Sunday, August 27, 2006
Arts And Living  

Nature sings at Hall of Frames

Flagstaff resident Debbie Leavitt's photographic career has been as full of movement and change of direction as her water images of the Colorado River. The diversity of her expression is in full display in "Things of that Nature," a comprehensive fine-arts exhibit of her work in black and white and color in the Hall of Frames at the historic Riordan Building onWest Riordan Road.

Leavitt, 52, who hails from Chicago, has been photographing the Southwest for more than 20 years. She and her husband, George Castleberry, have lived in Flagstaff for eight years.

"My career has shifted several times," said Leavitt, "When I first graduated from Brooks Institute of Photography, my interest was strictly rock and roll, so I moved to Hollywood and followed celebrities and rock stars around with my camera. It was a riotous time, and I got up close and personal with the likes of James Brown, the Clash and U2."


Over the years, her emphasis redirected to nature.

"I used to photograph rock stars, and now I photograph rocks," she quipped. "But my rock musician portraits are still published, only now they're vintage."

Leavitt calls her "Things of that Nature" show "My Nature's Greatest Hits exhibition," focusing on the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River.

"Some of the images in this show lean toward the abstract, which is the direction my work is currently taking," she added. "My challenge as a photographer is to squeeze huge and beautiful nature into a flat rectangle for everyone to see."

Leavitt said the exhibit is a 30-year perspective of her work. The 26 photographs in the show were taken between 1976 and 2006, with the oldest being the intricate black-and-white photo, "Truck Door (Rez fence)," a sheep fence she shot near Kayenta.

Many of the photographs in the show are abstracts, including "Black and Blue II," a barn window at Moqui Ranch near Blue Ridge reservoir.

"I love all of them, but that one is very symbolic of my new direction, which is very abstract," she said. "I'm getting to the point where people say, 'I really like that image, Debbie, but what is it?' I love that reaction."


Leavitt pays homage to her Chicago city roots in "Blues Room," a large color photograph prominently displayed in the large hall in the Riordan Building.

"It has turned out to be a favorite image of many," she said. "Captured years ago on the south side of Chicago, this photo features the New Lexington Hotel, former headquarters of gangster Al Capone. It's the same building where Geraldo Rivera, on live TV, failed to find anything in the vault. Like many historic buildings, this place is now gone, replaced by a parking lot."

"Blues Room" is one of the favorites of Ernie Butterfield, one of the four owners of the building. He operates Butterfield Insurance & Financial Services from an elegant and historically preserved downstairs office in the building.

"I like that one a lot," he said. "Debbie said it was torn down."

Butterfield also likes "The Canyon Beckons," a color landscape Leavitt placed across from his door, so he can view it from his desk.


Butterfield came up with the idea for the Hall of Frames shows about five years ago. he thought the lovely building, built in 1900, would be a good venue for local artists. listed on the National Historical Registry, it was the former Arizona Timber Co., headquarters for the Riordan lumber mill.

"I do this as a community service," Butterfield said. "I'm into art, and I like to give artists a place to show. I'm kind of selfish too, because I get to look at all the art. We've had everything in here."

Previous shows included the work of local artists such as Shonto Begay, Roberta Rogers, Gary McAllister, Dee Brewer, Sharon McGinnis, Linda Sherman and Frank Shively.

The permanent collection in the Hall of Frames includes some of the work of these artists, including a watercolor of the exterior of the building by Linda Sherman.

The high ceilings and large rooms flooded with window light make the inside walls of the building a museum-quality surface for the display of art.

Exhibiting artists get an opening reception, a two-month run of their show and the chance to pick which charity will benefit from some of the proceeds from their sales.

Butterfield said he charges a very small commission for work sold and is not in competition with galleries.

"I've always been fond of art," he said. "Plus, it really feels good handing those checks over to charities."


Leavitt is fully trained in all aspects of darkroom work. She is also a loyal user of Nikon equipment, including her new digital camera.

A member of the Artists' Coalition of Flagstaff, Leavitt works full time as a fine-arts photographer and sells greeting cards and some work at West of the Moon gallery downtown and the Sedona Art Center

Prints in the show sell from $200 to $725, framed. They are also available unframed and in a variety of sizes.

A portion of her sales will go to Whale Foundation, a nonprofit serving the emotional well being of Grand Canyon river sunners.

Only two of the photographs in the show are digital.

"I'm doing a little contest," she said. "Twenty-four of the images are old-school film, negative or slide. I'm inviting the public to guess which are digital. They will get a photo prize selected by me."

People can e-mail their guesses in to Leavitt.


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