Hotel McCoy is a renovated 1960s mid-century modern art hotel located just one mile south of downtown Tucson at 720 W. Silverlake Rd. Its 93 rooms and hotel walls feature art pieces from over 60 local artists and muralists. The Daily Wildcat spoke to Nicole Dahl, the creative force behind the art hotel, along with three local artists, Krista Nicole, Elisha Lenhert and Rachel Ivanyi, whose work is featured on its walls.
Beginnings of Hotel McCoy
Dahl, a University of Arizona graduate, is the executive creative director of Hotel McCoy. In creating the hotel’s business plan, Dahl “wanted to integrate the element of community.”
The goal was to deck out the entire hotel in art while providing a rent-free space and opportunity to sell the art, with 100% of the sale proceeds going to the artists — no commission. Dahl said it is a symbiotic relationship because, “Instead of having boring sailboats on our wall, now we have really cool, badass local art.”
Photo courtesy of Krista Nicole
Hotel McCoy provides a “built-in rotating audience” that is exposed to the art and therefore the pieces are more likely to resonate with somebody who may be traveling from around the world. Dahl said that she gets excited seeing someone carrying an art piece that they are going to buy.
“The organic excitement about watching people be able to prosper off of art is really cool for me to watch,” Dahl said.
In 2019, Hotel McCoy held an Arizona Art Fest for their one-year anniversary, turning each hotel room into a small venue for concerts, comedy shows, live painting and macrame, and more. The 2020 festival was canceled and, this year, cautious of COVID-19 safety regulations, Hotel McCoy is hosting a MuralFest, with five muralists live-painting, music, food and a bar. MuralFest will be held October 15-16, with most of the festivities occurring Saturday, Oct. 16.
The 2021 MuralFest is the three-year celebration of Hotel McCoy. After three years, the murals are covering the walls, and muralists have started to repaint over more outdated existing murals. Dahl said that sometimes, there is an objective in mind with the murals, specifically noting a series of lettering murals done by Ashley White, the artist behind, A Modern Aquarian.
The quotes “invoke good feelings” about “journeys and travels and celebrating diversity,” Dahl said.
The Cowgirl Room
As far as the art inside Hotel McCoy’s motel lodge-style rooms, Dahl said that she tries not to restrict creativity, but asks that the art creates a safe space that is inclusive for all guests.
Nicole is a queer illustrator who recently moved to Tucson and was drawn to its art community. Nicole has been doing graphic design and illustration for several years, with education in visual communications and fine arts from Northern Arizona University.
“Ever since I got to Tucson, I’ve just been feeling really inspired by all the other artists that are here and kind of the environment and surroundings. I love being in the desert, it wakes up my creative energy a lot more,” Nicole said.
Nicole’s illustration pieces in Hotel McCoy are from her series called “A Cowboy for Breakfast.” The cowgirls pictured are her “longest-running characters” and Nicole has envisioned an entire world for them, living in Tucson in the “old-timey Wild West.”
The gang of cowgirls are “heroine outlaws,” artistically represented with the wanted poster-style inspiration and vintage saloon clothing. The cowgirls each have their own style and flair, and together, they create a desert glam aesthetic.
“I love cowboy culture,” Nicole said. “People think of the desert as a wasteland, but I love the desert. I think there is a lot of unique things about it that make it really cool and beautiful.”
When Nicole reached out to the Hotel McCoy to secure a room for her cowgirls, “they really liked the concept, because they surprisingly didn't already have a cowgirl or Southwest theme.”
Photo courtesy of Krista Nicole
Nicole said that she almost didn't think that her opportunity with Hotel McCoy was attainable when she first reached out. Although Nicole’s pieces have not been sold yet, she has seen an increase in Instagram followers since her artwork was placed in the hotel. Nicole said that she wants to continue working with local businesses and Tucson’s art community.
Fireweed, Mushrooms and Eyes
Lenhert is the creative coordinator at Hotel McCoy. Along with reaching out with local artists, planning events and managing the social media for the hotel, she is also a featured artist there. Inspired by her childhood in Alaska, her work often incorporates mountains, trees and flowers recognizable to the land.
