Travelling is an adventure. No matter how many times I have visited a place, I seem to discover something new, something that I overlooked before or failed to take in during previous visits. This happened to me on a recent trip to Phoenix. I lived in that city for five years a long while ago. The city has grown tremendously since then although the city’s core remains much the same as it was then.
This trip I stayed with good friends Eileen and John whose home is around the corner from where I last lived in Phoenix, just one block from Phoenix College. At the time I lived there, Phoenix College was not nearly the size it is today. Early one morning, I decided to stroll through the campus just to see what had changed.
At the end of my walk, I headed down the parking lot towards the little duplex where I once lived. But before I got to it, I came to an obelisk-shaped sculpture towering on the corner. I had to gain a closer look.
The three-sided sculpture was filled from top to bottom with faces. What a curious piece, I thought. Each face was different. Their expressions drew me in. I moved around and around the piece, looking up and down, trying to get a better view of the ones placed higher, towards the metal abstract Phoenix bird topping the structure.
I must return to the house, grab my camera, come back and photograph this intriguing art piece, I thought. When I did, I asked Eileen if she knew anything about the sculpture. Indeed, not only did she know about it, but her own face was among those on it! Together she and I walked back to the corner where it stood. But as hard as we tried, we couldn’t find her face amongst the many. “My daughter knows exactly where it is,” she told me, “I’ve forgotten”
The piece, I later learned, is titled “Faces of a Community” and represents the diversity of ages, cultures, and people who make up the Southwestern city of Phoenix. During the making of the artwork, my friend’s face was molded in plaster by one of the artists, locally renown maskmaker Zarrco Guerrero. The mold was then used to create a clay likeness of her face which was attached, along with the many others, to the final piece. The pieces were glazed in blues, terra-cotta and creme colors and carefully positioned up and down the obelisk. It would have been fun to watch as the artists’ placed each of these faces and the manner in which they established the relationships of one to another.
The final piece was installed in 2002 and was the end result of a collaboration between artists Helen Helwig, Niki Glen, MIchael Anderson and Guerrero. Students, teachers and community members all participated in making the life casts and moulding the faces. Today, the 18 foot tall sculpture anchors the northeast corner of the campus where, undoubtedly it attracts students and visitors, like myself, who just happen upon it and provides a perfect way to finish or begin a walk around the Phoenix College campus.