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Every issue, landscape designer Darbi Davis digs deep to bring you stories for your outdoor space. This issue, two young men mix art, rebellion and preservation in a gardening cooperative in south Tucson. Plus: scroll down for cool product picks from Boxhill. (Editor's note: we recommend you read Darbi's piece while listening to this song by  Keith Cross.)

Darbi Davis. Photo by Jen Long Photography

Darbi Davis. Photo by Jen Long Photography

It’s a mild April morning in the south-side neighborhood of Barrio Centro. This urban backyard is perfectly appointed with bagels and coffee, three goats, a dog, windows covered with anti-SB 2281 signs, and a crop of over-wintered tomato plants ripe with the season’s first pick.

Chairs, tagged – as in the signature of a graffiti artist – surround an old grapefruit tree. Up against the tree is a white erase board with the morning’s agenda and the day’s activities.

Today, students from Prescott College’s Social Justice Education class fill each seat around the tree while the neighborhood’s youth – in the form of seasoned young men and women - speak about Barrio life through gardening, and their multi-faceted cooperative known as Flowers & Bullets.


The Flowers & Bullets collective shares its expertise. Photo by Darbi Davis

Founders Tito Romero and Jacob Robles highlight the history and inspiration of the cooperative while Dora Martinez elaborates on the organizations that helped them (and hindered them) over the last few years. Ramon and Brandon, two more members of the cooperative, are quick to tell stories reflecting the rich history of life in Barrio Centro, as well as show off their own garden plots via smart phone.

The day’s tasks include: goat stand construction, compost, and weeds. Each student is randomly handed a name tag containing a tiny vegetable drawing in the corner that indicates the task to be tackled, and the group breaks out to work.

Struggle, resistance, empowerment and preservation all unfold in this gardening cooperative. Flowers are the art, say its founders. Bullets are the struggle.

Onions Gentrification of their neighborhood – the very neighborhood they grew up and still live in – was the primary catalyst for Tito and Jacob when they started their project. “The city split our neighborhood in half through neighborhood associations [groups of homeowners or business owners living within a specified boundary that advocate for improvements to the area]. As young people who grew up in Barrio Centro we've known the boundaries as 22nd Street to the north, Tucson Boulevard to the west, and Alvernon to the east. As a result, the [division] has given power to folks who have little ties to the younger generations or the much, much older generations of families who have lived in the neighborhood for years,” explained Tito.

After the split Tito and Jacob, residents of the eastern division, attempted to work with the Barrio Centro Association, which manages the western divide - Country Club to Tucson Blvd. But they were greeted with opposition and removed from the association’s email list. But Dora, an employee with the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona and a member of Flowers & Bullets, remained on the list because of her food bank email affiliation. It was later revealed by the Barrio Centro Association president that anyone associated with Flowers & Bullets was removed because they were thought to be gang affiliated.

While the group is not gang affiliated, the simple definition of the word somewhat describes how they operate. “We meet collectively and organize projects within a specific neighborhood,” says Dora. But their organized activities are the antithesis of deviance and a model of creative kindness and compassion.

photo by

Flowers & Bullets installed eight gardens in two months. Photo by Darbi Davis

Tito and Jacob graduated from the now banned Mexican American Studies program - a culturally relevant curriculum offered to any student within Tucson Unified School District, and a program they credit for encouraging them to better their communities and inspire the desire to share personal stories of culture and history with others.

Tito, photo by Darbi Davis

Tito, one of the founders. Photo by Darbi Davis

They credit the Hip-Hop movement for providing them with an artistic outlet to express their message. Flowers & Bullets is based on a combination of principles gleaned from both. “Hip-hop helps us stay grounded and reminds us of where we came from. It helps us relate to the people we want to serve and it's a powerful tool for young people to deliver a message,” says Tito.

Members of Flowers & Bullets also participate in programs offered by local environmental justice organizations, such as Tierra y Libertad, Green for All, and the Community Food Bank. Tito and Jacob volunteered or interned with many of these organizations and say: "Many of the experiences gave us the knowledge and confidence to do it for ourselves in our neighborhood.” Dora brings a wealth of information to the table - in addition to her work at the Food Bank - having spent several months interning at Sleeping Frog Farms.

As a gardening cooperative, Flowers & Bullets installed eight gardens in two months for residents within the modified boundaries of Barrio Centro – that’s one garden a week. They have a wait list of five additional families ready to participate in a community conversation that includes seed trading, plant starting, and storytelling – all for free and for the sake of their Barrios and their people. The volunteers have accomplished all of this while holding as many as three jobs each - equating to full time work or more.

