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Where the Javelina Roam
Tubac Center of the Arts Taps Local Talent for Community Project

By Angela D. Wagner

People love nature. They revel in it and are invigorated by it. From hiking and biking in the great outdoors to camping and birding, humans seek it out for motivation, healing, and respite. Artists find inspiration in its beauty ranging from famous nature artists of the past such as Claude Monet and Ansel Adams to modern sculptors including Andy Goldsworthy, Richard Long, and Jim Denevan.

Now it is the venerable Javelina, sociable herd animals synonymous with the Sonoran Desert, which have inspired a wild community project underway in Tubac. Known as the Javelina De Tubac, this artistic endeavor has brought together artists, businesses, and nonprofits in the small village of about 1,200 by focusing on the bristly pig-like creatures native to the Southwest.

Not Pigs, But Peccaries

Javelina are often mistaken for pigs. In fact, they aren’t pigs at all but are members of the peccary family. The medium-sized desert mammal features razor sharp tusks and an aggressive nature, especially females with young. Typically measuring three to four feet in length when full grown, peccaries can weigh between 44 and 88 pounds.

While their short tusks are used for defense against predators, their jaws are adapted for crushing seeds and slicing through tough plant roots. Their omnivorous diet consists of small animals, grass, seeds, roots, and the prickly pear cactus and its fruit. Though they have poor eyesight (they are nearsighted), the javelina has a very good sense of hearing. It marks its territory using scent from glands found below each eye and on their backs. Throughout Tubac and the surrounding desert, these peccaries can be seen running, rooting, and resting.

A True Community Project

Karin Topping, Executive Director of the Tubac Center of the Arts (TCA), said the purpose behind Tubac’s peccary-inspired project is to increase tourism and strengthen the village’s position as a premiere destination full of rich experiences.

Hosted and sponsored by the TCA, Javelina De Tubac is the brain child of Tubac Master Artists Virginia Hall and Nicholas Wilson. Topping said public art projects such as the Chicago Cows and the ponies of Santa Fe motivated Hall and Wilson to propose the javelina art project to the TCA in July 2017. This was followed by some time getting board approval, planning the project, and getting sponsors.

According to Topping, the TCA fronted the funds for marketing Javelina De Tubac and completing the javelina molds. The TCA needed at least 25 sponsors to break even on its investment. The cost of sponsoring an adult javelina was $1,000 while a pair of baby javelina was also $1,000. By last winter, the TCA had exceeded its expectations with 44 adult javelina and six sets of babies (two per set) sponsored for the project by local members of the community.

Topping said the community rallied behind the project with 25 individual residents who sponsored a javelina. Another six javelina were sponsored by the Tubac Chamber of Commerce and two individuals sponsored adults with baby javelina. Additionally, 18 local organizations and businesses also sponsored javelina for the project.

Noel Daniel (Managing Director of Tubac Golf Resort) & Fred Colins (Artist, and One-Time Cover Artist of the Tubac Guide)

Javelina of a Different Color

Wilson, a celebrated sculptor who resides in Tubac, completed the javelina molds for the Javelina De Tubac. The molds, which are slightly larger than life-sized javelina, were sculpted in clay in Tubac. The molds were then carefully transported to Icon Poly in Nebraska for manufacturing of the casts. Those casts were then used to make multiple javelina constructed of fiberglass. Once they were completed, the 50 peccaries were transported back to Tubac where they were turned over to local artists who painted them, each with their own special touch.

“All of the artists are Tubac-based or are members of the Tubac Center of the Arts and are represented in Tubac Galleries,” said Topping. “I think if you get to see what the artists have come up with, you’ll be very excited about what else there is to see in Tubac. Every artist has come up with something different.”

According to Topping some businesses that sponsored javelina chose their own artists to beautify their particular peccary. Jackie Zeitler and Debbie Barrios, co-owners of the Rogoway Turquoise Tortoise, a fine art gallery in Tubac, did just that.

Zeitler and Barrios selected Michaelin Otis, an artist with featured work in the Turquoise Tortoise, to paint their peccary. Otis provided Barrios and Zeitler with three options for their javelina. Barrios said because they operate an art gallery, they chose an option featuring Vincent van Gogh’s famed work Starry Night with a Tubac twist. It even has a band aid on its ear memorializing the famous artist’s decision to cut off one of his own.

“We wanted to choose something that represented us and one of our artists,” Barrios said of selecting Otis as their artist and the Starry Night theme.

Even local school children have been involved with the artistic community endeavor. Students from Montessori De Santa Cruz in Tubac painted one of the juvenile peccaries for the project.

