At the close of a long weekend on the property, I sat down with some of my reference material in the sunroom to find images for my new paintings. I'm cannibalizing books we found on the property, outside in the sand-- eight volumes of what I thought was an encyclopedia, published in 1930, the year the Dairy was built. They are bound in embossed leather, with priceless spine text like "Proverbs to Tapeworm." Drawn diagrams of mathematical structures, measurements, and architectural drawings are perfect for my developing series based on sky surveillance and military menace in the desert, or so I'm thinking...
Anyway, I was looking through one of the books, and it slowly dawned on me that this is not an encyclopedia, but a home schooling manual. Although I still have to research our original homesteaders, they probably came with young children, and there may not have been a school in 29 Palms yet (in fact, the City of 29 wasn't incorporated until 1987). Now I can picture the mother, leading lessons (highly gendered in these books), and the father, working the kids on the land. Less that 100 years ago, and so very, very different.
I'm super happy to be spending five nights in the desert. The weather is perfect and there's nothing pressing to do. Of course I always have a list going of things to fix/clean/improve, including painting more walls and ceilings, gardening, and the ever-present trash collection. Am getting ready for our second family Thanksgiving--the kids loved our paella last year, and called for a repeat. I hope everyone will appreciate a year's worth of work on the place.
I'm experiencing less and less desert despair. It helps that it's lovely and warm during the day and cool at night without being too chilly. We brought out the small fireplace that I'd originally purchased for my condo, but the HOA outlawed them, so took it to the Huts, but we never used it. It's for one or two people, and a lot safer than our big bonfire area.
I'm hosting an artist this weekend who is doing a project about how women deal with physicality as they age. She will film me sweeping. As I get older I fight against my body wanting to do less and less with chores. Sweeping is always one of the first things I do upon arrival.
I spent several afternoons with my neighbor, Abe, chatting about the history of our Desert Dairy. I've yet to be here on a Wednesday when the 29 Palms historical archives are open, so don't have formal research yet. But I now understand that only one family owned this property for almost 90 years. Teri, the woman we bought it from, said she came here as a little girl, and that's why I thought there were two families involved. But she came to live at her grandpa's house.
The major characters:
Grandpa, the dairy farmer who built the house and barn in 1930.
Miner Mike, his son, who turned to mining when the dairy dried up.
Teri and her brother Mike, who inherited the property from their father.
A single family explains why we found items related to the dairy in the sand, and books from the 30s. Miner Mike brought rocks to the property from mines across Southern California and Arizona. According to my neighbor, father and son snuck into the abandoned Bisbee mine, bringing back loads to the Dairy. Somewhere on the dune there is a contraption that tumbles the rock apart.
During a dispute between one of the Mikes and a neighbor, they burned down a structure. Brother Mike spent time in prison, and both he and Teri's son died of heroin overdoses.
Abe is convinced there's gold under the sand. He also said there was a large pile of valuable rock near the house, and a few months after we bought the property someone drove through our fence, knocking it down, probably looking for this rock pile. It's long gone.
Our first official resident arrived Wednesday and spent several days alone in the house and cottage preparing for her durational performance. Eventually a videographer arrived, among others. After losing water for a few hours due to a pipe break (a good reminder that things have improved), I made a dinner on Friday night, breaking out the pizza oven. Success! Finally I get the hang of how to bake inside the earth oven (don't put dough directly on the heat bricks--use pie, cake and tortilla pans).
Saturday we had 12 cars and Sunday 10. An improvement over weekend #1, but not by much. Am interested to hear how others are faring on the tour--sales? visitors? At least the weather was absolutely perfect. I do appreciate friends making the trip from SD and LA, and several influential desert art peeps also stopped by.
We made a quick addition to our property--tire stairs going up the dune. I got tired of carrying the dog up (he doesn't like the prickly brush growing on the sand), and we don't want people going up multiple paths, to protect the roots of plantlife there. Now I can send people up without having to show them the way. And it's easier, no tripping hazards.
Will have to think long and hard about doing the Tour again. It's contributing to the scene, but next year will there be 200 studios, then 300, etc? More and more artists keep coming here.
Somehow I need to figure out how to bring in funds to support this place. I can feel how much people want to be on our property, but this is zoned as a residence, not a business.
Best: people who matter liked my new helicopter paintings. Next I'll make several big ones. I can do it, because we have a barn.
