A Model View of Tucson’s Mid-Century Modern Architecture

June 7 through August 7, 2016

Artist Dirk Arnold creates miniature facades of his favorite mid-century modern buildings in Tucson. His work is an attempt to preserve the modern architecture of the city, which in many cases, is in danger of demolition, replacement, or remodeling. Individually Arnold’s model building facades revel in the beauty of modern architecture which emphasized simplicity, clean lines and limited ornamentation in design. As a group, the models demonstrate how shifting taste has transformed the architecture around the city.

This exhibit will feature nine HO scale model building facades of commercial structures in Tucson built throughout the 20th century, along with a plethora of miniature street signs and billboards from the 1950s and 1960s, showcasing Tucson’s embrace of mid-century modern architecture.

Included with museum admission. Free for members.

Member Opening Reception

There will be an invitation-only opening reception for museum members and special guests on Thursday, June 9, 2016 from 5pm-7pm. Become a museum member >>

About the Artist

Dirk Arnold portrait webDirk J. Arnold has been interested in preserving local history his entire life. As a child, he spent hours poring over historic photos in a sesquicentennial book published about his hometown of Rochester, Michigan. He received his Bachelor of Science in Architecture in 1988 from Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Michigan. His professional background includes graphic design, technical communication, architectural models, and user experience design.

In 2002, Dirk was given a hiatus from the corporate world and he refocused his attention on local architecture and preservation. His Endangered Architecture art project began to celebrate Tucson’s architectural history in the form of meticulously-crafted miniature building facades. Because many of his miniatures also incorporated signage, he soon realized that signs are an integral part of our architectural heritage, often even more endangered than buildings. His digitally-illustrated recreations of the Signs of Tucson spun off into a line of over 40 refrigerator magnets that grace refrigerator doors throughout Tucson, nationwide, and internationally. The Tucson-Pima Historic Commission presented him with an award for his innovative way of connecting people with their memories of local places to engage them with historic preservation issues.

In 2010, Dirk’s creative vision entered a new dimension with the construction of his Gateway Saguaro, a 30-foot tall neon public art sculpture. Standing in the median of Tucson’s pre-interstate motor gateway (much like the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign) its design was inspired by Tucson’s neon sign heritage. It quickly became an icon of Tucson, and has been seen on TV and in the New York Times.

Dirk’s work has been exhibited in southern Arizona at Tohono Chul Park, The Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures, the Temple Gallery at the Temple of Music and Art, Rancho Linda Vista Gallery, Tucson International Airport, and the Etherton Gallery; and at the Craft Alliance in St. Louis, MO.

He served on the city of Tucson’s Historic Landmark Sign Code Subcommittee, and works with the Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation on sign preservation and restoration efforts. Dirk lives with his partner Robert in Tucson’s Dunbar-Spring neighborhood where they are slowly but surely restoring their former Chinese grocery store. They have a mini-boneyard of salvaged neon signs in their yard.

Artist Statement

Endangered Architecture focuses on recreating historic places in miniature. Many of the real-life buildings and signs have been altered or destroyed, so my work involves rebuilding them as they once were—only smaller. Basing my work on photographs that I take myself, historical photographs, or drawings, I am forced to closely examine my source material, looking for information “between the pixels” that informs the sense of place. I focus my attention on one facade of a building or one face of a sign, dead-on, as in an architect’s elevation view. Whether building a miniature facade or creating a digital illustration, I carefully select and edit details so the end result is idealized rather than photographically realistic. This intimate evaluation of downspouts, window frames, hand-lettered fonts, light bulbs, and neon tubes puts me in the mind-set of the original creators: architects, construction workers, sign painters. I experience the work as they did, and try to do them justice in my reconstructions.

Viewers, then, see these idealized representations of the places in their memories (which may also be idealized). I am often struck by how eager people are to share their memories, jogged by a glimpse into their own experiences with these places.




This exhibit is supported in part by the Arizona Commission on the Arts, which receives support from the State of Arizona and the National Endowment for the Arts.