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For The Home

Spirit of the Southwest

Author: Linda J. Barkman
Issue: June, 2017, Page 57
Photos by Scott Sandler

Titled “Desert Royalty,” this portrait of a prickly pear cactus bloom was painted by Arizona artist Ed Mell in 2016.
Regional Art and Architecture Cohabit Beautifully in Local Icon Ed Mell’s Restored Adobe Brick Home

The original owners of the hacienda-like residence named it “Fort Apache.” Artist Ed Mell
thinks they had a Hollywood connection and that the moniker may have been in reference to a movie by the same title. Regardless, it seems like a fitting name for an Arizona abode with the history of which legends are made. Constructed of low-fired adobe bricks, the U-shaped courtyard home was designed in 1965 by the late Bennie Gonzales, an acclaimed Arizona-born architect known for innovative designs that merged modernism with realism.

Once known as the Cowboy Room, Ed’s home studio has areas for sculpting and painting as well as a central sitting area and ample display space for collected works of art. On the wall to the right of the bookcase is a pair of 1930 mural studies by Maynard Dixon.
This local gem is now occupied by Ed, his wife, Rose Marie, and their dog, Willie. Like Gonzales, Ed, also an Arizona native, is deeply ingrained in the state’s heart and soul. A Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award winner, he has been creating fine art that ranges from dynamic contemporary desert landscape and flower paintings to bronze sculptures and lithographs since 1976. Admittedly “always looking for something fresh,” he recently designed the sets for Arizona Opera’s production of “Riders of the Purple Sage,” which had its world premiere in March.

Since purchasing the home seven years ago, the Mells have lovingly restored it and filled it with myriad works of art that have either been created or collected by Ed. Together, the house and everything within weave a vivid tapestry of iconic art and architecture that clearly defines the region.

Mell recalls being attracted to the “great design energy” of the house when he first saw it. Still, he knew it needed a good deal of updating as well as restoration work. With that in mind, he contacted two longtime friends, builder Jon Kitchell and architect John Douglas. “I wanted a second opinion and got their blessing before we bought the house,” Ed explains. “We wanted someone who understood the ramifications of restoration. They had the expertise and were excited to work on it.”

Ed’s wife, Rose Marie, and their pup, Willie, check out Ed’s progress on a sculpture titled “Field Worker.” In the background are works by illustrators R. G. Harris and H. J. Ward. The painting on the easel is by Ed.
Ed also knew that the paintings, drawings, sculpture, photographs and other works of art he had collected over the years would have ample display space on walls, shelves and atop furnishings in the 5,900-square-foot home.

The redo commenced in January 2010 and took 10 months. From the get-go, it was important to the Mells to preserve the character of the original house. To that end, all the elongated arched windows and openings—a signature Gonzales design element—were retained, as were their wood spindles, the carved mahogany interior doors, curved walls, swanky wet bar, wood ceilings and a unique ribbed wood soffit in the living room.

While alterations to the kitchen were the most dramatic change, they, too, were accomplished in a way that would modernize it and improve efficiency but not destroy the definitive features for which Gonzales was known. Portions of walls were removed to open up the space and a master craftsman was brought in to repair and restore the junctions where walls had previously met. In addition, new cabinets were custom-made to mimic the elongated arch design found on some of the original built-ins. With its boomerang shape and Corian top, a new kitchen island suits the home’s Modernist sensibility, as do midcentury Modern furnishings in the adjacent breakfast area and in other rooms as well.

Part of Ed’s car collection, this 1953 Studebaker is a midcentury gem like the house itself, which was built in 1965. The rounded form on the left is the back of the living room’s fireplace.
Another significant change was to remove the existing Saltillo tile flooring in the kitchen, living room, dining room, foyer and hallways and replace it with custom terrazzo tiles in a light hue that brightens up these spaces.

Art throughout the home, whether a painting or bronze created by Ed or pieces by other well-known and even lesser-known artists, salutes the spirit of the home and cohabits beautifully with its architecture. In the living room, for example, where a massive adobe brick fireplace with an Aztec character takes center stage, an early work by Ed keeps company with paintings by Lon Megargee, a cowboy-turned-artist with deep ties to Arizona; a bronze bust by Emry Kopta; a drawing by Diego Rivera; and several rare carved pine Hopi Craft furniture pieces by Tehesa Indian Design dating to the 1920s. These include a sideboard on the left side of the room, a hefty table on the right and a pair of chairs flanking the fireplace.