Soilweb, photo by Darbi Davis

Photo by Darbi Davis

Currently, the cooperative teaches classes on the basic concepts of gardening such as plant care, composting, and the ins and outs of microbial rich soil. The educational component instills confidence in new gardeners leading to a plentiful bounty of homegrown food. In fact, they are often asked to teach outside of their target demographic, which brings us back to that mild April morning around the wise old grapefruit tree in Tito’s backyard.

photo by Darbi Davis

Seed trading, plant starting, story telling: Flowers & Bullets' work is literally from the ground up. Photo by Darbi Davis

“The students from Prescott were interested in putting in some work and learning what we were about. Although it isn't the demographic we serve, nor people from the neighborhood, it was really great to see the high school push-outs and the university drop-outs teaching college students how to get dirty,” says Tito.

Next month: We take a look at how Flowers & Bullets got the gardening buzz, meet the goats, and hear a bit of gardening history from the elders of the neighborhood.

* Tucson documentary filmmaker Ricardo Bracamonte, who joins 3 Story as our resident videographer, is following the Flowers & Bullets story. Below he shares a preview of a documentary on the cooperative, due out next summer. Music by Gazzze, a three-piece indie band from Tucson, AZ. For a link to their downloadable EP click here.

Darbi's Plant of the Month: Olneya Tesota or Ironwood Tree

ironwood treecropped

A flowering Ironwood tree. Photo by Darbi Davis

Native to the Sonoran Desert and currently in bloom around town, it's gray in color with pink/purple flowers followed by bean-like seed pods.  It's a slow grower and a bit pokey, but wow is it gorgeous.  See how it contrasts with other natives in the photograph.


What's HOT for your desert yard

Boxhill brings us its product picks each month. This issue: some sleek Mexicana style for the summer.



  1. RECTANGLE PLANTER- These little beauties are made for outside, and there's no worrying about breakables. They come in six different patterns and plates to match.
  2. ITALIAN TERRA COTTA HARTFORD POT-  Nothing beats the real thing. These handmade pieces are timeless and can go in any landscape  or design easily.
  3. NACHO LIBRE PILLOW-  Just because no design is complete without one of these guys to add to your favorite outdoor sofa.
  4. RETRO BULLET PLANTER- Not everyone has time to scout for the original “bullet planter”. These come in 12 different colors and three different sizes. Choose from black, white or stainless bottom.
  5. VIBRANT CHAIR-  These are cool and comfortable, and there are 10 different colors and three base colors to choose from.
  6. BONFIRE-  This firepit doesn’t need to be on fire to look super awesome. It's a fire by night and a sculpture by day.



"It's glorious feeling comfortable in my skin"

In a Mother's Day exclusive, Jade Beall, creator of A Beautiful Body Project, writes a letter to her pre-mommy body. Cover photo by Jade Beall.

From "The Bodies Of Mothers", photo by JADE BEALL PHOTOGRAPHY

From The Bodies Of Mothers, photo by Jade Beall Photography

Jade, a Tucson-based photographer, started her own body-positive movement after taking self-portraits of herself after childbirth. She had gained 50 pounds and struggled to lose the weight. She put the photographs of herself on her website and the result was immediate: an influx of inquiries from other mothers asking for their own authentic portraits of their bodies post-birth.

Jade Beall and baby, photo by Jade Beall

Jade Beall and baby. Photo by Jade Beall

Today Jade, who admits to having struggled with her weight her entire life, says it feels "glorious" to be comfortable in her skin. This month, Jade's portraits - no airbrushing, no photo-shopping - are published in her book, The Bodies of Mothers. In celebration of Mother's Day, we asked Jade to write herself a letter to her pre-mommy self. "[The letter] came out quickly and easily," says Jade. "And after I finished it I felt at peace."

"My Dearest Body Before Babies, I want to tell you that I wish I could visit you -  you, the girl with a flat tummy and rested eyes. I wish I could caress that tummy and those legs and admire those arms, my arms, the arms that you don't even notice while you imprison yourself to the scale in your bedroom closet.

I want to hold you and tell you how precious you are and ask you to relish yourself because you will never look or feel exactly like this ever again and you should be out celebrating and allowing yourself to feel worthy, just as you are. And instead you sit here comparing yourself to ideas that are not yours, ideas of what you should look like to be worthy of success and greatness.

From "The Bodies Of Mothers", photo by JADE BEALL PHOTOGRAPHY

From The Bodies Of Mothers. Photo by Jade Beall Photography

I also want to tell you that after you give birth to your beyond precious boy, forget about your hollow tummy and your wide hips and let the dog hair pile up on the concrete floor. Lay in bed with your little baby and when he sleeps take a bath and marvel at your incredibleness.

