"Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life." - Pablo Picasso

Those words are perhaps most meaningful when applied to our homes - our respite from the chaos of life.

How we chose to surround ourselves with art impacts how we live, said Jean Cooper, chair of the Arizona Opera League's 39th Home Tour. This year's theme is The Art of Living: Living With Art.

Eight homes with diverse art collections will be featured over two Saturdays - March 16 and 23. Four homes will be featured each day.

Proceeds benefit the Arizona Opera, including educational programs in Tucson, as well as visits to nursing homes and schools by young singers based in Tucson who are affiliated with Arizona Opera, Cooper said.

"All of the homes on the tour have unique art collections, and some are owned by artists whose studios will also be included," Cooper said.

Some of the homes will feature artists working on site.

Four homes in the central Tucson-lower Foothills area are on tour March 16, including two homes built by Josias Joesler, a Foothills home owned by two artists and an adobe home in the Old Fort Lowell Neighborhood. Four homes on Tucson's east side will be featured March 23.

"The tour can give you wonderful ideas," Cooper said. "People are looking for ways to give their homes new eye appeal but they don't have a big budget. A new frame or moving your pieces around can give your home a whole new look."

Here are three homes that will be featured on the tour:


The home of Merlin and Janie Cohen is filled with works of art that have come from their hands and their hearts.

Merlin Cohen gave up a successful dental practice years ago after the retired chair of the sculpture department at the University of Florida moved into his neighborhood. He inspired Cohen to start sculpting, and it became a full-time profession.

The Cohens' home, near Swan and Sunrise roads, is a showplace for curving alabaster, marble and granite sculptures. Also filling the home are oil and acrylic paintings by Janie Cohen, some inspired by her childhood in the South.

The couple moved to Tucson 1998. Merlin Cohen had been stationed at Fort Huachuca in the 1980s and long dreamed of the desert. They added on two artist studios that attach to the home. Both will discuss their art during the tour.

"People love to hear about the different types of stones and my directions for choosing what goes into the stone and what comes out," said Merlin Cohen, president of the board of trustees at Tucson Museum of Art. "I find it exciting to talk to people about art. Every piece is one of a kind."

He said the tour will provide an opportunity for art enthusiasts to share inspiration and ideas.

Janie Cohen said her painting developed when she met Merlin, whom she married 20 years ago.

She grew up in the South, and as a young child she despised the injustices she witnessed. She has painted the African-American women who inspired her.

Visitors to the contemporary home will find "a home that looks lived-in," Janie Cohen said. "It's an eclectic collection of arts and crafts, and most of it isn't expensive. I like people to see they can mix things. And you don't have to have a lot of money to make something attractive."

Jo and Corey Smith live in a modern Joesler near River Road and Campbell Avenue, providing a stunning backdrop for their eclectic collection of modern art.

"A lot of the beauty is the setting, the view, the layout," Jo Smith said of the home that sits on 3 1/2 acres, with 14-foot ceilings and spacious rooms. A 19-by-8-foot picture window in the living room looks up at Finger Rock in the Santa Catalina Mountains.

The home was built in 1949 for an artist who wanted to use it as a studio and later as a residence. The Smiths did extensive exterior renovations, and added steel features, including a shade structure and a second-story deck.

The Smiths started collecting art about 20 years ago. Many artists are represented, and much of it is abstract. The collection includes paintings, ceramics, photography and carved driftwood spirit poles from Baton Rouge, La. Some of it is whimsical, some of it dark.

"We have things we have found at a garage sale, and things that are very nice pieces of art," Jo Smith said. "If we find things we really like, we add them."

March 23

They call it El Descansadero - the resting place. This property, which was a working ranch known as Smokey Springs Ranch in the 1940s, is set on 20 acres in a mesquite bosque surrounded by mountains on the far east side.

Beth and Bob Fulfer live in a Spanish ranch home that once belonged to a ranch hand. They rent out five small homes on the peaceful property that they call The Casitas at Smokey Springs. For years, the casitas have attracted artists, writers and bird-watchers.

Also living on the property are horses, mules, donkeys, sheep, goats, birds - many of them rescues and all pets.

"It's a secluded getaway, so peaceful with the trees and the green and the cool," Beth Fulfer said. "We love the quiet and the solitude."

Bob Fulfer created dining room chairs from the original kitchen ceiling beams and built stunning mesquite cabinets in the kitchen,

Beth Fulfer said they are new art collectors, and much of it is Western. "For the most part, every piece we have we know the artist."

She said good lighting is critical in displaying art. "The right lighting really makes the beautiful artwork jump off the wall."

If you go

• What: Arizona Opera League's 39th Home Tour - The Art of Living: Living With Art.

• When: 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday and 23, featuring four homes each day.

• Cost: $40 for a single day, $70 for both days and $20 for students for both days.

• Information and tickets: azopera.org. Tickets can also be purchased with cash or check at California Closets, 3001 E. Skyline Drive; House 'N Garden, 250 E. Wetmore Road; Table Talk, 6842 E. Tanque Verde Road or 7876 N. Oracle Road; and the Green Valley Sahuarita Chamber of Commerce, 275 W. Continental Road in Green Valley.

Contact local freelance writer Gabrielle Fimbres at gfimbres@comcast.net