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Dont trust people with neat yards…

the side yard at the House of Joy Bordello Boutique

This morning as I was musing about what inspires me, my thoughts turned (once again) to Jerome, AZ. Obviously, I love that town — it has such spectacular vistas, interesting buildings, colorful history and quirky galleries. When I visited last February, I was very drawn to one place in particular, the House of Joy. The owners have created a whimsical assemblage of curiosities and “junque” along the balconies, patio and yard (not to mention the amazing collection of vintage goodies that they have in their gallery! Words fail, just go). It is beautiful and bizarre, and a perfect example of the kind of found art that I envision in and around that dream house that I keep yammering about.

front patio at the House of Joy in Jerome AZ

When we passed back through in November, I had to show this place to Robb. As we giggled and wondered about the various piles of “trash” and treasure, an older gentleman emerged from the house. R took that opportunity to ask the man about his yard. His reply was so awesome that I had to write it down. I wasn’t able to do so straight away, so I’ll give you the disclaimer that this is paraphrased (and Mr. Dempsey, if you ever read this, I hope you will forgive me if I’ve bungled your words) hopefully I managed to capture the essence:

meeting this man was one of the highlights of our trip

“I don’t trust people who keep neat yards. You’ve gotta have some individuality. People live in these places where they want to tell you how tall your house can be and what colors you’re supposed to paint it, and it makes them small. When you live in a place where everything looks the same, everyone starts to think the same too. Soon, you just stop living cause you’re so busy worrying about who has a bigger car or a better house.”

He talked at length about the value of individuality, and also about the importance of knowing your heritage. He is proud to be of Mexican descent, which is one of the reasons that he has an ornate shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe on his front balcony. He gave us a wry smile and told us that he wanted “to be sure to remind everyone who was here first”.

Lady Guadalupe presides over the balcony

We chatted with Mr. Dempsey for some time while he gave us an impromptu tour of the town. I was honored when he went back to his yard and brought me out a handful of crystals and iron slag from the old mine. I used them to build a tiny shrine on my desk, to remind me that one day, I’ll have crazy art gardens too 🙂

He’s an excellent storyteller and a pretty deep guy; we felt very fortunate to have bumped into him.  So when I thought about an inspirational subject to write about today, I remembered this fabulous yard and its owner. What a character — I can only hope to be that cool when I grow up!

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Day Trip and Daydreams of Jerome AZ

“House of Joy” Bordello Boutique

I recently took a road trip through Arizona. One of my favorite stops (besides the Bead Museum) was the town of Jerome. It’s an old mining town, build along the cliffs overlooking Sedona and the Verde Valley. The town has a colorful history. In its heyday it was a bustling mining town, and a hotbed for drinking, gambling, gun fights and brothels (that’s the “Reader’s Digest” version — you can read more here and here ;).

balcony at the House of Joy

Around the time of the Great Depression, the mine was nearly tapped out and ore prices dropped dramatically, so people began leaving in great numbers — in the 1920’s, the town’s population dropped to a whopping 50 people. In 1952 the mine officially closed down, leaving Jerome a ghost town.

Connor Hotel

It was rediscovered in the late 60’s by a group of “counterculture artists” (hippie freaks?) who moved in and began to restore the old buildings. They revitalized the town, and over the years it became a haven for artists, writers and musicians. These days it’s a little touristy, but not obnoxiously so. The quirky town is filled with great galleries filled with original art and craft. It’s a beautiful place with a funky, colorful vibe — an old west gambling town turned artists’ haven.

We only spent a few hours there this time, but that was more than enough time for me to fall in love with the place.  I moved away from Arizona over 15 years ago, and despite the fact that I still have family there, I’ve never really wanted to move back. This visit to Jerome made me re-think that. I doubt I’ll be moving back to the southwest any time soon, but if I did, this is where I’d want to be. I’d love to open a quirky gallery/bead shop in one of the funky old (haunted?) buildings, and enjoy the panoramic view of the sunset over the Verde Valley every day.