From "The Bodies Of Mothers", photo by JADE BEALL PHOTOGRAPHY

From The Bodies Of Mothers. Photo by Jade Beall Photography

You are the biggest you have ever been, yes, it is true in so many regards: your heart has grown, your love has grown, your belief in magic has grown, your body has grown. Take all that space you deserve and dance in it. Don’t stare at yourself in the mirror with a frown, but instead check yourself out as if you were the most gorgeous being you have ever seen. Flirt with yourself. Praise yourself. And then go snuggle with that perfect baby before he turns two and pushes you away.

Oh sweet post-birth body, I want to tell you how sweet it is allowing our self to take all the space we need! I have to say it’s quite liberating no longer owning a scale to hide in my closet and comparing myself to my sisters. Now I love my sisters, all of them, and see myself in them.

It’s glorious feeling worthy and comfortable in my skin right now, not tomorrow, but in this very second. I look forward for you to discover just how beautiful this world is, when we love ourselves completely and when we feel beautiful as a collective.

And how wonderful it is to know that when I am 50, I will not have to write this letter to my 34-year-old younger self because I will know then that I was loving me that way I deserve to be loved right then."



* Jade Beall runs Jade Beall Photography and her dance studio, The Movement Shala, in Tucson. She is also co-owner of clothing company Fed by Threads.

All the young dudes

If  Tucson is getting a name for its craft cocktails, it's largely due to the talent of these guys - a group of bartenders that is tribal, close-knit and supportive. Gabby Ferreira and Kaleigh Shufeldt spent time behind bars. Plus: an exclusive look at Tucson's newest bar,  Sidecar, opening this month. Cover photo courtesy of Zocalo Magazine


Bryan Eichhorst works his magic at Penca. Photo by Gabby Ferreira

Agustin cocktail. Photo by Ryan Clark

Just west of the downtown area, tucked inside the courtyard in a whitewashed, Spanish-style building, is Agustin Kitchen. It’s late afternoon and the restaurant and bar – a critics’ darling since chef Ryan Clark took over - is all but empty. Bartenders chop fruits and vegetables, even a ginger root, in preparation for the busy night ahead.

Courtyard perspective of Agustin Brasserie, photo by Ryan Clark

Courtyard perspective of Agustin Kitchen. Photo by Ryan Clark

Two men in particular move in concert. Ciaran Wiese and Garrett Steffgen have known each other since their high school days in Tucson. In fact, Garrett helped Ciaran get the job at Agustin after Ciaran moved back here from Portland last year.

“It's a chill sibling rivalry. It's definitely not cutthroat,” says Garrett. It’s far from cutthroat, in fact. These young bartenders who, collectively, are making Tucson a go-to place for craft cocktails, are a close-knit and supportive group. There’s healthy competition among these twenty- and early thirtysomethings, but also camaraderie. Not only do these guys know each other, they drink together, visit each other’s bars, and share recipes. This is more than just a scene, it’s a family.

The family

Tucson High School may not have bartending among its elective classes or internships, but it has produced a number of Tucson’s best. Ciaran, Garrett, and Alex Arnold met there, although they were in different years. "Garrett taught me a lot of what I know," says Alex, enjoying a sandwich after his bartending shift at Wilko. Garrett worked at Wilko before Agustin Kitchen, and helped Alex land his job at Wilko. After traveling and working in New York, Mexico, and Guatemala, Alex "wound up back here," and doesn't plan on leaving Tucson anytime soon.


Ciaran Wiese, left, and Garrett Steffgen of Agustin Kitchen. Photo by Gabby Ferreira

Ciaran has been hitting the cocktail headlines for years, particularly during his time behind the bar at Scott & Co, a tucked-away place on Scott Street in Tucson’s downtown area. The New York Times, CNN and Food and Wine are among those that have featured Ciaran,

Cocktail from Scott & Co

Cocktail from Scott & Co

who has been tipped as one of the nation’s top ten mixologists to watch. Ciaran got his start in New York. After some time here at Scott & Co, he left for for Portland, Oregon (and this city’s cocktail lovers mourned). But it didn't last long; he  returned to Tucson because he wanted to bring "this kind of bartending" to his hometown. Ciaran is buying a house here, and is making plans to open a bar of his own here downtown. "Tucson's my hometown, Tucson's my place," he says.

Alex Arnold of Wilco Photo by Gabby

Alex Arnold of Wilko Photo by Gabby Ferreira

Among the people Ciaran has mentored in Tucson is Bryan Eichhorst, the mixologist at Penca. The two used to work together at Scott & Co, where Bryan first learned how  to refine his craft. Bryan laughs as he tells of the worst drink he ever made. After he knew how to make everything on the menu, Ciaran gave him one hour to go back to the kitchen and come up with an original drink. "For some reason, I thought potato syrup was a good idea," says Bryan, at 23 the self-described baby of the group. According to him, his concoction looked and tasted like gravy. While it was not his finest moment, he says that Ciaran still offered encouragement. "He said, ‘Well, you made something on your own’," says Bryan.