One of the first pieces Lenhert worked on was on the walls by the pool of the hotel. It features mushrooms in a line art style, along with an outline of a woman’s silhouette. Fireweed grows out of its torso, a flower that is often found along Alaska’s meadows and highways.
Similar to that, room 130 of Hotel McCoy features a black and white mural of fireweed flowers and mushrooms by Lenhert. She said it was the first mural she had done by herself.
“I love fireweed. It’s a beautiful flower; it grows in the northwest and in Canada. … When there’s a forest fire, it grows more after the fire, which is interesting,” Lenhert said. “I enjoy flowers and I enjoy line work, and that’s what my mural incorporates.”
Another one of her featured artworks is a charcoal piece in room 107, marking one of the first times Lenhert experimented with the charcoal art form.
On the inspiration behind the piece, Lenhert said, “I really like incorporating eyes as well and drawing them, I think, because growing up all my life, people have complimented my eyes.”
Room 107 also features an oil painting by Lenhert, described almost as a “self-portrait.” It features an outline of a woman’s silhouette, with mountains and trees and northern lines, inspired by her time in Alaska.
When asked about her newer projects, Lenhert said she has incorporated more color, which is a step away from her usual black and white color scheme. She said this may be due to being surrounded by the different artworks at Hotel McCoy as well as the direction of her life now.
“Maybe, being in the hotel, all of these beautiful art pieces spoke to me and possibly, even because of where my life is going. The path that I’m taking is a lot more brighter and exciting, definitely a lot more colorful,” Lenhert said.
Peace and Art
Ivanyi said she has always had a love of nature and science. With a background in veterinary studies in college, she began scientific illustrations in her third year of college at the University of California, Davis.
However, after coming to Tucson in the mid-90s, Ivanyi fell in love with the desert landscape here. Over the years, her art became less scientific and more about the stories behind the art. After losing her brother to brain cancer around six years ago, she found “personal solace and growth” through her art. It has become an outlet for her passion for “nature, conservation and how we can find peace in both nature and art.”
“To Boldy Go,” found in room 128 of Hotel McCoy, is a painting of an orchid and a tree frog. The name is a reference to the Starship Enterprise from Star Trek, but the painting is a homage to her mentor, Manabu Saito, whom she met over 20 years ago. Ivanyi was inspired by his botanical work.
“He passed away just before I had done that painting, and he would always do beautiful orchids,” Ivanyi said. “So I’m the frog riding up on the orchid, and the idea is taking that sense of the traditional botanical illustration and kind of being lifted off and being on his shoulders, so him as my little spirit guide.”
Another painting in the room is of another tree frog, catching a ride with a columbine plant, titled “Ghost Rider.” It is both a nod to the Sierra Nevada mountain range and one of her favorite plants, as it reminds Ivanyi of her late grandfather.
Ivanyi said she recalled she was in a field of columbine plants when she learned of his passing.
“I just remember being surrounded and looking out into that field and being surrounded by those flowers,” Ivanyi said. “Again, that’s just that connection of how we can turn to nature for peace and move forward.”
Also featured in room 128 are animal portraits of a raven, a small bird and turtle. The artist said a raven would always visit after her brother’s death, and it represents how a connection with nature can provide peace and comfort.
The turtle portraiture was done in an art class as a current instructor at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum to show the art technique of drawing on handmade paper.
One of her latest additions to Hotel McCoy is featured in the lobby. One piece, entitled “Black is Beautiful,” was first inspired by a black vulture at the desert museum. It represents a close friend and her daughters, who are dancers. With their permission, she had them send short dance videos and turned them into black birds.
“This was after George Floyd, and I just wanted to promote that Black is beautiful. And black birds a lot of times, just within the bird world, they’re looked [at] in a negative way,” she said.
As a member of Artists for Conservation, the “world’s leading artist group supporting the environment,” she hopes that her artwork may allow others to reflect on their connection to nature.
“The desert we live in is such an amazing, special and unique environment, and so, if I can get more people to think about that and … give them a little joy, then I’m happy about that,” Ivanyi said.
All of the artwork featured are available for viewing at Hotel McCoy. Visitors are allowed to see rooms, as long as they are not being currently rented.