By L.A. Trombetta

Call of Sedona

Ken RoweI have admired the work of artist Ken Rowe for many years, so when the opportunity arose to interview area creatives about their own “Call of Sedona,” this well-known bronze wildlife sculptor was at the top of my list! He and I both grew up in different areas of the desert of Arizona during the same years, when towns were smaller and much was still undeveloped. As we settled in for our interview, we both reminisced about our love of the land, the beauty of the saguaro cactus and palo verde trees and the indescribable scent of the creosote bush after a rain.

LAT: Ken, what was your personal Call of Sedona that brought you from the land of the lower desert to this beautiful place?

KR: This is our 19th year in Sedona. My wife, Monica and I were both born and raised in Phoenix. It was a neat town to grow up in—before the housing boom. Citrus groves, not as busy, it was nice. But we had grown tired of Phoenix. It was heart-wrenching to see it grow and destroy itself over the years. We were ready to leave. Then, suddenly through a series of events and a chance meeting, our lives were changed nearly overnight.

I was in the taxidermy business for a long time. We had our own commercial studio for 14 years and in that business I loved the anatomy and the wildlife physiology. I loved doing each animal justice by doing a great job on it, but after a time it just wasn’t fulfilling to me. I began to have an interest in sculpture.

In 1987, I finally got up enough nerve to sculpt my first piece, and although I felt it was atrocious, it was a confirmation, and I thought I could do it. I took a college course in sculpture and just kept working and working at it. So here’s the beauty in all of that; here I am a practicing taxidermist during the day, and at night I’m a sculptor surrounded by animal references that most people would die for. So, there I could sculpt anything—deer, bear, elk, moose; anything I had in that shop.

LAT: When did you begin selling in Galleries?

KR: In 1992 I got into a remarkable gallery in Scottsdale, Heritage Gallery—I’ve been with them ever since. The Murray family owned it at that time, they were legends in the art world, and so, for me going from a taxidermist to Heritage Gallery was like going to the Olympics—it was scary and exciting. And so that truly did launch it—it confirmed that I really wanted to do this full time now. I don’t know how many years it is going to take, but I know I will eventually do it full time.

Troy Murray, who was the gallery owner at that time, was an incredible influence and gave me absolutely profound direction. Now that I was “a professional,” I really dug into it, and I used to watch Ken Payne every Saturday morning on PBS, “Sculpting with Ken Payne.” He would sculpt and I would take notes.

One day I walked into Heritage Gallery to visit them, and guess who’s looking at my work? Ken Payne! And I thought, you can’t pass this up. So I introduced myself, and he said, “Oh, I really like your work!” I was on cloud nine!
I went home and told Monica, and two weeks later I got a phone call from Ken Payne. “I’ve got an offer you can’t refuse! Come up and be one of my feature artists at Mountain Trails Gallery!”

So I went from taxidermy to full-time sculpting with that one phone call, and that’s what got us up here! Monica and I sold virtually everything. We sold our house, our property, closed the business down, fast, fast, fast! Everything happened like a domino effect. But, it was nice because you know how they always say; “when you go in the right direction, things fall into place.” We found a house here in one day, in a great neighborhood, we could afford it; everything just worked out. This just absolutely fell in place!

LAT: It was more than a call, it was divine direction!

KR: Yes, “here, it’s going in your lap!” Here’s one of those weird things: When we were in our taxidermy business, we were so tired of Phoenix. So when the stroke of luck with Heritage came along, and the chance meeting with Ken Payne . . . It was like, “Oh, I know where I’m going. I’m going to the art profession. I’m moving out of this town.”

And then when Ken called, it was like, God’s taking care of us, here it is. He just put it right in our lap. Sales were beyond our greatest expectations instantly. Not because so much of the work—it was the timing, it was the staff—they were primed and ready, professional. The staff was the key—just the right fit. Ken Payne was just an amazing mentor to have . . . he was a good, good business person.

LAT: Ken. Your passion shows in every piece you create. What is the driving force behind your work?

KR: I’m totally obsessed, I really am. As a child, one of our family friends was a psychiatrist, and she was this little genius that would plant these little seeds of wisdom as I grew up. She could tell that when I got something in my head, it was just going to get done. So she said once that the best doctors, lawyers, or any professional that she could ever acquire in her lifetime were this way too. They were so focused on whatever they wanted to do, that they perfected whatever they wanted to do. So when you know how to channel it, I guess this kind of obsession is a good thing.

What I feel is, in my DNA is this reverence for animals, and it’s the root of everything that inspires me. I’ve always loved the outdoors. It’s been my benchmark for reality: Feeling stress from business? Take a walk. Get out in nature and look at what is really out there.

LAT: Ken, please tell us how Sedona has inspired you and your work.

KR: Sedona’s a creative environment, and there are a lot of great inspiring artists here. And any direction you look, driving to work, or in your yard, you see inspiring views that make you want to take a hike to see all these wonderful places. Even though I don’t paint, the outdoors has always been my barometer for reality. So here I am, in the middle of what’s often said to be the most beautiful place in the world, I pinch myself. I can’t think of anything more beautiful. And here we are living in the middle of what probably should have been a national park. God, what we take for granted once in a while. And then somebody comes in from Europe and has tears in their eyes from the sunset he saw last night, or the sunrise today, and it makes you realize we should never, ever, take it for granted.