the salons

Wellington 'Duke' Reiter and Thomas Houlon

Wellington ‘Duke’ Reiter and Thomas Houlon


At night, a seemly endless sea of city lights spreads out in every direction from Taliesin West in the foothills of the McDowell Mountains in northeast Scottsdale.   Frank Lloyd Wright had built his winter home and school to be outside of the city and far from the core.

With a warm fireplace lit, one evening at Taliesin West, home of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, members of Spirit of the Senses gathered to hear Wellington “Duke” Reiter, Senior Advisor to the President, ASU, and Chair, Urban Land Institute, Arizona, for a salon discussion about his vision for the  core of Phoenix, and the design, culture and transformation of Central Avenue in Downtown Phoenix.  The salon gathering was hosted by Aaron Betsky, Dean of Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture.

Duke is a charismatic speaker and was able to bring excitement to his vision for Downtown Phoenix.  Duke spoke about how cities such as New York, Chicago, and San Francisco, had neighborhoods that blended walkability, engagement, creativity, education, and investment. Duke told the gathering that the downtown Central Avenue corridor of Phoenix has the potential to develop as a dynamic urban core of the city.  Through the convergence of the arts and urbanism, 1.5 miles of Central Avenue in the downtown corridor could be a magnet and give Phoenix a unique identity, such as the San Antonio river walk or The High Line in New York City.   Duke spoke with Spirit of the Senses members about some exciting ideas.

Duke talked about the role universities played in developing a successful foundation for the private sector to develop urban areas.   The university can provide talent to formulate ideas that businesses can translate to action.    Duke, who has been an instrumental player in how Arizona State University has transformed downtown Phoenix, spoke about ASU’s interest in helping Phoenix to be a dynamic place for the University to flourish.  Now, apartments and housing are being constructed, business is moving downtown, and perhaps soon a grocery store will be built.

In the near future, 15,000 students will be attending at the ASU Downtown campus.  The schools of Journalism, Nursing, and Law have been chosen by ASU to be Downtown.  The move of these schools Downtown has given students close proximity to the journalism, medical, legal, and political centers that are in Downtown.  ASU is also moving some Art school studios Downtown to be near the recently expanding art scene.  A vision for the Central corridor is to also move the ASU art gallery to Downtown nearby the Phoenix Art Museum and Heard Museum that would create a row of museums in close proximity.    To create a more walkable and attractive civic space, solar shade structures have been proposed along the 1.5 mile Central Avenue cultural corridor that stretches from Jefferson Street north to the Heard Museum.



Thomas Houlon with Clive Wynne, PhD

Thomas Houlon with Clive Wynne, PhD

“How many of you let your dog sleep on your bed?” was asked by Clive Wynne, PhD, an ASU psychology professor who specializes in the cognition and behavior of dogs.  Clive was speaking at a salon discussion about the psychology of dogs with members of Spirit of the Senses.   Perhaps not surprisingly, many raised their hand that their dogs slept on their beds.

An estimate of the dog population in the United States is about 90 million. Dr. Wynne explained that though dogs have been companions of humans since before the times of Ancient Egypt, the breeds of dogs we have today have been developed in the past two hundred years.   In ancient times there were different breeds of dogs.   Today’s  dog breeds such as the German Shepard were originally bred in the 1800’s.

Clive Wynne’s lab at Arizona State University studies a variety of areas on dog cognition and behavior.  Some of the areas include canine dementia, helping dogs in shelters, and olfactory detection in dogs.     

Today one in ten dogs in America sleep each night in a shelter.  In the discussion, Clive discussed how his lab has studied what traits make dogs more attractive to people selecting dogs from shelters.  Such behavior as licking was not attractive for many people.  Interestingly, Clive said there has been no research on why dogs lick.  Clive said that painting walls and making shelters and environments attractive for people did not necessarily make these environments appealing for dogs.

Clive has interest in researching the behavior of older dogs to understand canine dementia.     Dr. Wynne suggested that research on dogs might be best with pets.   Sensitive and simple tests could be made in the dogs own homes much less expensive than breeding and boarding dogs for this purpose.

