Ida Farrell has collected copies of Arizona Highways since 1960, but rather than just letting them gather dust on a shelf, she's taken them around the world. In this, the first installment of a two-part essay, Ms. Farrell describes how she's taken Highways global.
By Ida Farrell
It is no secret that Arizona Highways magazine is recognized, appreciated and even collected by many people around the world. In America, collectors consider it the most prized state magazine. Because of my propensity for hoarding, I've struggled for many years not to keep every issue, and to save only the "special" ones.
Growing up in postwar Germany, I always knew my destiny was in America. However, my love for Arizona Highways, and, consequently Arizona, came later — and very serendipitously.
By 1960, I was newly married to an American. My husband's friends had just been transferred from Arizona to Germany and brought with them, several issues of Arizona Highways, which they eventually gave to me. The 1956 Christmas issue made a significant impact on my life. Its limages of the Arizona landscape by famed photographers — Muench, Abbott and Henderson — and the accompanying text opened an entirely new world to me. I had found my future home.
However, it wasn't until 1976, after my husband's retirement from the Air Force, that we finally arrived in Mesa. Each month, I looked forward to getting my copy of Arizona Highways and usually stashed it away secretly. When we began traveling, I made sure I always brought along at least one copy to read on the airplane. One year during a trip to Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost town America, we met a local Inuit family cleaning and dividing a whale in their driveway. When they showed a real interest in Arizona, I handed them my November 1969 issue. It profiled photographer Josef Muench and his spectacular images of the Southwest. The family responded with an invitation for a whale dinner at their house. That evening, we had a good time looking at and talking about Muench's photography and his writing in the magazine. Suddenly, I had an epiphany. On future trips, I should bring Arizona Highways magazines to share and connect with people in remote areas by selecting special issues that relate to their culture and some to show off ours. In short, I discovered my own best use for all those back issues I'd been collecting.
I took my first trip to China in the 1980s. Tourists were still new and a great curiosity to the Chinese people. We were instantly surrounded by hoards of people and barraged with questions. I was ill prepared for the onslaught of curiosity as I pulled out my copy of the magazine. When I managed to walk away with my one little copy still intact, I noticed a young man following me. Thinking he was a government watchdog, I headed for my hotel. Before I could enter the lobby, the man, who turned out to be a teacher, threw a question about Arizona at me. That led to an exchange that developed clandestine undertones. China had just opened up, but its government was still wary of the western world. Thus, it was forbidden for Chinese people to receive any magazines, as they were classified as foreign propaganda. Still, as I slipped the magazine to my Chinese cohort, I caught a glimpse of the excitement the magazine created for him as he scurried away with it under his jacket.
Into the WildA more sedate and somewhat spiritual exchange took place in the Amazon, when I traded my current copy of Arizona Highways for a cure for my arthritis with the local Shaman. The cure didn't work for me, but from what I saw, the magazine was a big hit with the Shaman and his flock.
By the mid-1990s, Ayers Rock, that mystical, red monolith in the center of Australia, had been calling me for years, ever since I first visited Sedona. And now I was there, armed with my specially selected issues of Highways. As I meandered over to a local group of aborigines in the nearby town of Alice Springs, I detected slight vibes of curiosity and apprehension as I approached. Those vibes vanished quickly as I handed out a couple of magazines. We ended up talking about the similarities of the Sedona rock formations in Sedona that appeared in the May 1959 issue of the magazine and the mystical qualities of both areas. One very old man, an artist, noticeably kept his distance until a woman waved the July 1971 "Beads" issue at him. As he took in the photographs and the article about the glass bead trade in this unique copy, his expression was priceless. When I told him it was his to keep, tears welled in his eyes and he grinned from ear to ear. Giving up my "Beads" issue was touching at the time, but it was also a little painful. I found myself often replacing those very special issues. Hence, I've become a small-time collector, according to my grandson, who put dibs on my collection as soon as he developed an interest in photography.
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