Aaron DeFeo, mixologist at PY Steakhouse at Casino del Sol

Aaron DeFeo, mixologist at PY Steakhouse at Casino del Sol

"Everyone's like a big family," says David Clark, the vice president of the local chapter of the United States Bartenders Guild and mixologist at Hotel Congress. David has been at Congress for nine years; he also plays saxophone in a local band. The bartending scene is similar to the music scene, says David - full of healthy competition. David is another bartender grad of Tucson High. It was there he first met Aaron DeFeo, president of the USBG's local chapter and mixologist at PY Steakhouse at Casino del Sol. Aaron used to be the bar manager at Hotel Congress before leaving for the casino; he was poached by mixologist Tony Abou-Gamin, who helped open the cocktail program at the Bellagio in Las Vegas.

But while almost 15 miles separate Aaron from his downtown Tucson peers, he still lives in central Tucson. "Downtown has a special place in my heart," he says.

Just down the street from Hotel Congress, Erik Evans bartends at Scott & Co. Erik grew up in Tucson and started his bartending career at Bob Dobb’s bar on Sixth Street, where he learned the craft on the job. After Ciaran left for his year in Portland, Erik applied for the job at Scott & Co.

Why do they all love bartending so much? Silly question, really. Says Erik: "You basically get to throw a party every single night.”

The craft

Agustin Brasserie Photo by Gabby Fierra

Agustin Kitchen. Photo by Gabby Ferreira

David Clark at Hotel Congress loves it when his customers say, "Make me something." Like many bartenders, he loves to get to know and be tested by his customers. "I enjoy making things based on what people like," he says.

"Every subset of customers have different preferences," says Aaron DeFeo, adding that his worst mistake is not correctly reading the crowd. "We know the drink is good, but at the end of the day it's always about the customer." His biggest challenge: creating a product that appeals universally.

The term 'craft cocktail' was coined to describe drinks with homemade ingredients and high-end liquor. Juices are freshly squeezed, fresh fruits and herbs are abundant, and bottled juices are frowned upon.

Alex  says that he and Garrett have a tradition of mixing cocktails out of "whatever is in the house" at the end of the night. "We just make up the most ridiculous cocktails that you can imagine." He adds: "It's not about always doing the weirdest, most interesting thing, it's about making the customer happy. You can make the most interesting, creative cocktails in the world.” But sometimes only a fellow bartender will appreciate the artistry behind it.

Augustin's secret ingredients Photo by Gabby Ferreira

Agustin's secret ingredients. Photo by Gabby Ferreira

Bryan Eichhorst describes his chosen career as a mix of "drinking culture and nerd culture." The lads spend all day talking about drinks and working with drinks, and they learn everything there is to know about them - just like any other nerd. The cocktails they make aren't as simple as a gin and tonic; they involve a variety of nuanced flavors, and Tucsonans are said to lap it up – willing to try new tastes and combos.

Interestingly enough, Ciaran was in New York for culinary school when he got into bartending and mixology. Ciaran says he likes creating new recipes but wanted to interact with guests. Bartending was the perfect mix. While Ciaran is a self-described foodie, not all of the bartenders are. They all say, however, that making a good cocktail is a lot like cooking; you have to balance everything.

Photo by

Cocktails at 47 Scott

"I love being attached to a kitchen," says David, who likes being able to talk to the cooks about different flavors. He says that the culinary aspect really drives the craft cocktail culture.

Much of the craft is trial and error. Aaron often researches cocktails on the Internet and works from there. “I still use the Internet everyday,” he says, perfecting the recipes he finds and forging ahead on his own once he has found something worth trying.

Little black books may have a notorious image, but among our bartenders, they’re crucial. These guys use them to collect recipes and ideas, not phone numbers. Erik’s books – yes, plural - are full of new recipes that he is “playing with.”

The play

Whoever said you shouldn’t mix work with play? For these guys, it’s impossible not to. They’re usually seen drinking at places like Che’s Lounge on 4th Avenue. And their own drink orders are simple: a shot of hard liquor and a beer. ‘I make these wonderful, glorious cocktails, but drink whisky,” says David.

The boys at Playground, photo by Gillian Drummond

Bryan, David Clark and Aaron at Playground. Photo by Gillian Drummond

For Bryan, “it's usually a beer and a cheap shot of whiskey.” “We spend way to much time together,” says Bryan. So it was one recent Monday night, when some of the lads gathered for a bar crawl – sorry, bartender competition – in which they travailed some of Tucson’s nightspots and tried their hand at New Orleans-style cocktails. When 3 Story joined them at the last stop – The Playground on Congress Street – it was a haze of cigarette smoke, the booze was free-flowing, and the banter friendly.