Dr. Wynne has found in his research that no machine has been developed with the olfactory detection of dogs.   Clive suggested that instead of investing fortunes in trying to develop such machines, possibly a better use of financial resources would be in the research and training of dogs ability to smell.


Local Couple Fosters Intellectual Community

Article Jamie Leland | Photography Patty Barnes, May Cheney and Mary T. Claffey

For many of us, it can be difficult to find our niche in the sprawl of the Phoenix Metro Area.

“You see the cars; you don’t see the people,” says Spirit of the Senses founder Thomas Houlon.

Thomas Houlon and Patty Barnes

Thomas Houlon and Patty Barnes

Though the size and breadth of the Valley does not always foster the most intimate sense of community, Houlon and his wife, Patty Barnes, have carved out their own cultural oasis. Since 1983, the couple has had phenomenal success bringing exceptional minds and talent to the intellectually curious through their group, Spirit of the Senses.

Houlon and Barnes typically schedule about twelve events a month, which cover a variety of topics relating to art, science and culture. Each time, a different featured speaker or performer will come to a special location in the Valley ranging from, for example, a local landscape architect’s remarkable backyard to Phoenix Country Day School, down the street from a natural bat habitat on the canal. Events manifest in a variety of ways: an intimate discussion on poetry; a quiet performance; a well-orchestrated lecture.

“We weren’t sure what to call them at first,” Houlon remembers. Coming up with an accurate descriptor proved to be a challenge, until a friend of his offhandedly described them as “salons,” invoking the European tradition. Despite this apt description, conveying exactly what the group is about remains a difficult task, as there is little to compare it to.

“It’s a hidden gem,” Jan Ghelfi says of the group. She and her husband Al are veteran hosts of these salons. Houlon describes it as “a treat” to hold salons at their Arcadia home. The view is particularly remarkable – the southern-facing patio features a sheer, red rock wall to the east and a glittering view of the city to the south and west.

Earlier this September, Paul Davies, director of the Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science at ASU, presented his research on cancer in their living room. The topic seemed unusual for a physicist who knew nothing about the disease six years ago, but in 2007, Davies was invited by the National Cancer Institute to provide a fresh perspective in cancer research. He tells the group that his job is to be, “right at the cutting edge – really beyond the edge”. And, while a mind like Davies’ is uncommon, this type of intelligence and passion is typical of many Spirit of the Senses guests and members.

“Patty is a voracious reader,” shares Houlon. According to him, Barnes’s habit has had a strong influence on their salon calendar as she is constantly being exposed to new, exciting ideas through her reading and has become well acquainted with some of the brightest Valley residents over the past 30 years. She has been fortunate enough to share these new ideas with other members of her community by bringing speakers like Davies – who are exploring “beyond-cutting-edge” ideas – directly to them.

“We want to torture our members,” Houlon says with a smile. “Our goal is to make it very difficult for them to decide which salons to attend.”

Spirit of the Senses currently consists of approximately 300 members, and all are welcome to join. Membership, which is $300 a year, includes admission to up to five salons per month. The salons require an RSVP to attend and typically occur in the evenings, lasting around two hours. To learn more about Spirit of the Senses, their upcoming salons and how to join, visit

“People want to find the passion,” states Houlon. He and Barnes are doing what they can to share theirs with the community.

This article appeared in the November 2013 issue of Paradise Valley lifestyle magazine.


William Eaton is a four time Grammy nominee, who has performed on stages large and small, he is a designer and builder of unique guitars that have been written about and exhibited internationally, and he is the director of the Roberto-Venn School of Luthiery, the longest running guitar making school in North America, located in downtown Phoenix.  In addition, he and his wife Christie run The Old Town Center for the Arts,  a performing arts center in Cottonwood.   Also this year, after almost a forty year hiatus from the sport, he is the number one pole vaulter in the USA in his age category.