Wrapped up weekend #1 of the Desert Dairy's first participation the Hwy 62 Art Tours. The barn and parking lot were sparking (someone said "sparse," which I take as the HIGHEST compliment). Weather was perfect, cool in barn, 90 degrees outside at hottest.
We are studio #121 of 126 studios, from Morongo Valley to Wonder Valley. That's a lot of artists. I was not holding my breath, and good thing: seven car loads of visitors came on Saturday and only five on Sunday. That said, we had a couple of small sales, which is unheard of with such a small number of eyeballs on the work.
It's a strange show. At a gallery opening, everyone stands around socializing and drinking, and occasionally looks at the work. At an art fair, hundreds of visitors shuffle into your booth, but their eyes are glazed from seeing so much stuff. This studio tour takes effort to reach us by car, so everyone stays for at least 15 minutes, and some for much longer. They look at the art, and they look at the place, and almost everyone wants to have a conversation. It's refreshing.
That said, we heard of old timers on the tour, even further east than us, having a dozen sales on the first day. And sites on the main highway in JT having 50 visitors per day. So this may take years to build up.
Will report back after weekend #2.
A few more patches to the outside of the barn in preparation for the Art Tours.
Hill&Stump “Blooming Saguaro” made the PR poster for the Collective Show. Nice!
And our neighbor dragged our road so it’s ready for the public to drive in comfortably. Hope people show up! We are #121 out of 126 artist spaces on the tour (they are numbered west to east—shows how far our we are).
I think of this old farmhouse as an animal, alive and breathing. Our first summer here was miserable, because the place was still wrecked and we had no water. This second summer is more tolerable because we've taken steps to cool the interior: new (used) swamp cooler, more ceiling fans installed, roof painted white, new insulation in the sunroom ceiling, and blackout shades on the windows. Still using portable AC units in the bedrooms.
The breathing part comes with the cooler air at night: you have to let it in. At 5am I open windows, turn on the swamp cooler fan only, and try to blow out heat still in the house. By 10am, close the house back up and turn on the swamp cooler. Late afternoon, if it's terrible, turn on the AC in the bedroom to cool it down for the night.
Old-fashioned tricks work, like soaking feet in a pot of cool water, and wet towels at night to get body temps down. Someone told me of growing up in Amboy without AC, sleeping under a soaked sheet every night. Summer in the desert is sort of like birthing labor, you forget the pain once it's over.
Black Widow vs. Long Horned Beetle. These beetles are about 2” long, flying, can dent a car, and nasty. They are invasive and eat the roots of trees. So the spiders are doing us a favor but at the same time having giant widows around the house is not optimal.
New growth in mid August! This summer hasn’t been as hot as last, so far.
New seating area looking north. Good for sunset watching. Olive tree is getting a soaking.
I came up out to stay for four days in August, and by some miracle the weather was not too brutal (yes, about 107 mid afternoons, but cooling down well at night). My goals were to meet some friends, go to life drawing group, and water the plants before school starts.
But the barn called me. I took some paintings into the space to see how they might work for the Hwy 62 Art Tours in October. I will show Hill&Stump in the barn, and new desert work in the offices. But the sickly green and oily fingerprints on the walls of the bigger office space (pictured above) wasn’t cutting it. So impromptu spray out and two coats of paint later, we have a white box gallery!
We are not painting the small office with the bureau in it, the patina there is really beautiful. Am hoping that we will have many wonderful art shows in the Dairy Space!
Even when we are not at the Dairy, work continues thanks to our fabulous handyguy, Matt. He’s rebuilding out barn storage room, repairing the roof (again) after wind and monsoons, and continuing to haul out trash one truckload at a time. He also added supports to our patio, which was starting to lean badly. We are grateful to have found such a great guy.
I'm about to fly to Atlanta to see my Tuba-playing son perform with the Blue Devils (am beyond proud of him, BD is the #1 team in the world), and then drive to Tennessee to work on a new set of desert florals with Daphne (www.hillandstump.com). So, I came back to 29 for a few days to water and make sure everything's ok. And because I miss it and love it here.
The weather had been nasty, but was supposed to cool down. First day was not good, over 110, although I saw two shooting stars. Next day was 107 by 2pm, and Ted was driving out, so we met at a friend's pool in Joshua Tree to cool down. By the time we got there it was only 92, and cloudy. Nice. That night, storms moved in, and at midnight a lightning strike knocked out the power. As rains moved in, we slept in the open doorway to get air (bedroom pretty much sealed up to keep in the AC, useless with no power). By 8am there was still no electricity, which for us also means no well pumping water. We hit McDonalds for coffee because our favorite shop (Jumbo Rock in the Mobil station) was closed, and it turns out McD's is super lux in 29, with a large dining room equipped for computer use.