Most of these guys fell into the bartending profession, starting out as barbacks (a bartender's assistant, or runner) then discovering a passion for the job, and worked their way up the ranks. “Most boys want to be bartenders at some point in their life,” says Ciaran. These lads are happy to be making a decent living out of it.

As for the current trend of calling bartenders mixologists, they take it with a pinch of bar salt. Ciaran says he really doesn’t mind the term. "People who refer to themselves as mixologists tend to take themselves more seriously and there's less of a service aspect. But I tend bar and provide service. I just happen to like making cocktails."


Classic and timeless are the themes at Tucson's newest bar, Sidecar

This month sees the first business partnership for friends and collaborators Ari Shapiro, Page Repp and Rick McLain. Story and photos by Gillian Drummond

For the record, the person behind the bar at Sidecar, the new offering from Tucson entrepreneur Ari Shapiro, will be called a barkeep - not a  mixologist. Why? Because the owners’ aim is to eschew all that might be considered trendy or transient for traditional, classic and long-lasting.

"I want this to be more than anything a long-term neighborhood institution and not fly-by-night or trendy. We want this to feel as good in year 10 as it does in year one or year 20. That's what they are,” says Ari, co-owner of Sidecar with architects Page Repp, Rick McLain and a silent partner.


Page, left, and Ari


The original brick was painted and a concrete bar was poured

In coming up with the bar’s concept, design, and menu, the trio - friends and collaborators for a long time (Page and Rick's architecture firm Repp + McLain designed Ari’s pizza restaurant Falora and coffee shop Sparkroot) kept coming back to the theme of ‘everyman’. They didn’t want it to be exclusive, they wanted its appeal to be wide and at “a very very fair price point”, says Ari.

The bar will feature four draft beers, 16 bottled beers and cocktails. The cocktail menu – designed by Luke Anable, formerly beverage manager at Penca and now at Wilko - will feature craft creations with home-made infusions, syrups and herbs. But Ari says he wants this to be a place for a simple gin and tonic or vodka soda too. “Although they will be good versions of those classic high balls,” says Ari. The bartender will be Beau Hintz, a barista by training.


The leather wall pieces were shipped from New York City

The signature drink, of course, will be the Sidecar, and there will be three versions: a Prohibition-era Sidecar made with brandy and sour; one made with bourbon instead of brandy; and a beer and whiskey shot. “If you go into certain bars, a Sidecar is a euphemism for a shot on the side,” says Ari.

Sidecar, opening May 15, takes up a corner building of a square of stores at Broadway Village, a historic midtown Tucson shopping center dating back to 1939, and designed by Josias Joesler. As happened with Falora, just a few doors down, Repp + McLain is keeping what it can from the original interior. The interior brick walls have been painted white, the concrete floor patched and re-stained. Lime green leather banquette seating features an oak trim. Single bare bulb filament lights hang down as pendants.


The bar features steel tubes for a butcher block look

Repp + McLain designed both a leather wall covering and the bar. Page had hides of leather shipped from New York’s Garment District and cut up into squares, then stapled on the front of a floating wall in the bar’s center. The bar itself is poured concrete with a steel ‘butcher block’ top – tubes of steel welded together then topped with a see-through resin. “This has always been something I’ve wanted to do,” says Page.

* Find Sidecar at 139 S. Eastbourne Avenue, in Tucson's Broadway Village, from May 15.

Read more about Page Repp in this issue's My Space feature.



Sidecar is the latest addition to historic Broadway Village in Tucson

Liquid grace

... is how architect-turned jewelry maker Rameen Ahmed describes her work, a lesson in geometry, precision and movement.

Rameen Ahmed Designs

A sample of Rameen's jewelry from her Mobile Series, $2,600. Photo courtesy of Rameen Ahmed Designs

As a child, Rameen Ahmed would walk past the National Assembly Building in Dhaka in her native Bangladesh. She'd stop and sit on a wall and stare. She witnessed the government building's construction, and by the time she was in high school this Louis Kahn-designed structure was complete.

Rameen Ahmed

Rameen Ahmed wearing her Raw Note brooch, $560. Photo by Dominic Arizona Bonuccelli

Modernist in principle, and making the most of its surrounding desert and materials, Kahn's building of multiple towers with large geometric shapes appearing to be cut out of them, made a big statement and a similarly big impression. Having an internationally renowned architect such as Kahn, and one who was a modernist, put his stamp on their country like that was "a huge big deal", says Rameen. "It really made a big impact on my whole generation."

