Sunday, June 30, 2013

Motawi Tileworks -- Nothing Square Here

My recent visit to Ann Arbor included a trip to Motawi Tileworks -- a business founded by Nawal Motawi, who is also the principal designer  The company creates beautiful hand-crafted tiles with monochrome and polychrome designs.  I was immediately taken by the gorgeous designs and colors.  In addition to Nawal's designs, the company also has associations with other artists and organizations including the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.  Pictures can say more than my words, so......

The four designs on the left originated with artist Cary Phillips.

 Charley Harper's "Cool Cardinal"

Though several of the processes involved in creating the tiles can be done mechanically, every tile gets the hands-on treatment at least ten times during its evolution.  Some of these call for low-tech tools like the simple band-aid which protects the worker's finger as he smooths sharp edges.  Colored glazes are applied using bulb syringes.

"Boy Reading" mural

These tiles are based on block prints by artist Yoshiko Yamamoto.

Nawal Motawi is a graduate of the University of Michigan School of Art and Design where she studied ceramics and sculpture.  She started her own business making tiles in her garage and selling them at a local farmers' market.  Today the tileworks, now  in its own large studio, employs over two-dozen people.

When we (a group of journalists) visited, Nawal arranged for us to make our own tiles.   Even though all we did was use a variety of stamps to press designs into the clay (they glazed and fired the tiles and mailed them to us) we still felt pretty creative.  Funny, she didn't ask to use any of our designs!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Hitting the Road in Arizona

Jack and I started our big adventure in Phoenix but didn't stop in the city.  We were headed north  for the Verde Valley and Cottonwood.  Our itinerary was planned by the Arizona Department of Tourism and our first day was an exploration of the Verde Valley Wine Trail.

We started at Alcantara, the largest producer of estate wines in central Arizona.  Located on the Verde River, its lush setting complements the wines.  Owner Barbara Predmore invites visitors to taste, stay and enjoy the scenery and the wines.

Our next stop was Javelina Leap where owners Rod and Cynthia Snapp specialize in rich, red wines.  They grow Zinfandel on four and a half of their 10 acres and get grapes for other varietals from Southern Arizona.  (Their white wines are made in California.)  They provided us with a lovely picnic lunch -- far more than we could eat in one sitting, so they boxed the left-overs for another day's picnic!

We were at the airport at 7 this morning for our 8:20 flight.  Between the getting up early -- which Jack doesn't usually do -- and the wine, this was Jack at the third winery -- Oak Creek Vineyards.  Owner Deb Wahl grows Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Merlot, Syrah and almonds on her 10 acres.

By the fourth winery, I was ready to join Jack!  The deck at Page Springs Cellars, overlooking Oak Creek, was particularly appealing.  And, by appointment, you can get a massage in the vineyard!  That sounded great.  Page Springs touts its Rhone-style wines and gourmet snack selections -- they'll even pack you a picnic basket.
 Lana Tolleson, president of the Cottonwood Chamber of Commerce met us in town and took us on a tasting room tour.  We hit Burning Tree Cellars, Pillsbury Wine Co. Tasting Room and Arizona Stronghold Tasting Room.  By this time, about the only thing I could tell you was if the wine was red or white!  I'm glad I got to see all these facilities -- but travelers intent on enjoying the wine and the ambiance would take it a lot slower!
 After a great Italian dinner at Nic's Italian Steak and Crab House, we were ready to turn in.  We stayed two nights at the Tavern Hotel, a neat boutique property with cool decor and uber-comfy rooms.

 On our way into town, we passed through "modern" Cottonwood but if you keep driving -- and we did -- you'll come to "historic" Cottonwood.  This is a place where it seems as if time stopped a couple of decades ago -- and you should, too.
 We had breakfast at Crema, a cute little restaurant with a great menu.  This was my breakfast, the Crema signature breakfast sandwich -- red-chile-glazed bacon, egg, tomato and cheddar on a croissant.  We enjoyed this spot so much, we detoured on our way back to Phoenix a week later to sample more of the menu.
 Not far from Cottonwood is the little town of Jerome.  Once a bustling mining community, it died when the copper played out.  People left and the buildings stood empty.  Some of them simply slid down the mountainside to structural suicide.  Today it's experiencing resurrection as an arts destination.  Restaurants and shops cater to tourists.  My favorite shop -- the world's largest kaleidoscope store. 

 Visitors to the Jerome State Historic Park can learn about the town's history and the mining industry in the museum -- the former mansion of mine owner James S. Douglas.  Here you get a good view of Cleopatra Hill and the town site.
 One of the many highlights of our trip was an excursion on the Verde Valley Railroad.  The scenery was 
spectacular on the four-hour trip from Clarkdale to Perkinsville and back.  

Traveling through Verde Canyon, the train was dwarfed by towering red cliffs.  Although we were seated in a first-class car with plush, living-room-style seating, I spent most of the trip in one of the open cars, crossing from one side to the other and back, for the best photographic views.

Dinner that night was back in Cottonwood, this time at the Schoolhouse Restaurant, which is housed in what used to be the Upper Verde Valley Grade School.  Chef Christopher Dobrowolski is big on earth-friendly, local products.  His version of Chile Relleno involves a smoked poblano chile covered with an egg wash and stuffed with several varieties of cheese.  The tomato sauce on the side had quite a bit of heat which was nicely ameliorated by the slices of cool avocado.  The dish was topped with fresh pico de gallo made with heirloom tomatoes.  And with that, we were ready to call it quits!