The day continued in true monsoon fashion, with pouring rain followed by hot sun steaming the sand. It felt like Thailand. Sadly, the roof again has leaks, but our guy thinks he can seal them. Even though it was still a bit rainy, I took a shower outdoors under a spectacular sunset, and then sat in my eastward facing chair with my trusty dog on lap. Perfect.
I loved the residency hacienda in Maravatio so much, I was worried I'd be disappointed to return to the Mojave. Relieved to say, am very glad to be back. The swamp cooler is working, and I've swept and mopped, restocked the fridge, and made new lists of things to fix/clean/remodel. New summer schedule: get up at 5am, nap 2-4pm, bed by 9pm.
Oh, and I will have a solo exhibition at the 29 Palms Art Gallery next year, so, yay!
Random photos below:
blooming smoke tree on morning hike
storage shed on barn, in progress
property dragged for trash and underbrush
my neighbor stopped by with his new creatures
gifts of plants from a local
Interview about Mexican Residency:
Q: Ted and Anna, tell us where you are.
Ted: We are in Michoacan at an artist residency called Guapamacataro Center for Art and Ecology.
Q: What kind of environment is it? Where are you staying and working?
Ted: It’s like being on the Ponderosa about 100 years ago. We stay and work in a big hacienda, parts of which were built in the 1750s. There are five residents here for three weeks, and we each have our own studio to work in. It’s very rural, with cows, horses and livestock all around us.
Anna: And a very cute litter of puppies.
Q: Did you know how you were going to use your time before you got to Mexico? How did you prepare?
Ted: I had no idea what I was going to do. I brought lots of different supplies to draw and paint with. I bought fabric in the town about 10 miles away and am now making a large painting about village life.
Anna: I came prepared with a project, because I’m the planning type. I’m continuing a painting series based on endangered animals called “Terrariums,” and am concentrating on the jaguar, which no longer exists in California. The last week I painted a huge mural on the living room wall!
Q: How is this residency affecting your work?
Ted: I’m not used to being in an agrarian environment. I notice all the patterns in the fields, the tile roofs, the traditional fabrics people wear here. I realized I wanted to focus on the view from my studio window, looking out on a two room school house and dirt road, where everyone passes by. I’m trying to show the life of the village. There’s a whole tradition in Mexico of illustrating a lot of activity in one big painting or mural, and that’s also influenced me.
Anna: The colors, of course, are incredible here, oranges and greens and fantastic stormy skies. I generally paint like a crazy person, without editing, and later I’ll figure out if anything is worth saving. It was interesting that by week three I was finally doing works that were affected by the actually hacienda (the mural, and a series of small paintings with Ted)--it took that long to get out of my normal routine.
Q: Anything you’d like to add anything else about being on a residency in a foreign country?
Ted: You have to be ready for anything, because you don’t know how being away from your normal studio practice will affect you.
Anna: We also like to take short trips away from the residency for breaks, because spending all day working with no distractions is draining. Local small museums and cultural centers are inspiring.
Q: Where your next spot?
Ted and Anna: We’re hoping to go to China!
Sorry to have gone dark for so long... Ted and I are at a residency in rural Mexico, and internet is not part of the deal. Learning a lot about how this one works, and will post pictures and what we're doing when we return.
We've got friends and neighbors looking after the Dairy, plants and cat. Hasta luego!
The exterior of the farmhouse still looks pretty bad. Stacks of trash are gone but the stucco and trim is worn and battered by the brutal sun and wind. We're patching holes and cleaning out planters. Eventually we'll need to change out the windows for double paned ones, so must wait on replacing trim.
And... we have a new (used) swamp cooler that works! Because of the strange layout of the house we couldn't figure a better place to install it, such as the roof. Function has to trump looks in this case.
At first I didn't understand why so many desert property owners obsessively scrape the ground around their houses, getting rid of anything that grows. Now I do: fire and critters. We still haven't seen a snake, but if you pick up wood, carpet, or trash that's been on the ground a while, there's likely a scorpion underneath. Black widows love nooks and crannies. So we are now appreciators of the clean earth aesthetic.
Some color ideas...