Rameen Ahmed Designs

A choker featuring a cereus cactus, $800. Photo by Gillian Drummond

Rameen made up her mind: she would be an architect. Not only that, she would leave her country to do it. Having spent time in London as a child, she had gotten a taste for cultures beyond Bangladesh. Added to that, in her homeland she felt like a square peg, especially with her family. "Nobody could quite understand me. I was always artistically weird," she says. "I wanted to get away as far as I possibly could."

Rameen Ahmed Designs

Ring, $500. Photo courtesy of Rameen Ahmed Designs

Rameen is known for her habit of turning to the back of a book first. She did the same at the US Consulate in Dhaka, where she flicked through a book about the USA and its colleges. "There are no states starting with x, y or z, so the first one I looked at was Madison, Wisconsin," she says. Soon she was on an airplane -  in-flight entertainment: the original version of Footloose - to study architecture, and later to work for a civil engineering firm in Chicago.

The midwest winters got the better of her. She visited a friend in New Mexico, then headed southwest herself, arriving in Arizona in December 1988 and settling in Tucson in 1989. Next came a graduate program at the University of Arizona and some time working with Tucson architect Corky Poster. Rameen was drawn to the culture behind architecture, particularly certain indigenous groups. One of the projects she's proud of is taking 30 traditional Native American homes belonging to the Tohono O'odham tribe, then with no water, plumbing or electricity, and modernizing them.

Rameen Ahmed Designs

Brooch, $350. Photo courtesy of Rameen Ahmed Designs

Today, Rameen's architect days are long behind her - sort of. One look at the jewelry she makes and it's clear that her days drafting and drawing buildings have left their stamp. The metal pieces she makes - earrings, bracelets, necklaces and pins - shout geometry and precision. They range from the simple to the elaborate, namely her neckpieces. More than jewelry, the neckpieces are sculptures - silver pieces (all of her jewelry is silver in color) that snake down a person's back or front, not with links but solid bars. They break and curve and conjoin with more shapes. Rather than behave themselves and sit flat like a traditional necklace, they misbehave with their surprising angles and even more surprising accessories - pieces of cholla cactus, cirrus cactus, perforated steel from building materials, and more.

Rameen took her first metal smithing class on a whim; she was a new mother and needed to get out of the house, to find a hobby, to explore creative options other than architecture. Pima Community College came to her rescue. "It was the first week in class and I was sitting there going 'This is it'," she says.

Rameen Ahmed Designs

One of Rameen's elaborate neckpieces, part of her Mobile Series, $3200. Photo by Dominic Arizona Bonucelli

She knew she loved the soldering and metal work, but "big sculptural things scared me, so I thought I'll just do tiny things." She had designed her and her husband's wedding rings, made for her by local jeweler Rick Pierini. And she was known as the lady who wore the wild jewelry, having for years favored ethnic and tribal pieces, arms full of bangles making their own maps of Thailand and the Indian sub-continent.

And so the metal working classes turned into jewelry classes, a stint studying metalsmith/jeweler Jude Clark ("I just said 'Can I come and watch you?'"), then a job with Krikawa in Tucson.

For Rameen, making jewelry has satisfied the frustrated artist she says was always latent in her, while still feeding her appetite for architecture. "Manipulating metal compared to architecture is instant gratification. You can get something made in two or three days, as opposed to two or three years. That's eye-opening."

She says she is intrigued by the discovery of three-dimensional design through physical movement and that her aesthetics have come full circle. Her jewelry is, if you like, a window into her childhood and her life since: tribal and modern, a crossing of international boundaries, the deserts and deltas of her homeland, the landscape and history of the southwest, and of course that National Assembly building she grew up staring at, worshiping even.

She describes her jewelry - sold through her website and represented by Obsidian Gallery - as "contemporary wearable art" that breaks away from the notion that jewelry should be static. Put simply, she says, it is turning solid metals into "liquid grace".

Rameen Ahmed Designs

Old mint tins and other vessels keep Rameen's jewelry pieces in order. Photo by Gillian Drummond

Today Rameen works out of her midtown Tucson home, where a long desk in the corner of the living room holds her materials and most of her tools (she makes extensive use of mint tins). The rest - the soldering tools - are kept on her back patio. The desk is that of an architect - neat, ordered, clean. Somehow she even managed to train her two children to leave the space alone, even during their inquisitive toddler years. In the middle of the living area hangs a length of fishing line with a loop. This serves as a place for her to hang jewelry in mid-air to test out that physical movement she is known for.

Photo by Gillian Drummond

Rameen on the patio of her midtown home. Apart from jewelry making, her other passion is gardening. Photo by Gillian Drummond

Rameen Ahmed Designs

Louis Kahn Revisited earrings, $500. Photo courtesy of Rameen Ahmed Designs

In Rameen's home library are books of buildings she has loved, among them Kahn's creation in Dhaka. One pair of earrings - hanging pearls with rectangles of silver, a circular hole cut out of them, forming a kind of 'armor' - is named Louis Kahn Revisited.

