Windows to the West Celebrates 50 Years
“My total conscious search in life has been for a new seeing, a new image, a new insight. This search not only includes the object, but the in-between place.” — Louise Nevelson, written for the exhibition Nature and Abstraction, held at the Whitney Museum of Art in 1958.
It was 50 years ago today that Scottsdale Mayor Bud Tims and the City Council, along with the city’s Fine Arts Commission, cordially invited residents of Scottsdale and neighboring communities to “ceremonies appropriate to the revelation of a monumental sculpture by Louise Nevelson with music and dances composed for the occasion,” according to the formal invitation. The sculpture was the first to be commissioned by the city and the beginning of what has become the Scottsdale Public Art Permanent Collection, with more than 150 large-scale artworks now entrusted to our care. Officially titled Atmosphere and Environments XIII, since its unveiling, the beloved sculpture has become better known as Windows to the West.
At the time of its dedication in 1973, Nevelson was a 74-year-old, Jewish, Ukrainian American woman. She did not fit the demographics of most nationally prominent sculptors of the time. Yet she was counted among them. Early literature about Windows to the West refers to Nevelson as being “one of America’s greatest living sculptors.”
The program for the sculpture’s dedication includes the prologue to a 1972 biography on Nevelson, where the artist herself wrote about how her work found power in femininity: “I feel that my works are definitely feminine. There is something about the feminine mentality that can rise to heaven. … There are preconceived ideas about the woman and weakness that are ridiculous. All ages could have had physical strength and mental creativity and still have been feminine.”
Now, 50 years later, Scottsdale Arts is proud to continue the tradition of commissioning work by women artists to beautify our city. Six of the last eight artworks added to the Permanent Collection were created by women artists, and the other two were developed by artist teams that included women. We imagine Nevelson, who died in 1988, would have admired the strength and creativity these artists have brought to the works that beautify our city.
These projects include:
- The Desert’s Garden by Tammi Lynch-Forrest
- Cholla Reflections and Cholla Canal Water Resources Mural by various artists, including Kyllan Maney and Jessica Arnold
- Mesquite Bosque by Mary Shindell
- Pinball Wizard by Annette Coleman
- Sunburst by RE:site (including artist Shane Allbritton)
- Rug Runner and Wallpaper Tapestry by Christine Lee
- Traceries by Mary Bates Neubauer
- Birdie Umwelt by Mary Lucking
Nevelson moved with her family from Kyiv to the United States when she was only 5 years old, and she was raised in Rockland, Maine. “I knew I was a creative person from the first minute I opened my eyes,” the artist wrote in her biography prologue. “I knew it, and they treated me like an artist all of my early life.” She went on to study painting and drawing at the Art Students League in New York, but her interests extended to modern dance, voice, theatre, comparative religions, and philosophy. As a young woman, Nevelson studied with Hans Hofmann in Munich. Later, she assisted Diego Rivera in New York City as he painted the murals at Rockefeller Center. Eventually, she was the famous artist and ranked among other top sculptors like Alexander Calder and David Smith.
“No obstacle was great enough to keep me from my art,” Nevelson wrote in the prologue. “I went to school, and yet one only benefits from notes here and there. Creativity shaped my life. Now, for example, a white lace curtain on the window was for me as important as a great work of art. This gossamer quality, the reflection, the form, the movement, I learned more about art from that than in school.”
The program for the dedication described Nevelson as a “world-famous unknown,” attributing her fame to the art collector side of things while she remained less known to the general public. “She easily ranks among the top dozen world leaders in her field — no small achievement in a field where prejudice against women is rampant.”
When Nevelson visited Scottsdale to select a site for her sculpture, she was described as smoking a small cigar and wearing an ankle-length chinchilla coat, a babushka, and “false eyelashes that matched the monumental size of her sculpture.”
“She captivated everyone she met, spreading charm as if it were nectar and she had a 99-year lease on Olympus,” reads the program.
On this day, 50 years ago, the festivities for Windows to the West were titled the Nevelson Sculpture Festival. It was described as “A Gala Event” for “a major landmark for all of Scottsdale.”
Festivities began at 1 p.m. with a special exhibition honoring the artist in the Civic Center Gallery, which was then housed in the Scottsdale Public Library. The exhibition included Nevelson’s recent work in graphics and collage, loans from private and public collections in sculpture, photographs, and models of works located around the world. In addition to Nevelson’s own work, the exhibition was also the premier of drawings and renderings for the new Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts by architect Bennie M. Gonzales. The center would be completed two years later.
