State of the Art

Lisa Van LooOctober 2019
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Native American art is at the forefront of Harrah’s Ak-Chin Hotel and Casino’s recent revamp.

The front desk at Harrah’s Ak-Chin Hotel and Casino in Maricopa is backlit, allowing visitors to absorb the details of the conceptual mesquite tree that spreads its branches across the wall. Its modern look is still anchored in tradition, and that same energy flows throughout the casino, which recently underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation that allowed a tribal committee to make decisions about how it would look and feel.

“We based it on our culture, so you can’t get that wrong if you know the culture,” says Jeannette Peters, an art technician and committee member. “This is something we knew.”

Working with a Missouri-based architect, the tribal committee went to great lengths to inject purpose and meaning into the space, something committee members said it was lacking prior to the renovation. The committee went so far as to take the out-of-town architects on a field trip one day to retrieve a piece of a mesquite tree for tangible inspiration.

“We wanted it to look like a mesquite. So, they needed to feel it,” says Elaine Peters, director of the Ak-Chin Him-Dak Eco-Museum.

It is that intention and attention to detail that sets Harrah’s Ak-Chin apart from other tribal casinos. Woven baskets, created by locals and other Native American artists, hang throughout the casino’s restaurants and hallways. Metalwork pieces reflect the curves of Devil’s Claw, a flowering plant used for weaving. Photography that fills the walls was sourced by asking the community to contribute photos that reflect the local landscape.

And the casino’s entryway pays homage to the skeleton of a saguaro cactus, the radiant colors of local sunsets and the design within a split-stitch woven basket.

“This entrance is a ‘wow’ factor,” says Waylon Antone, art coordinator and committee member. “People recognize the basket patterns right off the bat. They find that connection.”

Ak-Chin Art

Standout pieces that feature prominently within Harrah’s Ak-Chin:

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Farmer and Caregiver are a set of portraits created by Marla Allison. The canvas paintings, which offer a mosaic feel, were inspired by photographs taken by an Ak-Chin community member.

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The entryway, which reflects the radiant colors of the sunsets in the Ak-Chin community, is shaped and designed like a split-stitch woven basket and is bookended by a pair of pillars designed to reflect the look of saguaro skeletons.

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An artistic interpretation of a mesquite tree, complete with small leaves growing from the branches, spreads across the length of the front desk.

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