Phoenix With Kids

The Squaw Peak Pots

We are continually learning so many fascinating things about Phoenix. And the Squaw Peak Pots are no exception! Have you ever driven along Highway 51, and caught a glimpse of a teacup handle sticking out of the side wall? I remember asking my husband about that when I first moved here. He said it was some art installation gone wrong from the 90's. But didn't know much about it.

Jana Tingom

The Squaw Peak Pots or,
What is That Teacup in the Wall Along Highway 51?

We are continually learning so many fascinating things about Phoenix. And the Squaw Peak Pots are no exception! Have you ever driven along Highway 51, and caught a glimpse of a teacup handle sticking out of the side wall? I remember asking my husband about that when I first moved here. He said it was some art installation gone wrong from the 90’s. But didn’t know much about it.

I recently became interested in researching the history behind this oddly placed teacup, and found it’s only a small part of Phoenix history that very few people know about! The Squaw Peak Pots, also called the Piestewa Freeway Pots, originated in the early 1990’s with the art name of Wall Cycle to Ocotillo. They consisted of 35 large and colorful concrete pots, cups, and bowls.

These were installed along the noise barrier walls, between road and houses, but were not loved by locals. The reasons? It was a bizarre combo of over $470,000 of taxpayer money going towards this installation, little relation to southwest culture, and the artists being from Massachusetts! The art project was mocked as being a prime example of how public art money is frequently wasted. As freeway renovations happened in 2002, the pots and cups slowly disappeared from view. You can read an interesting newspaper article about it here.

Where did they go? Well, some (around 20) are actually still beautifully displayed and viewable via neighborhood streets! Thanks to this website, I was able to hunt down a handful of pots and realized this would make for an interesting “social distancing” family outing. The best way would be, of course, to ride a bike along the bike paths and connecting streets along Hwy 51, between Glendale Avenue and McDowell Roads. But until the weather cools down, navigating side streets seemed like a fun way to pass time with the kids. We’ll put exploring via bike ride our list for early 2021 and update this post!

The website listed above has 20 stops that the author made to find various pots. Or, if you’re interested in only making a couple stops, here the cross streets of some of the bigger art installations that kids will enjoy:

  • 18th Street and Tuckey Lane
  • 18th Street and Fairmont Avenue
  • 18th Street and Mitchell Drive
  • 17th Place and Montecito Avenue
  • Osborne Road, East side of Hwy 51

Author

  • Jana Tingom

    Jana is a homeschooling mother of three children, and lives in Scottsdale with her husband, Chris. She enjoys traveling, reading and coffee. Follow @phoenixwithkids on Instagram for daily photos around Phoenix!

4 Responses

  1. Thank you for the article it was very interesting. A few years ago I contacted the Arizona Republic inquiring about the tea cups and red ball that I had seen. It took me several week of repeatedly asking before I finally got a response. The only response I got from them was “yea it got too expensive so they quit making them “. It no wonder they are about to go under.
    Again thanks
    PS: I grew up here but left here for Indiana in 1983 before 51 was built so was surprised by all the freeways when I returned in 2011

  2. These sculptures made an otherwise boring drive interesting, but I’ll always remember the pots as the time Phoenix tried to publicly fund art, which ended disastrously due to public outcry. God forbid idiot Zonies ever come to understand something created in the public interest. This is why we can’t have nice things.

  3. I grew up here and it was a huge ordeal and taxpayers were mad. Someone even painted a toilet gold and put it on the wall to prove a point. 🙂
    Thanks for the bike ride info – we never knew the pottery was still on the other side of the freeway.

  4. Great article. Curious as to what happened to the remainder of sculptures. I understand there were originally 35. Do you have any information on the 15 that are not on display? Thanks.

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