William Eaton

William Eaton


For thirty years at Spirit of the Senses salons, William Eaton has been performing inside interesting acoustic environments to enhance the experience of listening to sound and music.  Once Monitor Radio recorded his performance a half mile deep inside a 20’ diameter cement drainage pipe, several times William explored the soundscapes of the three story tiled office lobby, another time a performance was created in a desert canyon, another time inside a planetarium, and once at a home that was made of boulders.  In the Spring for Spirit of the Senses, William will be performing inside an atrium. These musical acoustic experiences have been called Mystery Sound Environments.


The many other Spirit of the Senses salon performances, that involve classical or jazz forms of music, also have much musical intimacy and engage the listener with rapture.  The differences in the experiences may be that William Eaton’s Mystery Sound Environments also emphasize every sound in the space, including birds, unexpected noises, and the listener’s movements.  There may or may not be familiar melodies.  The environments become a larger player on the experience, both acoustically and visually.  The echos inside these spaces can engulf the listener and be a major part of the sound experience.


At a salon coming up in the Spring, William Eaton will also discuss his musical instruments, that are works of art.   These guitars, lyres, and variations of harps, are exotic to see.   Somehow his musical instruments at the same moment look both ancient and futuristic in style.   His musical instruments become a part of the theatre of the acoustic experience that William offers.  The environments that he performs inside then become extensions of his musical instruments.


Perhaps something that the listener can take away from experiencing a Mystery Sound Environments performance by William Eaton is that one can find mystery sound environments everywhere.  In this way, the world is experienced as a special place that enchants the listener.


Gertraud Wild, author, photographer, and adventurer, first crossed paths with Spirit of the Senses almost twenty years ago during a chance meeting with someone while at Biltmore Fashion Park.    She and her husband joined the group right away.


Gertraud and her husband David Ricks live in Vienna, Austria and reside part of the year at their home in the greater Biltmore area.  She describes the salons of Spirit of the Senses as the soul of Phoenix for her.   The salons offer an abundance of exposure to the arts, sciences, and culture that gives enrichment to her every day life.  “Spirit of the Senses makes me feel at home and the group provides a continuity and belonging while I’m in Phoenix” she says.


Over the past few years, Gertraud has been invited to talk at salons about her exotic walking treks in different parts of the world.   She has spoken about her travels in Ethiopia and in Nepal.   She has also written two books in the German language about these treks.   The two books are filled with her photographs that reflect her personal encounters and offer a diary of how she experienced her travels.  Her salon discussions at Spirit of the Senses have provided her an additional way to revisit these experiences and show others images of her personal treks.


“When traveling I like to experience directly the places I am visiting by having a close  relationship with the place, the people and the culture.  I want to experience with all my senses.”


One evening at a salon discussion, Gertaud spoke of her travels with her oldest son Lawrence through urban and remote parts of Ethiopia.  She showed photographs of the people she met along her trek and discussed her encounters with the culture and religion.


Another evening at a salon discussion, Gertraud discussed and shared photos of her 21  day trek in Nepal with her younger son Robert and daughter Anna-Sophie.  In preparation for her trek in the Himalayas, Gertraud trained by hiking Piestawa Peak every day.   Gertraud’s trek to Nepal was close to the Tibetan border along ancient trade routes to the base camp of the mountain Manaslu, the eighth highest peak in the world.   Gertraud and her son and daughter also trekked in the sacred Buddhist region, The Tsum Valley.


Gertraud is planning her next salon for sometime this winter with Spirit of the Senses.   She will discuss her 14 day trek along the World Heritage Trail through the Wachau Valley along the Danube River in her native Austria.


Spirit of the Senses brings different perspectives together in conversation on important issues.  Spirit of the Senses invites many of the leading thinkers and talents in the arts, architecture, science, medicine, law and philosophy to have conversations that enlighten awareness of the world and stimulate ideas.  Many of these salon discussions are hosted in homes near and in the Biltmore area.   In addition to the salons hosted in  the Phoenix area, Spirit of the Senses plans salon trips to New York City, California, and Boston.   If you would like to become a part of the conversation you can find information about Spirit of the Senses at or by calling (602) 906-0091.


