There is something satisfying about going with my family to an art gallery. We all leave with a desire to create and the art supplies I have been collecting are rediscovered. My boys typically want to do something active and I usually think of a few standby activities before seeking out cultural exhibits. But there will always be movies to watch, indoor parks with longer summer hours, and we can always fit in some pool time after a short gallery visit.
Tucked away in an unassuming office building in Ocotillo area of Chandler, Arizona, is an art goldmine.
The Zelma Basha Salmeri Gallery is named after Eddie Basha Sr.’s beloved aunt who sparked his interest in art. The gallery houses one of the largest collections in the world of “Western American and American Indian” art. A wide variety of works—painting and sculpture to basketry and jewelry—are curated and displayed for the benefit of art lovers and budding enthusiasts.
It is an impressive collection and very accessible. The plush sofas in the entry and the inviting colors on the walls make it feel cozy and friendly. I liked the videos (also on the website) about the patron, his personality, and how he encouraged artists he found promising. Supporting the artists and sharing the art he discovered seemed his passion. I spoke with the curator, who told me that Basha personally knew each of the artists from whom he purchased works. Personal notes, sketches and gifts from artists to Basha are on display, making it clear that his keen eye and friendship were appreciated by the talented artists he knew.
Before entering, I reminded the boys about art gallery etiquette (looking with our eyes, inside voice, etc.). We brought along their cameras and made a game of taking photos of their favorite artwork—with the flash off, of course. Cameras helped keep their little hands busy and off of the very old baskets and valuable works. I was happy to see that using cameras helped them focus on what they liked.
One of our favorite collections was of basketry. A display case of the basket weaving materials was really interesting and made us appreciate the painstaking collection of materials from desert plants, the hand work, and the uniqueness of patterns.
This free museum is open non-holiday weekdays 9am-4pm, though they suggest you call prior to your visit to confirm the gallery will be open. Visitors don’t need to sign in, but you can sign the guest book on the way out and make a donation. The gallery hosts fourth grade field trips as part of the Art Masterpiece program in local schools; any charitable donations support these programs. Parking is limited, but other than during field trips, it is usually not busy.
This is such a worthwhile visit that I hope you take the opportunity. We are always on the lookout for great family experiences. What cultural gems or lesser-known experiences have you found that you would like to share?1