Gotta Have Art: Hidden in the Hills returns to the North Valley

By Sue Kern-Fleischer

Arizona’s largest and longest-running artist studio tour, Hidden in the Hills, is returning to the North Valley Fridays November 18 and November 26, Saturdays November 19 and November 26, and Sundays November 20 and November 27.

Coordinated by the nonprofit Sonoran Arts League, this year’s free, self-guided tour features 174 artists at 47 private studios throughout the scenic Desert Foothills communities of Cave Creek, Carefree and North Scottsdale.

Showcasing nationally recognized and emerging artists, Hidden in the Hills attracts thousands of patrons who appreciate fine art and seek a variety of mediums, styles and price ranges.

Large sculpture garden features diverse works

Guests visiting Michael D’Ambrosi’s Studio No. 41 in Cave Creek will be mesmerized by his eclectic sculpture garden featuring nearly 100 diverse sculptural pieces of art that blend in beautifully with lush landscaping and desert views. Nestled on the side of Black Mountain, D’Ambrosi’s home studio has been a popular stop on the Hidden in the Hills tour for more than two decades.

Growing up in Manhattan Beach, California, D’Ambrosi spent much of his youth sand boarding, skim boarding and surfing. He credits his late oil painter-sculptor father, Jasper, with providing the springboard for his creativity.

“My father embraced life with an Italian gusto that infected nearly everyone near him,” D’Ambrosi says. “One day, he asked if I would be willing to work at the Artist and Sculptors foundry in Burbank with my brother, Marc. Working at the foundry helped me learn the craft with the goal of opening our own shop.”

In 1977, D’Ambrosi and his family opened Arizona Bronze, a fine art foundry. For the next 20 years, he absorbed all he could from fellow sculptors. He developed and honed his skills of craft from steel armatures to clay modeling to rubber molds to all phases of the lost wax process.

D’Ambrosi’s first commission was shared with Marc. With the death of their father, they were commissioned to enlarge Jasper’s Jacobs Ladder, a 20-foot memorial honoring the Merchant Marines of World War II. The powerful sculpture is on public display at Los Angeles Harbor in San Pedro. In 1989, the U.S. Air Force commissioned him to create The Falcon, now on display at Luke Air Force Base. Other notable commissions include The Guardian, a life-size Apache bronze for the Cochise-Geronimo Golf Course at Desert Mountain in North Scottsdale, and The Nomad, a life-size Native American that can be seen at Desert Mountain’s Renegade Course.

D’Ambrosi has always approached art with optimism and a sprinkle of humor. From his whimsical yet bizarrely realistic dinosaurs to his heroic-size Native American monuments, he shows a love of life and nature in his sculpture.

“I have always jumped around with subject matter and style. And other than a few commissions, I have always sculpted what I was inspired to build. One may criticize the work but never the sincerity of my efforts,” he says.

Throughout his career, he loved the drama effect of sculpting life-size and monumental pieces, but time took a toll on his hands.

“At 68, my heart is young and creative thoughts or pushing clay or wax isn’t an issue. Casting in bronze is becoming more difficult as my human parts are wearing out. But after 45 years of casting, anything tends to wear out,” he says.

While guests can watch him work in his studio, many will enjoy strolling throughout the nearly 1-acre sculpture garden.

“My brother’s and father’s bronze sculptures sit proudly amongst my work, as well as colleagues’ sculptures. We affectionately refer to our sculpture garden as a national treasure, and that’s mainly due to my wife Gloria’s landscaping and green thumb.”

D’Ambrosi is also hosting two guest artists during the studio art tour: oil painters Linda Storey-London and David Flitner.

Painter inspired by nature

An award-winning artist, Cynthia Eral cherishes her time outside exploring nature’s beauty, and each of her paintings tell a story of what she sees and experiences. Growing up in Minnesota, Eral began painting at age 9 when her parents presented her with a set of oil paints. Throughout her career, working both in the fashion industry and as an interior designer, she always found time to paint. Five years ago, after deciding to pursue her passion full time, she joined the Sonoran Arts League and began participating in the Hidden in the Hills Artist Studio Tour.

In many ways, Eral’s paintings reflect her adventurous life. An Anthem resident, she and her husband fell in love with the Western United States after taking a monthlong motorcycle trip some 25 years ago.

An avid hiker, she sometimes carries her easel deep into the desert or a forest to paint plein air. Other times, she creates original paintings of flora and fauna in her studio using a compilation of photos that she took from long road trips or exploring new terrain closer to home.

“I like to spend significant time outdoors with wildlife to get a sneak peek into their personalities through observing their mannerisms before returning to my studio. This gives me time to visualize the subject in its natural state,” she says.

She affectionately calls oil paint “an old friend,” noting that their colors have more depth to them and she’s able to layer and create more texture.

“I love how oil paints flow off the brush, especially with larger canvases. And, because they dry slowly, I can change my mind and mix colors to enhance areas if I feel the need to,” she says.

She prefers working on larger canvases because they make a bigger impact telling a story. In addition, many of her commission pieces are for larger homes.

“With my experience working in interior design, I’ve seen that the connection of art and home décor can be powerful. It creates a mood, a special place, and will even feed the soul,” she says.

During the studio tour, Eral will be a guest artist at Beverly Carlson-Bradshaw’s Hummingbird Haven Studio No. 8 in Carefree. In addition to showcasing her new work, she’ll be demonstrating both weekends of the event.

“Whenever I demonstrate, it always opens up conversations with our guests,” she says, adding that she hopes to inspire young, emerging artists.

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