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Collections: Filling drawers and cubbies with artwork in the Curiosity Chapel

Artists who work with found objects are notorious for having strange collections of random items waiting to be turned into art.

Such materials are usually stored in bins piled high in studios or closets. An installation by two local artists spotlights their unusual collections and chronicles their time making art in the Valley.

The Show got a sneak peek before the one-day showing. 

Full interview

AMBER VICTORIA SINGER: From the street, it looks like Heidi Dauphin and Laura Spalding Best are getting ready for a yard sale. But really, the mixed media/ceramic artist and painter/muralist are making art.  

On a recent Friday afternoon, the pair are sitting in two wooden chairs in Dauphin’s open garage in Phoenix, surrounded by tall shelves and drawers, a desk, a dresser and more thrifted furniture. The furniture is arranged to form four walls with an entrance. They’ve dubbed this temporary room the Curiosity Chapel. Best says she and Dauphin spent about a month hunting for the perfect pieces at second-hand stores.

LAURA SPALDING BEST: Every single one of those shelves, drawers and cubbies are filled with our artwork that represents what we’ve been making over the past 20 years and our semi-obsessive studio collections. 

SINGER: Visitors will be encouraged to open the cabinets and drawers, which reveal both works of art and collected objects. One drawer overflows with handwritten notes. Another is stocked with gravy boats. Yet another drawer holds ornate metal objects painted with blue skies. Eventually, they’ll be filled in with Best’s signature landscapes.

BEST: I call them "Paintings in Waiting."


SINGER: The art is arranged in chronological order. On a shelf to the left of the entrance is a small landscape painting on a large rusty can — Best’s first found object painting.

BEST: I was hiking on a trip to British Columbia right after I graduated. We were in the middle of nowhere, and I had run out of canvas. And having literally run out of my material, I started using found objects. And that set me on this path, where I now carefully choose them.

SINGER: A paper quilt Dauphin made from handwritten notes hangs inside a doorless armoire. Abstract tile mosaics from her public art pieces are also on display. But much of Dauphin’s work, like huge ceramic tile pieces based on quilt patterns or the 10-foot guitar she covered in pennies, is too big for the Curiosity Chapel’s shelves. She found a way around that. 

HEIDI DAUPHIN: I’m representing some of the years with small five by five squares, like a representation of a piece that I made that year. 

SINGER: One of those five by five blocks is divided up into 100 tiny painted squares. There’s a tiny object glued to each square, including a googly eye, an acorn cap and a little plastic foot.

DAUPHIN: The original piece was called “10x10x10=1000” and it literally has a thousand little objects on it, but it’s 45 by 45 inches. So in the Curiosity Chapel, it’s technically called “10x10=100.” 

SINGER: Although the two artists’ work is different, part of the Curiosity Chapel’s charm is that it can be difficult to tell whose collections are whose. There’s a shelf of bowling pins, a drawer of hiking tread, a row of railroad spikes, two drawers of clay thumb prints.

DAUPHIN: I do feel like I might have met my match, that I met someone that has more stuff or more collections than me. 

SINGER: The installation is part of an annual gala put on by the nonprofit ArtLink. Over 100 artists applied to be part of one of eight pairs. Each was given $500 and about two months to create a collaborative piece. Before they began, Best and Dauphin had no idea how much they had in common.

DAUPHIN: It’s been a joy and pleasure to work with her because, yeah, we’ve found so many similarities and I think we’ve maybe created a lifelong friendship. 

BEST: Yes, 100%.

SINGER: [On Friday, March 15,] the artists will transport the art, collections and furniture from Dauphin’s garage to Phoenix Art Museum, where it will be on display for one night only, this Saturday, March 16. 

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Amber Victoria Singer is a producer for KJZZ's The Show. Singer is a graduate of the Water Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.