Robert, Anna-Sophie, Gertraud Wild in Nepal

Robert, Anna-Sophie, Gertraud Wild in Nepal



“The music of Spooky Kool at a recent Salon was spooky good, and a prime example

of the great musical performances — jazz and otherwise — provided by

Spirit of the Senses.” – Brad Christensen


Spooky Kool

Spooky Kool


Gabriel Bey, aka Spooky Kool has enchanted the musical memories of those that have attended Spirit of the Senses the past few years.   Many can remember the evening last spring at the 30th anniversary party for the salons, when Spooky Kool was playing his trumpet off to the side in the darkness while several hundred people gathered to look through two powerful telescopes into the night sky.


This summer Spooky Kool brought members of his new band together at a home near the Biltmore area, and performed their original neo-soul and nu-jazz songs from a new CD the band will soon release.  Some of the new recordings are posted on the Internet ( ) in advance of the CD release.   Songs such as the catchy melody ‘Hold Me’ with vocalist and keyboard artist Sandra Bassett, came alive in  the living room of the salon host’s home.  The band which in addition to Gabriel Bey and Sandra Bassett, also consists of guitarist Pete Mello, drummer Phil Jazer, and bassist Jeff Lokensgard,  energized the room.


Alicia Crumpton who attended this summer’s salon said “Spirit of the Senses salons afford an opportunity to engage the whole person in the world of ideas, art, music, culture, and science.   Gabriel Bey’s Spooky Kool, music defies rigid categorization.  While listening at the salon, I experienced the sensation of settling into my chair living the music, fearing it would stop and bring me back to reality.”


At the break in the middle of the salon performance, everyone had the pleasure of refreshments and there was a chance to meet and talk with the musicians.   There were smiles all around.   And after the break, Spooky Kool’s trumpet and the band’s rhythm again filled the room, and toes were tapping in the groove.


Almost every month, Spirit of the Senses includes a music performance in the diverse mix of a dozen or so salon gatherings.    The salons are an opportunity for the musicians to explore and expand their creative talents.  The attentive audience gathered adds to the excitement of their performance.   Recent and future musical salon offerings include a mix of classical, pop, jazz, and improvised soundscapes and vocals performed by solo artists, duos, quartets and bands.


Turner Davis

Turner Davis


An artist who is the son of an artist spoke about his father’s art.


One morning this summer members of Spirit of the Senses visited Riva Yares Gallery in Scottsdale to discuss an exhibition of the paintings of Arizona artist James G. Davis and to see the  Gallery’s collection on view.


Our guide was artist Turner Davis, the son of James Davis. The younger Davis gave the  group gathered an insight into art’s inspiration.  Turner spoke of how his parents had taken him on their travels and how he grew up at an art colony near Tucson.  Turner told us of how his father first started painting as a way to be engaged with life during a long healing process for an injured foot.   This was the beginning of his father James Davis’s successful career as an artist.   In his conversation, Turner expressed how he had grown up visiting Riva Yares Gallery when his father first started exhibiting at the Gallery.   Years later,  as opportunities were presented, Turner would start working at the Gallery.


Turner spoke about the early days of the Gallery that then occupied a smaller footprint of the contemporary building that now exists.   Turner said Riva Yares became a dealer of high end art starting during the 1970‘s in Phoenix and Santa Fe.  Among the paintings on view in the Gallery are works by many noted artists including Milton Avery.   And also, the group could see a painting by Turner on one of the Gallery’s walls.


Turner could identify objects and people in his father’s narrative paintings.   In this most recent exhibition his father had painted images from his personal life, including outline portraits of Turner’s mother.  There before all of us to see were images that were part of  his father James Davis’s life and part of Turner’s life.   One painting in the exhibition had taken over ten years before his father James Davis had felt the work to be complete.


James Davis is now a professor emeritus of art at the University of Arizona and his art is in many museum collections including The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Hershhorn Museum and The National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., as well as  The Phoenix Art Museum.


Turner Davis, who became inspired to create art through his parents, portrays both an autobiography and language of images in his drawings and paintings.   Turner currently is working on an illustrated book project.  Turner has also found artistic satisfaction teaching drawing to beginners and for young people.

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