love to view art of all genres, and yes I also find kitsch, er, Americana, to be fascinating and oddly illuminating of our culture. And it’s fun to photograph, too.

If you want to experience Scottsdale’s Old West flavor, simply park in the southeastern quadrant of downtown, known officially as Old Town, and start strolling the sidewalks. I began my art exploration at the corner of Second Avenue and Brown, by Cavalliere’s Blacksmith Shop, an old adobe structure that now houses an ornamental ironworks shop. Be sure to check out the self-guided walking trail printed on the sidewalk – it’s easy to follow as it loops around Old Town, linking historical structures and an astonishing array of public art.

During my explorations, I saw Western-themed sculptures, painted and real cowboy boots, a historic adobe mission, saguaros both live and crafted from iron, whimsically painted Kokopelli Christmas tree balls, genuine Navajo weavings, and more precious turquoise than seems possible to mine from the earth. This is treasure hunting the easy way, and the best part is you’ll walk off the previous night’s feast and be hungry for a good Southwestern meal.

Crossing Scottsdale Road on Main Street, I made a brief foray into the Arts District and was drawn to a dynamic sculpture called ‘JackKnife’ by famed artist Ed Mell. His bronc bustin’ cowboy is holding on to a hellion of a horse, and the metal casting can barely contain the energy of the beast. Having watched the real event up close at many a rodeo, I believe the artist has captured the fire of both man and horse, while rendering them in his own sleek, sharp planed style.

“JackKnife’ is my personal favorite sculpture in downtown, but you’ll discover many more. They say art, like gold, is where you find it, and walking the streets of downtown will yield some surprises. In fact, you can experience 10 public art pieces within a quick 60-minute tour of downtown. 

And it’s not a stretch to say that you’ll find more gems here than did Coronado, the erstwhile conquistador who traversed this desert in 1540. But his walk is another tale for another day.