* You can find Rameen Ahmed's designs on her website and at Obsidian Gallery.

Pleased to Meet You

Is beauty innate? Is art in the eye of the beholder? Tucson artist Wil Taylor addresses all of this and more. By Kaleigh Shufeldt. Cover photo by Tom Willett.


Wil Taylor. Photo by Tom Willett

Early bird or night owl? “I’m a nine to five kind of person. I don’t wake up too early and I don’t go to bed really late. I work so long that I’m kind of in that groove. I enjoy early morning and then early evening because of the temperature, the cars aren’t so loud yet, its nice, more relaxed.”

Favorite accessory? “Mechanical pencils. Love mechanical pencils. I have always liked them, ever since I can remember. They are so precise. I learned in the 80s, before computers, how to draw. I took every drafting class at my university. I guess I’m an old school master drafter, I do things by hand. Anything to do with drafting, drafting tables, templates, rulers - I love that stuff. You can do so much with them, you can make so many things. You can do anything with them.”


Artwork courtesy of Wil Taylor

Favorite faux pas? “I have a masters in art education from the U of A and I retired from teaching art in Tucson Unified School District. I decided that I wanted to go back to get a print making degree and when I enrolled in the program, one of the things they asked me was if I made ‘pretty art.’ Apparently I did, my art must have been pretty. I've heard that term ‘pretty art’ not just one time, like it was some personal anomaly, but many times from different professors. I was a little bit perplexed by the whole pretty art thing. What does that mean?”


Artwork courtesy of Wil Taylor

Who is your dream customer? “I meet them all the time. I've sold a lot of art over the years. Somebody who can see what the message is in my art or see me through my art or see themselves. Somebody that can see what it is, what it’s about past a surface level, getting into spiritual things or dreams.”

If I weren't an artist I would be a... “Forest ranger. I've worked for the forest service. I grew up in wilderness in the northern mountain of Washington. Nature lover, that’s kind of me. Something where there’s a lot of peace.

"Or I’d be a gardener. I plant bird attractable plants and trees. Datura is my favorite plant. They bloom at night. It’s got all these buds on it and they attract sphinx moths and hawks moths that fly like hummingbirds. It is so beautiful and it smells amazing.


Artwork courtesy of Wil Taylor

“I’m really interested in taking scientific illustration right now and kind of evolving it into more of a graphic representation. Drawing plants and animals, the parts and the pieces or scenes involving their behavior. It’s a whole genre of art that I think is definitely understated. It has its own circles.”

If I could change one thing I would... “I would love for people to start to see art as an instrument of beauty; that would be good for everybody – for the world, for communities. When it comes to music, violins are the instrument of beauty or guitars. It’s easy to see where the boundaries are or what it’s for, with art it’s a little more difficult. I don’t really agree that art is necessarily in the eye of the beholder. While it’s partially true, it is not the truth. I don’t know anybody that hates flowers or thinks they’re ugly. Beauty is innate, it has truth in it. Everybody has the capacity to make things beautiful. It’s interesting that all the other disciplines in art, whether it’s dance or music or movie making, they have certain kinds of guidelines or boundaries that you have to meet to be successful. With visual art people think anybody can do it. I think you have to have some kind of talent or skill at it.”

* Wil Taylor is a Tucson-based artist. Check out his website at From April 5th to May 29th, Delectables, 533 N. 4th Ave, will have  an art gallery of Wil’s work. 

* Wil was recently nominated for a 2014 Lumies Arts & Business Award. To find out more, or for a ticket to this year's awards ceremony on Friday June 6th, visit or call 520.624.0595 x10



Artwork courtesy of Wil Taylor

My Space

In the latest in our series on people and their favorite spaces, architect Page Repp shares the home he built as a student project. Story and photos by Gabby Ferreira


Page Repp's student project has turned into a family home.

"My senior year, I knew that I wanted to design and build something for my senior [architecture] project. I had a lot on the far west side of town. I went out there to make the final negotiation and it fell through. I was driving back to school, super bummed because my project wasn't going to go through. I would have to come up with something else on short notice and I didn't know what I was going to do. Maybe I wasn't going to graduate. Then I drove by on Speedway and saw a 'For Sale' sign here.


"I was designing the project for affordable housing. I never intended to live here, but I built the 1500 square feet for $54,000. It was so affordable that I didn't have a choice but to live here. I sold my other house, moved in here, and have been here ever since. I love the neighborhood. It's close to downtown, it's close to campus, and it’s close to pagehome2 the freeway. We've done a lot to help improve it. I was the neighborhood president for probably ten years. I've done a lot for and with the neighborhood. I really like the area, neighborhood, and location but as my daughter Ramona gets older, the writing's on the wall. We will have to pull up stakes sooner rather than later because we're going to want to be in a different school district.