Several weeks later, shot on a monsoon afternoon:
We have planted new trees in the past year: a desert willow (blooming above), a palo verde, a mesquite, a pomegranate, and another olive. Will we live long enough to reap the shade? Oh and it’s supposed to rain again in 29 tomorrow. Crazy.
I've used dozens of studios in my career. I like to work outside my living space for multiple reasons, including
• as a woman, I need to appear more professional
• my home turf is distracting
• I want to be able to leave projects in process/a mess
• I enjoy bringing people into a studio that has a certain "mystique"
• I need storage, lots of storage
I'm thinking about which studios I've loved...
a pre-famine stone hut in Ireland, with a glass ceiling
an attic in a French chateau above a forest
my large office studio at a Turkish university
the Barrio Logan studio I shared with Daphne Hill (even though it leaked, had termites, and the floor sloped). I miss that damn studio now, having moved into a garage space, which is perfectly serviceable, but has no poetry.
Which brings me to our Desert Dairy barn, built in 1930. When we bought the place it was filled with and surrounded by junk and trash, it hosted a large beehive on an inside wall, and it had a roof basically blown to bits. Our construction crews have had to stop repairs for weeks because of high winds. But finally the place is almost ready, and I'm the type of person who doesn't need things to be perfect before beginning to work in a space.
I can already tell, it's special. The natural light and airflow can be adjusted easily by opening and closing shutters on both east and west sides. The floor is solid concrete so can't be damaged. It's so quiet. We have only one working outlet, so no lights there yet, and you have to walk to the oasis for water, but that's ok. We can make BIG work, and stand back from it, and take sky and mountain gazing breaks. I don't know how other artists will react, but I'm definitely inspired.
Even though we had a mini heat wave in April, with temps reaching 100, I was determined to see what working in the barn would be like. Every new studio takes getting used to: how the light changes, how air flows, where to paint, where to store supplies. I dragged some metal into the barn and began to paint helicopters, my new fascination. I'm realizing they are vaguely religious, like "Ascensions," especially when people are dangling from cables below the hulking bodies. It's strange that again I'm living near a military base (as I do in San Diego). Anyway, we'll see what develops.
I've signed up for the Hwy 62 Art Tours in October, so the public will be invited to the barn. Good to have a deadline to get it in shape, with roof, new/old shutters that lock, and floor repaired. Have to find some old doors now. The textures and worn surfaces out there are really beautiful. Hope you'll come out in October, dear Reader.
Although I'm not making any major work in the desert yet, have been doing small gouache paintings in the evenings of rocks from the yard. The sketchbook is old, and has lots of miscellaneous stuff it in, including drawings and paintings from when my son was young. Just for fun and relaxation.
We invested in the high desert just about a year ago. Happy Anniversary, Desert Dairy! The property is gradually turning the corner from complete wreck to decency. On arrival we no longer confront lists of screaming problems--we can start to think about making art, about enjoying nature. Almost.
When I look back on the photos from a year ago, the ground is bare. Now it's covered with wild grasses, the last of the wildflowers, and brambles. There are lots of critters, it's a whole different place. I bought a desert willow (tried to graft a few, but they kept dying), and an ocotillo (have wanted one since I was a kid!). Digging the holes to plant them, caterpillars kept falling in. They are White Lined Sphinxes, the fairies of the moth world. There's going to be a swarm of them. Our neighbor trimmed our poor butchered tamarisks so they actually look like trees again. Now I can look out from the house into the distance through the branches, and it feels like floating, yellow daisies glowing in the distance.
The scary thing is locals starting to talk about fire danger, because usually there's nothing to burn here. I wonder if this year is a fluke, all the rain. Early in the 20th century there was a decade of wet weather, prompting desert homestead settlement from eastern farmers who were fooled. Some crazy family built our dairy, complete with barn, basement, outhouse and cool houses. And then the dream was devastated with the return of desert weather, leaving failed farms and abandoned shacks across the Morongo Basin.
The Desert Dairy's second artist retreat invited artists who have creative young adult/teens to come and make work together. Thank you to everyone who participated! It was a full weekend...
Mask making workshop with EVA foam.
Encaustic workshop outside on the patio.
Gold leafing workshop.
We did a field trip to the Yucca Arts Center and the Noah Purifoy Outdoor Museum.
Anna does most of the writing. Ted does most of the photos. But sometimes we switch. We are repairing a distressed property in 29 Palms, California, and eventually hope to run an artist residency there.