A hidden gem on the Phoenix arts scene
The first gallery of paintings that greets visitors upon entering the Zelma Basha Salmeri Gallery of Western American and Native American Art. (Courtesy of Zelma Basha Salmeri Gallery of Western American and Native American Art / February 29, 2012)
- Visitors get a closer look at a wall devoted to paintings by John Clymer
- The Basha collection includes authentic, old firearms from the American West, including this wall devoted to rifles.
- Basketry as practiced by Native Americans is a big part of the Basha collection
- The hard life of cowboys was a frequent subject for artist Joe Beeler.
- Fine Artists
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- 22402 S Basha Rd, Chandler, AZ 85248, USA
The Zelma Basha Salmeri Gallery of Western American and Native American Art, with more than 3,000 paintings, sculptures, hand-woven baskets and other artifacts, occupies 11,000 square feet in Basha's corporate headquarters on a Chandler side street in Phoenix's East Valley area. With little fanfare, the museum attracts about 700 weekly visits.
"I bring friends here two or three times a year, and they figure they'll stay an hour," said Cynthia Dech, a recent visitor who lives near Tucson. "We always stay longer. I tell everyone this place hits the trifecta. It's really interesting. It's also near good places to eat, and free."
That praise can almost be heard by Eddie Basha, the iconic, philanthropic chairman of the company whose office is only yards from the entrance to the smartly laid out gallery. Every item belongs to a collection he has built since 1971, when, shortly after assuming corporate reins following his father's death, his artistic Aunt Zelma introduced him to — and he fell in love with — art of the American West.
In the process, he built personal relationships with pioneers in Cowboy Artists of America, organized in 1965 in the Oak Creek Tavern in Sedona, Ariz. The work of some of its most prominent members, such as Joe Beeler, John Clymer and Fred Fellows, are displayed. Native American artists include Clifford Beck, Orland Joe and Wilmer Kay.
The museum opened in 1992, and a Native American wing was added in 1996. The artists' themes illustrate life of early explorers, trappers, cowboys and Native Americans. Some of their work has been on covers of Saturday Evening Post, Argosy and Field & Stream magazines.
In 2011, the Governor's Arts Award and True West Magazine's Best Western Art Gallery became the latest of numerous accolades. Tammy Fontaine, who oversees the gallery, said history is a big part of the lure.
Scenes portrayed in Cowboy Artists of America paintings are researched by artists, providing viewers with accurate portrayals of pioneer life.
This becomes evident with one of the first paintings to greet visitors: "Capitol Offense," by Russell Houston.
The work shows cowboys, after a night of drinking, riding horses and taking pistol shots at the weather vane atop Phoenix's Capitol in an attempt to keep it spinning. The scene took place before Arizona gained statehood in 1912 and, for years, was thought to be fiction until bullet marks were found on the vane during a recent renovation.
If you go
Where: Zelma Basha Salmeri Gallery of Western American and Native American Art is at 22402 S. Basha Road, Chandler, Ariz.
Hours: The gallery is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays, closed on weekends. Additional closure dates are listed by the telephone information line each month.