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Livable to Lovable: Gila Monsters Project

Have you discovered the 18 whimsical Gila monsters scattered through Globe’s downtown? Young and old are having fun searching for the paintings tucked into alcoves and gracing walls throughout the historic district. Some families are taking pictures at each painting and posted these on social media.

Gila monsters were selected as the animal for this project to celebrate Globe being the seat of Gila County. Borrowing from the “Mice on Main” idea of Greenville, South Caroline, the Gila monsters originally were envisioned as life-sized, 18-24 inch bronze statues. However, when the atelier working with the project reported the price had increased 400% after their foundry burned down, the idea had to shift. More affordable material (like cement and fiberglass) and techniques (like 3-D printing and welding) were explored, but not a good fit for the project. 

The next plan was painted images.

With a public art grant from BHP and plans to situate many of the paintings along the Stairizona Trail, I Art Globe connected with Kalee Hansen Tucker, an artist and student at Eastern Arizona College. She designed and painted the first 13 Gila monsters in the project, with each doing something related to the businesses within the buildings. Her template has been used for all successive paintings.

Elizabeth Palmer designed and painted the new Gila monster on Vida e Caffé.

The newer Gila monsters have been designed and painted by artists closer to home. Globe High School senior, Elizabeth Palmer, recently finished the Vide e Caffé painting, and Cheryl Haynes completed the VFW and Holy Angel’s rectory images. When the newly opened Silver Tap wanted to add a miner to the Irish Gila monster on their building, they commissioned Rob Otero. 

When asked what inspired this project, Thea Wilshire, the originator of the idea and co-founder of I Art Globe, explained, “I wanted something to recognize our role as leaders in Gila County and didn’t see much being done locally with Gila monsters.” Wilshire became more committed to the project after reading a book about placemaking written by Peter Kagayama. “He wrote that a beloved town incorporates fun into the fabric of the community. As we invested in public art, we wanted to include something for kids and the young at heart. A treasure hunt seemed like a fun adventure.”

Moon Sneezy gets up close and personal with the ballerina Gila monster. Photo courtesy of Bella Sneezy.

With the idea of creating a coloring book to enhance the treasure hunt experience for children, Tucker was commissioned to create line-drawings of all her images. I Art Globe hosted focus groups with kids to design the coloring book, then Globe youth (Deanna Starling, Will Montegue, and Brooke Kitcheyan) created some of the book’s activity pages. With in-kind printing support from APS, the coloring book was published in April and can be found at Knotty Fox, Splash of Copper, the Cobre Valley Center for the Arts, and Pickle Barrel. All proceeds from book sales will go toward additional public art for the region. 

The painted Gila monsters and coloring book are in line with the goals of Love Where You Live (LWYL), a new nonprofit focusing on placemaking in the Copper Corridor. “We want to turn livable spaces into lovable places,” explains Regina Ortega, one of the co-founders. LWYL is an entirely volunteer-run organization and is always looking for new partners. Please contact the LWYL hotline at 808-373-0032 or livable2lovable@gmail.com to learn more.

The new Gila monster activity book has coloring sheets and games related to the downtown treasure hunt.

About Thea Wilshire

Thea Wilshire works as an author, psychologist, speaker, healthcare consultant, and AirBnB host.  Her passions include community development, the creation of public spaces, trying new adventures, and sharing her therapy dog with schools and medical facilities.  Find her blog at https://www.acornconsulting.org/blog.

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