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Mining past is always present in Bisbee, Ariz., and an arts scene

Arizona and New Mexico share more than just a border.

They each have a long history of mining that sustained their economies during territorial times and early during their statehood.

life00_jd_16apr_bisbee_mapFew places pay tribute to that mining tradition better than the southeastern Arizona town of Bisbee, which is almost akin to a living museum, said Carrie Gustavson, director Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum (bisbeemuseum.org).

“You can walk out the door of the museum and see the incredible respective historical landscape in front of you,” she said. “And you can see how it came to be. It’s a town that is eclectic,” Gustavson said. “It’s incredible, and it has a thriving arts scene. There’s the creative energy of the art in a cool-looking town.”

The town of Bisbee, one of the largest communities between St. Louis and the West Coast, was once known as the queen of the copper camps. (SOURCE: The Bisbee Mining And Historical Museum)

The town of Bisbee, one of the largest communities between St. Louis and the West Coast, was once known as the queen of the copper camps. (SOURCE: The Bisbee Mining And Historical Museum)

It was in Bisbee that the enormous, open-pit Copper Queen Mine was scraped level by level from the earth, leaving a gaping wound that is incredible to behold because of its sheer immensity.

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At the Mining & Historical Museum, the history of mining of the area brings the era to life.

“What’s really cool is it talks about the first 40 years of history when it grew from a little mining camp to an urban city,” Gustavson said. “When you look at the history of Bisbee, it used to have all of the city characteristics except size. Then you come to realize how important it was in the early 20th century.”

The Copper Queen Mine is a vast hole in the earth. (SOURCE: The Bisbee Mining And Historical Museum)

The Copper Queen Mine is a vast hole in the earth. (SOURCE: The Bisbee Mining And Historical Museum)

The museum pays homage to the area’s mineral heritage through its “Digging In” exhibition, created through a partnership with the Smithsonian Institution.

“It talks about copper mining from a unique Bisbee point of view,” she said. “It weaves stories of miners and their work environment, why we dig for copper and consumer demands. It’s the story of ore, which I think is a really interesting one because ore is buried rock and you have to be able to extract it with a profit.”

The area produced far more than copper, however, and folks can even try their luck at a bit of mining of their own, Gustavson said.

The red-brick Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum is a vast source of the area's mining history.

The red-brick Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum is a vast source of the area’s mining history.

In an event billed as the “Hunt for Turquoise,” once a year folks can tromp around the historic No. 7 Mine Stockpile looking for pieces of Bisbee Turquoise.

“It’s one of our funky fundraisers,” Gustavson said of the event, to be held this year on April 28 and April 29. “People pay us money to go up on a mine dump and break rocks. This is a gift to the museum. They partner with us and go up onto old No. 7 and they can break rock to look for turquoise.”

The town also is home to the Warren Ballpark, a baseball field that served as the professional home for the Bisbee Bees, playing in a league that also included teams from Albuquerque, Phoenix, Tucson and El Paso. Annual events there feature players donning old-timers’ uniforms for fun and frivolity.

Copper was just one of the many minerals that abounded in the region Turquoise was abundant, and folks can still seek the distinctive rock.

Copper was just one of the many minerals that abounded in the region Turquoise was abundant, and folks can still seek the distinctive rock.

And when it comes to fun, simply strolling down the streets of the town, gazing up at the thousands of steeply cast concrete steps is a wonder that can rival many of the works of art present in the many galleries and shops strung out along the arts district. Choices range from the 55 Main Gallery (facebook.com/55-Main-Gallery-146441015447356/) with fiber and metal art, jewelry and pottery to the Panterra Gallery (panterragallery.com), which focuses on fine art photography to the Tang Gallery (minatangkan.com), which offers a variety of signed, original, one-of-a-kind contemporary works with a revolving display.

For anyone who appreciates the arts, the Bisbee Craft School is a great place to learn some new tricks or hone some old skills. Local artists and craftsmen impart their knowledge in adult workshops in areas such as drawing, metalworking and jewelry.

A final recognition to the town’s metallurgic past is the Great Depression-era statue “Copper Miner,” by local artist R. Phillips Sanderson, who was paid $30 a month by the Federal Emergency Relief Administration during the six months it took to create the artwork. Cast in concrete and metallized with a thin coating of copper, Sanderson’s statue captured the “beauty, toil and simplicity” of the town’s workers.

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