Page Repp

"I have a very strong personal attachment to this house. It was my senior project, so that's huge. It's the foundation for a lot of our business that we have now. I designed and built it, it got published in the paper, and then literally every client we had for five years said, 'I remember seeing that house in the paper'. Some of our clients became repeat clients. This house led to relationships with other people in town. I did this, I built the house next door, and then I bought the property across the street and did some rentals there.

pagebathroom "This is the house I lived in when I met my wife, this is the house that Ramona came home to.  I am as attached to this house as much as anyone could be. It's all here for me. Most of it I built with my own hands. I love it, I'm proud of it. I love how it's evolving over time."

* Page Repp is the president of Tucson-based architecture firm Repp Mclain Design + Construction. He is also the architect for and part owner of Sidecar, a new cocktail bar opening this month in midtown Tucson. Learn more about Sidecar in our feature in this issue, All The Young Dudes.



Dear Tucson...

Love-Letters-to-Tucson-logo Each issue we link up with Rachel Miller's Love Letters to Tucson blog for a letter from a Tucson inhabitant about why they love this fair city. This month: Fabiano Moura remembers Christopher City. Photos by Rachel Miller.


Fabiano Moura, with fond memories of the now defunct Christopher City.

"Dear Tucson,

My introduction to you was a bit of a shock. Imagine growing up for the first ten years of your life always within minutes from the Brazilian beaches and tropical surroundings, only to land in Tucson on (what I know to be a rare) cold and dismal day in December of 1989. After landing, we made the drive across town from the airport to Ft. Lowell and Columbus, to an area that was then Christopher City, our new home.  I was young, but can remember two prevailing questions ringing through my mind: 'Why are all of the trees dead, and why is the sky grey?'

It was chilly and dry and my body was still craving the warm Brazilian tropical summer, but the excitement of being in a new country soon overcame my discomfort.

My father was brought to the University of Arizona to finish his doctorate program and my family, along with many other families in similar situations, was placed in the housing development we affectingly grew to know as Christopher City, or CC for those of us who were still learning English and had a hard time pronouncing “Christopher”.

christophercity3 CC was unlike any place I have ever experienced and holds a special place in my heart to this day. Speak to anyone who lived there and you would be hard pressed to find a different statement. For the next four years we lived in Christopher City and the stories I could tell are a tale of a different time and place, a hidden cultural melting pot and a breeding ground for adventures and childish mischief.

As kids, we of course started with the essentials: find a group of friends, find a desert, build a fort, maintain it, and defend it against all foes. My group of friends consisted of four Navajo Native Americans, two Mexicans, two Iranians, two Koreans and one kid who no one really knew where he was from. Our nationalities, religions and cultural differences came second to our love of the outdoors, building forts, roaming the surrounding desert and forbidden walks to the Circle K at Alvernon and Columbus.

christophercity2 The cultural center was a large building in the middle of the housing complex where we separated the boys from the, well, smaller boys, with amenities such as a swimming pool, diving board, ping pong table, pool table and a playground where we would have a healthy dose of daily competition for no other reason than being kids. The sun dictated our curfew… and the sun told us to stay out from sun up to sun down.

Our sunscreen consisted of a thick layer of desert dirt, and our version of war included real BB guns and a thick layer of clothing. We knew nothing of bike helmets and the front yard bushes served as a perfect catching net for jumping from the rooftops. A crowd favorite was strapping on roller blades and grabbing on to the bumpers of city buses as they entered the complex -  and seeing how long we could hold on.  Thinking back, I have no idea how we made it, but I would not trade the experience for anything!

Christopher City was a place of culture, a place of friendship and most of all a place that represented the opportunity to pursue the American dream. I will never forget it and now, as a parent, all I wish for is that my kids have even a slice of what I had growing up in that place.



Christopher City was a full-service community constructed in Tucson on 70 acres at Columbus Boulevard and Ft. Lowell Road. It opened in the spring of 1963. Construction was sponsored by the Catholic organization the Knights of Columbus at a cost of $5,600,000. There were efficiency and one- and two- bedroom apartments, limited nursing care, a club house, stage, pool, and small shopping center on the grounds. The community was initially marketed towards Catholics and later towards members of the Jewish and Protestant faiths.  The community didn’t do well financially and in 1966 the Federal Housing Administration foreclosed on the property. In 1967, the University of Arizona purchased the property at a price of $2,450,000 for married student housing. In 2000, the property was found to be infested with mold and was demolished.

* For more Love Letters to Tucson, and photos, click here.