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  • Maddie LaBerge

International Women's Day: An Ode to the Tastemakers Before us, Heloise Crista

Updated: Mar 27, 2023

It is no secret that the Arizona Biltmore, a Waldorf Astoria Resort, is an iconic resort with a rich and legendary history. As a nearly century-old property on the Phoenix Historic Property Register, the Arizona Biltmore takes pride in showcasing its cultural heritage. When you visit, at some point during your stay, you will inevitably encounter several statues and sculptures. One of the artists featured on property, Heloise Swaback Crista, was a visionary often forgotten in relation to the rich resort history. Who was she, why she is eternally linked to the property, and what her connection is to Frank Lloyd Wright? Let's dive in.

At the east end of the Arizona Biltmore, framed by the fragrant lavender walk, lies the Wings of Phoenix sculpture. It was created by Heloise Swaback Crista in 1982, and it is prominently situated in a quiet corner of the property, as a tribute to her creative work across the Arizona Biltmore.

Heloise Swaback Crista was a renowned sculptor, whose passion for the art was ignited during her fellowship at the famed Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin in 1949. Crista is best known for her sculptures, including the bronze bust of Frank Lloyd Wright, which she created in 1956, and which still remains on display at Taliesin West in Scottsdale.

Crista's work was not limited to sculptures alone, and she had a deep passion for fashion and design. She served as the costume designer for the Taliesin Festivals of Music and Dance for over fifteen years. During her tenure, she created several unique and avant-garde costumes for the performers, which were widely appreciated and admired.

In the early 1970s, Crista was also responsible for designing the uniforms of the waitresses, waiters, barmen, bellmen, doormen, and front desk personnel at the Orangerie Restaurant (now known as Renata's Hearth) and the Arizona Biltmore. Her designs were modern and fashionable, yet classic and elegant, and blended seamlessly with the resort's rich history and heritage.

The dazzling Heloise Swaback Crista. Courtesy: The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation
The dazzling Heloise Swaback Crista. Courtesy: The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation

Apart from designing costumes and uniforms, Crista also designed tapestries made of leather and gilt for the Grand Ballroom in the early 1970s. Her designs were unique and reflected her passion for art and design.

Heloise passed away on March 11, 2018 at her home at Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona.

The Wings of Phoenix sculpture, which was created in 1982, is a testament to Crista's love for the Arizona Biltmore. The sculpture is a beautiful representation of the mythical phoenix, a symbol of rebirth and renewal, and stands tall and proud, reminding guests of the resort's rich and legendary history.

Heloise Swaback Crista was a talented artist, designer, and sculptor whose work continues to be celebrated and admired. Her passion for art and design is reflected in her sculptures, costumes, and uniform designs, which have stood the test of time and continue to be appreciated by guests at the Arizona Biltmore. By displaying the Wings of Phoenix sculpture, the resort pays tribute to Crista's creative work and ensures that her legacy lives on.


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