Art gallery grows to fill full treehouse building

By Sue Kern-Fleischer

In the heart of Cave Creek, two large Tamarisk trees provide more than shade. They are a symbol of new beginnings, strength and resilience. So, it was only fitting that a group of eight artists open The Finer Arts Gallery in the historic “Treehouse” building adjacent to the two trees.

Pat Isaacson, a glass artist and one of the gallery’s eight co-owners, says The Finer Arts Gallery first opened in September 2021 in a 2,200-square-foot section of the building.

“Over time, we were able to expand into the full building and add to our roster of fine artists. It has been very rewarding to hear from visitors how warm, inviting and beautiful our gallery is,” Isaacson says.

Located next to Big Earl’s Greasy Eats, The Finer Arts Gallery has grown to become one of the North Valley’s largest art galleries. The expanded 4,000-square-foot gallery space provides ample room to showcase the diverse works of 50 Arizona artists.

Visitors to The Finer Arts Gallery will find diverse paintings, drawings, sculpture, mixed media, photography, glass, wood, fiber, ceramics, jewelry and other original work. The gallery features all genres of art, from Western to contemporary and even some AI- and steampunk-inspired art.

Landscape painter Linda Lindus, also a gallery co-owner, explains that The Finer Arts Gallery has a unique business model.

“We focus exclusively on local Arizona professional artists, all of whom we jury prior to offering a space in the gallery. Additionally, we want to ensure that the gallery captures the charm of the area by including work that is diverse in both subject and medium. It is reflective of this eclectic area,” Lindus says.

Colorful, whimsical ceramic animals

Longtime arts advocate Robin Ray is a third-generation artist who recently retired from teaching visual art for 25 years at Cactus Shadows High School. While education has been a rewarding part of her career, she has always been a producing artist and she is prolific in the making of art.

“It makes me whole,” Ray says. “It is in my nature to create artwork using a variety of media. Sometimes a painting inspires me to create a sculpture, and sometimes a sculpture inspires me to create a painting.”

Ray exhibits colorful, whimsical ceramic horses and other animals at The Finer Arts Gallery. But the talented artist considers herself a painter first.

“Basically, I am a painter with a masters in ceramics. My ceramic work explores functional and nonfunctional forms, usually with an animal theme that incorporates a painted surface,” she says.

A native of Fargo, North Dakota, Ray grew up in an artistic family that encouraged her to explore her creativity. She credits her mother and grandparents with fueling her passion for creating art.

“My grandparents and my mother were professionally trained interior designers. My grandfather was also an inventor, and he was always creating something,” she recalls. “When it was time to go to college, my father brought me to Montana State University in Bozeman, where he introduced me to Frances Senska, a famous potter who also had a big influence on my art.”

While Ray obtained her fine arts education at Montana State University, she earned her teaching degree from Arizona State University. She spent several years teaching in Montana, where she also owned an art gallery. By 1983, Ray was a single mother seeking a fresh start. She and her young son moved to Arizona, where they settled in Cave Creek.

“My home of 30 years provides a lot of studio space for my artistic rambling,” she says. “I feel very blessed that we landed in such a wonderful community that supports the arts.”

Whether she’s painting in her favorite medium, watercolor, or creating a raku-fired ceramic sculpture, Ray loves universal themes that have nature and animals as the subject matter.

“Simple forms, vibrant color and texture animate my whimsical style,” she says, adding that she is extremely fond of color. “I like the way colors come forward. I use colors to delineate space, set a harmonious tone, or add more energy to a piece. I choose colors based on the message of the art.”

Ray also began painting murals some 20 years ago and estimates that she has painted more than 200 murals that have brightened up people’s gardens, homes and businesses.

The West comes alive

When people view Dick Mueller’s work at The Finer Arts Gallery, they often comment on how his drawings look photographic. An award-winning artist and Cave Creek resident, Mueller works with graphite and colored pencil, capturing the spirit of the Old West and modern-day Western lifestyle experiences. He also draws portraits of people, wildlife and landscapes.

Growing up pre-TV, Mueller listened to old radio programs about the West and its people.

“Programs like ‘The American Trail,’ ‘Gunsmoke,’ Roy Rogers, Hopalong Cassidy and others stirred my imagination,” Mueller says, adding that he would often draw scenes from the Old West after listening to the programs. “Drawing came naturally, especially because my mother would often draw.”

Mueller attended the Minneapolis School of Art (now the Minneapolis College of Art & Design), and after getting married, he moved to St. Louis to work as a technical illustrator for McDonnell Douglas. He left McDonnell when they lost the space shuttle contract, and he began working in the electrical field.

“I was seeking a creative outlet, and in my spare time I painted for about 10 years, before switching to graphite and colored pencil,” he says.

A history buff, Mueller researches his topics before starting to draw. “I work from old photos and read a lot of books. It’s important that everything is accurate for the period that I am drawing,” he says.

He prefers graphite and colored pencil because it allows him to get very detailed.

“Pencils never dry out, and I use them down to two inches or less,” he says, adding that he often has a dozen or more pencils to choose from when he is working.

Mueller prefers drawing on illustration board, since paper is too easily damaged. He frames each drawing in barnwood frames that he makes himself.

“All of my drawings are behind glass and hard to damage, plus art glass stops my drawings from fading,” he says.

Mueller says he doesn’t have to go far to find inspiration for his work.

“We live on a hill just north of town that is on the edge of protected land,” he says. “My studio overlooks Grapevine Wash, so we are often visited by abundant wildlife, such as mule deer; coyotes; javelina; quail; bobcats; jack rabbits; and lots of birds, rodents and reptiles.”

Living in a Western town is also a benefit. In March, he photographed horses in the Cave Creek Rodeo parade and plans to draw them soon.

Mueller’s studio is set up with several lights to help him concentrate on his work.

“I prefer to work on one drawing at a time, but sometimes I will step away from one drawing to work on another drawing, especially if I’m doing trains. I need to get away from all of that detail every once in a while,” he says.

Mueller’s drawings at The Finer Arts Gallery depict a variety of portraits, wildlife, trains and other Western scenes.

“There is no limit on what I can or have drawn. I try to keep a variety in the gallery,” he says.

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