Big Jim: Boundary art

2013-10-18T00:00:00Z 2013-12-19T11:46:39Z Big Jim: Boundary artJim Griffith Special to the Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Take a drive through the semi-rural fringes of Tucson — beyond the housing developments, beyond the realm of neighborhood restrictions. Drive slowly, looking for details where the property lines meet the street. Pretty soon you’ll see them: home-made mailbox holders, gate decorations, even free-standing sculpture.

These are what I call “boundary art,” Something moves some folks to create public art on the edges of their property, and the art often makes a statement about the creator-owner. In Tucson’s more urban areas, there is front-yard art, often in the form or a religious shrine. I’ll write about that somewhat later. But right now, it’s boundary art.

The art often tells something about the folks who live in the house. It may be interests or hobbies, as in the case of a pair of motorcycle handlebars — or an entire motorcycle — supporting a mailbox.

Often the mailbox supports take the form of odd bits of agricultural equipment: I’ve seen ploughs and even an old tractor used for this purpose. These tend to be in rural areas, and were probably used by their owners 'til they became obsolete.

Gates, too, can be embellished. Most seem to convey a sense of place, like the ubiquitous, three-pole “Ponderosa Ranch” gates. The gates themselves may be embellished with horseshoes, cultivator wheels, or other reminders of former lifestyles. One favorite gate boasts a silhouette of San Xavier mission, cut from thin metal. Not all gates carry this built-in sense of nostalgia, however. The example shown here seems to have a different but clear message.

And then there are the saguaros made of pipe or horseshoes. They may serve as mailbox supports, address-holders, as illustrated here, or they can just be there, reminding us where we are.

Boundary art and the chance of encountering it enlivens my trips around town. I suspect I’m not alone in this.

By the way, this art seems to come in clusters, as though neighbors were getting ides from each other. The photographs in this essay were all taken on Tucson’s far southwest side within about a mile from each other.

Happy driving!

Photos by Jim Griffith, Special to the Arizona Daily Star

Copyright 2015 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

About this blog

Jim Griffith is the former director of the Southwest Folklore Center at the University of Arizona, and co-founder of Tucson Meet Yourself. He’s also the author of seven books on the folklore and folklife of our region, most recently “A Border Runs Through It.” His books can be purchased at

If you have questions or suggestions for Jim Griffith or this blog, e-mail

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