The second portion of the Nevelson Sculpture Festival began at 2 p.m. in the amphitheater, near the sculpture itself, which was obscured by helium-filled balloons. The festivities here began with promenade music played by the Scottsdale Community Band, directed by Eugene Hanson. Next was Aaron Copland’s Outdoor Overture, performed by Scottsdale Community Orchestra and directed by Gene Shroyer. Then a western ensemble, including George Lautz, Ted Haff, Bob Love, and Brick Herndon played The Country Score. This all built up to Special Desert Dance Suite, original music composed for the occasion by Michael Stevens Hanson and performed by both the community band and the orchestra. And finally, fine arts students from Scottsdale and Coronado High Schools and Scottsdale Community College interpreted a stylized western dance ensemble, choreographed by Janie Ellis Jones and costumed by Rachel Ellis.
The big moment came in the third part of the program with an “ascension of color” to reveal the sculpture. Nevelson and other distinguished guests were presented by Mayor Tims. And the community was then invited to meet Nevelson, guests, and the performers.
Made of cor-ten steel and standing 15 feet high, Windows to the West was made possible by private gifts from major donors and matching funds from the National Endowment for the Arts. The committee chosen to pick the artist for the commission included the late artist Dorothy Fratt, who will be the subject of a major exhibition at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art in 2024 and in conjunction with SMoCA’s 25th anniversary.
It was initially installed in the middle of a lagoon in an amphitheater between Scottsdale City Hall and Scottsdale Civic Center Library, the current location of the new East Bowl amphitheater. Eventually, the sculpture was moved out of the lagoon to a location just north of the water, where it remained until the recent renovations to Scottsdale Civic Center began in 2021, when it was moved into temporary storage.
When the western section of the Civic Center reopened in January of this year, Windows to the West was placed in a new location northwest of the Civic Center’s West Bowl amphitheater, north of Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts. Facing the West Paseo, a narrow passage between the shops of Old Town Scottsdale and the open expanse of Scottsdale Civic Center, Windows to the West is finally in a location that better fits its name.
Of the design for Windows to the West, Nevelson said: “We look through the inside mass to see a multitude of paintings and photographs. The mountains, the trees, and the skies of Arizona.”
In the program for the dedication, there is a note of appreciation. It reads:
“The acquisition of a monumental sculpture, created by Louise Nevelson, as a prelude to the new Scottsdale Center for the Arts, was not a natural occurrence. It came about because of the persistence, vision, persuasion, political courage and an innate will on the part of hundreds — thousands — of residents who wanted to develop an exceptional community in which to live and rear their families.
“Their aims far exceed their grasp, but these two achievements have been grasped; they are being realized. They are clear indications of a community future that can be anticipated as merely remarkable. In the words of one poetic visitor: ‘When a rose unfolds it requires all the forces of nature to achieve this simple and magnificent destiny.
“Of those who have been among the ‘forces of nature’, a few must be named who were patron donors to the Nevelson Sculpture:
Mr. and Mrs. Walter R. Bimson Mr. and Mrs. Norman Levitt
Mr. and Mrs. Fred Bohen Mrs. Burke Patterson
Fiesta de los Autos Elegantes Mr. and Mrs. John C. Pritzlaff
The Hankins Foundation Scottsdale Art Collection Committee
Mrs. G. Robert Herberger Scottsdale Fine Arts Commission
Donald T. Knutson Mr. and Mrs. William Stobie Woodward
A matching grant to the funds raised by the Fine Arts Commission was supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in Washington, D.C., a Federal agency created by Act of Congress in 1965.
Fast forward nearly 50 years to Oct. 26, 2023. Though not quite a full half-century since the premiere of Windows to the West, a group of public art lovers gathered at the sculpture’s new location at the northwest corner of Scottsdale Civic Center to celebrate the coming anniversary. Much like that first celebration, there were speeches, dancing, and music.
Those delivering remarks included Kati Ballares, director of Scottsdale Public Art; Christine Kovach, chair of the Scottsdale Public Art Board; Dr. Gerd Wuestemann, president and CEO of Scottsdale Arts; and Mayor David D. Ortega. The Movement Source Dance Company performed in front of Windows to the West before the group walked across Scottsdale Civic Center for the dedication of the newest artwork in the collection, The Desert’s Garden by Tammi Lynch-Forrest, along with music from Bad Cactus Brass Band.