Nora Burba Trulsson

Deep into the pandemic, Globe resident Thea Wilshire, a psychologist and local activist, was sick of the isolation, lack of activity and absence of community. At about 2 a.m., she woke up with a “Eureka!” moment: the feeling that public art was the perfect response to what COVID-19 had taken away. She invited community members to a meeting to discuss her ideas and quickly realized her friend Regina Ortega-Leonardi, a Globe business owner and fellow community activist, needed to partner with her. Ortega-Leonardi was in — and the seed for the Stairizona trail project was planted.

The urban hiking trail, with three loops of up to 6.4 miles in length, climbs up and down Globe’s historic Works Progress Administration-era staircases, across several footbridges, around the historic downtown district and beyond, passing murals and steps painted by local and regional artists. While still a work in progress, to date, more than two dozen artists — not to mention scores of volunteers and schoolchildren — have participated in Stairizona’s 62 artworks and points of interest, creating not only an interesting tourist destination, but also a rallying point for the community.

“Back in 2021, when we started this, it was a pretty dark time for Globe,” Wilshire recalls. “Wildfires in the Tonto National Forest closed our nearby hiking trails, and the paths at our Old Dominion [Mine] Park were closed because of safety issues. Everyone was still feeling the effects of the lockdowns, and a lot of businesses were closed.” Ultimately, Globe’s old staircases and retaining walls, which mark the paths workers used to walk to Globe’s copper mines, became the focus of the urban trail project.

With Ortega-Leonardi, Wilshire founded I Art Globe, a public art group. Reaching out to the community, the pair found the response overwhelming, and they gathered a corps of volunteers and began fundraising. Money came from grants and donations from local businesses, and the pair worked with the city of Globe on logistics.

The first art projects — a series of Instagram-worthy murals painted by high school students, volunteers and Mayor Al Gameros — took shape. The first staircase, which leads to an upper street, was cleaned up and painted with thousands of Mexican goldpoppies by Safford artist Brandt Woods, who was inspired by the spring blooms that proliferate in the area.

The process to get the art and trail paths in place was a matter of learning by doing, Ortega-Leonardi says. “This was all a vague idea at first, and we had no clue about how much things cost,” she recalls with a laugh. “We really had to work to get city permissions and business owners to buy into the project, not to mention navigating liability waivers and insurance.” 

Finding the artists was another learning curve. Guided by Woods, the two organized a call for artists, asking for samples of their work rather than a specific idea for a mural or staircase. “We went with a ‘local flora and fauna’ theme,” Ortega-Leonardi says, “and then we expanded to local culture and Native American symbology.”

The responses came from all over the region, including several from the nearby San Carlos Apache Tribe. While many of the artists were professional, others had little or no experience. “This project helped launch some local people into an art career,” Wilshire says. “They went on to get other mural commissions.”

The completed artworks cover a range of styles, subjects and sizes. Myron Starr’s postcard-style Welcome to Globe takes up the side of a building, while vividly hued depictions of flowers by five artists brighten an underpass. When no artist came forth to claim one set of steps, Wilshire pulled out an example of Apache beading from her personal collection and, with volunteers, painted a stylized version of the beads on stair risers, tracing the forms with yogurt lids. The smallest works of art are a series of foot-high, cartoon-like Gila monsters (Globe is, of course, in Gila County), painted by artist Kalee Hansen, on walls of businesses that dot downtown Globe. For one gracing a dance studio, the lizard sports a tutu; another, on a dental office, wields a toothbrush.

While the initial, smaller loop trail focused on downtown Globe, the project spiraled outward to the 6.4-mile total, encompassing everything from historic grave markers at the old Globe Cemetery to the dog park on Noftsger Hill, where artist Patty Sjolin’s dog portraits and Steven Giles’ metal canine silhouettes provide a backdrop for pets romping. While visitors can tackle the Stairizona Trail on their own, I Art Globe offers guided tours, the first Saturday of every month from November through May, that offer more insight into the art and local history. 

And Stairizona isn’t quite finished. A mural for a massive retaining wall that faces Broad Street, downtown’s main thoroughfare, was completed recently, and interpretive signs along the route are among the additions planned for the future.

“Globe has always been Arizona’s best-kept secret,” Wilshire says. “Stair­izona is a tipping point for the community. We found a lot of talent here. It has been a blessing.”