A closer look at the in-progress sculpture, “Field Worker.”
At the opposite end of the house is Ed’s studio, a room that was added on by the original owner, who called it the Cowboy Room. “I think it was used as a party room,” Mell says. “It had a Western bar, a wood floor and an area that could have been a dance floor. We put in concrete floors and added a large window. It’s perfect for a studio.”

It is fitting that some of Ed’s favorite works reside in this light-filled space offering views of the backyard. Among these are several caricature cowboy carvings by Andy Anderson; rare portrait busts of Hopi Indians by Kopta; paintings by Maynard Dixon, whose work focuses on the American West; and a drawing of an Indian face by Megargee.

Asked how he would describe his home, Ed says he thinks of it as a midcentury Modern hacienda. Just as Gonzales left a lasting impression in the Valley with his memorable architecture, Mell and the other artists whose work graces the interiors of his abode have made their mark in the art world. One cannot help but applaud the union of these legendary personalities and the house dubbed Fort Apache so many decades ago.

Photos - Clock-wise from top left: Warm and inviting, the living room is the Mells’ favorite space in the house. The adobe-brick walls and fireplace, elongated arch windows and their wood spindles, and wood ceiling are original to the home. Furnishings are a mix of new and vintage, including Hopi Craft wood pieces that date back to the 1920s. On the wall behind the buffet is “Arizona,” by Jose Aceves. The adjacent ceramic sculpture from 1934 is by Lenci. Two paintings by Lon Megargee flank the fireplace: To the left is “Matador”; to the right is “In the Rough.”

An early oil painting by Ed, “Blue Sky Orange Canyon” was done in 1979. The bronze sculpture is a Hopi bust by Emry Kopta.

An Artist’s Collection
Ed Mell has been creating fine art since 1976 and acquiring it since the early ’80s. Included in his collection are original paintings, drawings, photographs and sculpture, as well as pottery, furniture and even vintage cars. How are selections made? “First they have to fit my budget,” he says. “Then they have to have a certain spirit for me to be drawn to them.”

For example, Ed is very fond of a painting displayed in his dining room that is by an unknown artist and was purchased on eBay. “I’ll buy a great piece by someone nobody knows but I won’t buy a bad piece by someone famous,” he says. He even has his own “Antiques Roadshow”-worthy find. While searching for rugs in an antique shop, he spied a colorful figurine of an African woman, made in Italy by Lenci. Purchased for less than $50, it is worth thousands.

Other selections were influenced by his early career path. Having begun as an art director for a large advertising agency and operating his own illustration studio for a spell, it is only fitting that his art collection includes a number of illustrations, some of which are displayed in his home studio. His love of Hopi Indian furniture and sculpture evolved from a later experience as a teacher on the Hopi Indian Reservation.

Ed’s collection includes numerous works by Megargee, including “Red Blanket.”

This 1939 drawing by Megargee hangs in the painting area of Ed’s studio.
“At the Pool,”  was painted by renowned Western artist William Robinson Leigh in 1916.
“Morning Light Meets Mesa” is “my favorite brand of realism,” says the artist of his 1996 oil painting. He enjoys alternating between his contemporary/modernist work and more abstracted styles.

A large swimming pool situated in the center of the back courtyard is original to the house. The Mells resurfaced it and changed the existing flooring on the pool deck and patio to cantera stone. The log fence around the perimeter of the backyard reinforces the property’s fort feeling.

The midcentury Modern table and chairs in the dining room are by Paul McCobb. The painting above the buffet is by an unknown artist and was purchased on eBay. The sculpture below is titled “Diggin’ In” and was done by Mell in 1985. The small work between the two windows is by Carlos Merida.

The breakfast area is furnished with a Saarinen Pedestal table and Eames chairs. Showcased against an adobe brick wall is a framed photograph by Hugo Brehme titled “Alfareria.” Shot in Mexico in 1925, it shows pots being fired outdoors.
The built-in storage unit is original to the house. New custom cabinetry throughout the kitchen mimics its elongated arch design. Portions of the brick wall were removed to open up the space and make it more functional. “We had just redone the kitchen in the house we were living in, so I had to promise my wife a new kitchen before she would agree to moving,” says Ed.

New flooring, lighting, countertops and backsplash brighten the reconfigured kitchen.
Art meets architecture in the entry hallway. In the foreground is “Camelback Sundown” by Ed. The flooring and lighting are new. The wood ceiling, elongated arch windows and adobe brick walls are original to the house.

Ed’s own paintings are displayed throughout his home. “Rose Marie’s Rose” (above left) was painted for his wife as an anniversary gift and hangs in her office. “Coal Mine Canyon” (above right) captures one of Arizona’s lesser-known but visually stunning natural sites.

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