Javelina De Tubac

The unveiling of the squadron of javelina, as a group of peccaries is known, will be held on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019. All 50 of the completed javelina will be unveiled for the public to peruse and enjoy throughout the village of Tubac. The day-long event, sponsored by the Tubac Chamber of Commerce, will begin with a peccary parade of the painted javelina followed by Tubac’s first annual Salsa Festival Block Party. There will be live music starting at 3 p.m. with Nashville transplant Tige Reeve. Gold-selling country artist Wade Hayes will also be performing a special acoustic show at 5 p.m. The day will also boast food trucks, a beer garden, a kid’s zone, and maps featuring the location of the javelina throughout the village.

“That is going to be a big day here in town,” said Bob Ochoa, chairman of the Javelina De Tubac project.  

“We’re making it a real family event,” said Topping of the unveiling. “We are inviting everyone to bring the whole family.”

In addition to the initial unveiling, the proud peccaries will be featured in various Tubac events throughout the rest of 2019 and early 2020. They will be included in the Tubac Fall Arts & Crafts Festival Nov. 1-3, 2019; the Water/Ways Exhibit event Nov. 9, 2019; Tubac’s Luminaria Nights Dec. 6-7, 2019; and the 61st Annual Festival of the Arts Feb. 5-9, 2020.

“We want to leverage the existing events that go on every season,” said Ochoa, who added a javelina scavenger hunt will be included in the water event on Nov. 9. “Guests will get a prize if they find all of the javelina.”

For those interested in purchasing a peccary mold of their own to decorate, they can get an 8-inch miniature exact replica of the javelina created for the project by Wilson. The cost for each miniature will be $39 with $10 going back to the TCA, a 501(c) 3 nonprofit. Topping said they make a great art project for children as well as gifts. The miniatures will be sold online following the unveiling event in October and can be ordered direct from Icon Poly

Where the Javelina Will Hang

“Tubac will not only be where art and history meet,” said Topping, referring to the town’s motto, “but where the javelina roam.”

Most of the javelina will remain in the village as far south as the Tubac Market and as far north as the Tubac Golf Resort & Spa, according to Ochoa. For example, he said an adult with two babies will be placed at Presidio State Historic Park and two adults with three sets of babies will reside in front of the TCA. Though the majority of the javelina will remain in Tubac, several will be featured outside of the village to capture public attention.

Six of the javelina will be situated at the Tucson International Airport including five adults and one set of “piglings” while two javelina will be located in Green Valley just 20 miles north of Tubac off of the I-19. One will be positioned at the Continental Plaza entryway and the other will be at the Green Valley Recreation West Center.

Three javelina will land just south of Tubac in Tumacácori. One of the javelina will be stationed at the Tumacácori National Historical Park just 3.5 miles south of Tubac, another will bless the Santa Cruz Chili & Spice Company on the I-19 frontage road near Tumacácori, and the third will be placed at Wisdom’s Cafe.

Ochoa said each javelina, which weighs about 50 pounds, will be added to a base. Each base will feature the names of the javelina, the artist, and the sponsor. This will give added visibility to the artists of Tubac as well as the sponsors who helped make the project a reality.

Auctioning the Art

After spending time in the public eye, the peccaries will be auctioned off in the spring of 2020. Sponsors were offered the “buy it now” option, an opportunity to purchase their javelina early and keep them off the auction block for an additional $1,000 donation.

For those javelina not purchased by their sponsors, they will be included in the public auction. As of publication, a specific date had not been set by the TCA for the Javelina De Tubac auction, but anyone interested can visit the TCA website at tubacarts.org for more details and a definitive auction date.

The Point of the Project

The goal for Javelina De Tubac is really three-fold. Not only was it meant to bring the community together, but it raises awareness of local artists, and funds for local nonprofit organizations in the area.

“It’s really about the community of Tubac,” said Ochoa. “It is to bring positive exposure to our village and our businesses and to support tourism. The goal of the project financially is to raise enough money to go to distribute to local community organizations.”

“We’re supporting the community,” Zeitler said of sponsoring a javelina.

Barrios agreed. “It’s what you do in a little town,” she said. “You support the community.”

Learn more about the Javelina Art Project and see some of the finished javelina at javelinasdetubac.com.

While not every artist named their perfected peccary, many have already been. Some of the javelina have been dubbed with the following names:

Tubac Tootsie
Hashke ‘Haaya’ Javelina
Starry Night in Tubac
Desert Dreams
The Ancient One
La Vanidad
Footsteps of the Ancients
Zona, Superhero
Miss Piggy
Serendipity
Helena Javelina
Bandana-lina
Cooper Queen
Maestra Juanita Javelina
Estudiantes Mijito y Mijita (a set of babies)