Just about every weekend this Spring we've had visitors come to see the Desert Dairy. Yesterday we hosted three groups, for tours, drinks and snacks. I guess I'd hoped this would happen, but I'm shocked it's taken so little time. Doesn't hurt that Joshua Tree is "hot" right now.
We had a short residency with Dylan Mortimer, an artist from Kansas, in which he painted a dead tree by the corral pink. (Side note on pink: Cindy Zimmerman's "Rain Grotto" is strongly pink, the barn is pink, and the house...) His work is about how trees look like bronchial tubes–he's had two double lung transplants.
The sculpture looks great but made us realize how messy the corral still is, clogged with metal, wood, trash and construction material from the previous owners. The space has the potential to be gorgeous with the two rows of weathered posts framing views of the Bullion Mountains. We're getting a bid from some local muscle to dig it out, but today Ted and I were inspired to wake up early and start the process. I have this idea that adobe bricks could help hold back the dune and create a flat space. We'll see what happens.
And... we filled our pool for the upcoming season. Ready, set, summer!
We purchased this property about this time three years ago, so this is our fourth Spring in 29 Palms.
Our first Spring was a blur – we didn't interact with our land because we were trying to clear it of tons of trash. Below is a photo a friend shot from inside our "cottage" from that time. Outside the window, you can see the devastation.
Our second winter and spring brought flash floods in our Basin, and we had a stream going through our property. The biggest change was the wild (and invasive) mustard that covered almost all the desert.
Last year, our third spring, had light rains, and for a few weeks the ground was carpeted with green grasses, also invasive. These dried to a yellow that is slowly blowing away. For a few weeks the light yellow dandelions, orange mallow and desert lilies were gorgeous.
This spring we've had one light sprinkle. It snowed in the mountains, but the moisture didn't reach us. There are no wildflowers at all, and the cactuses are blooming only where we have watered. Already, the creatures are starting to eat our plants, and I'm caging everything we want to save. What will be birds, rabbits, squirrels and rats eat? Our cars, our cacti, every stitch of green...
Just like probably everyone in the world, we are thinking about our year of hibernation. Isn't it amazing that everyone is experiencing similar feelings? Has there been another period in my lifetime where that's happened... 911? Moon landing?
I am very, very lucky. I haven't lost anyone close to me to the virus. We have lost income, lost time in our careers, and missed friends and family, but that's nothing compared to the suffering going on around us. Neither of us qualifies for the vaccine yet, so we are waiting, not that patiently.
Mostly I stay in the desert, but getting away, even for a few days to LA or SD, is important for my mental health. I'm still shocked that I, who always thought my goals were connected to the big city, am living in such a rural place. I don't find it lonely, but rather overwhelming. My eyes actually occasionally hurt looking at the distant mountains, rolling dunes and ever changing sky. It's visually exhausting.
But there are good things on the horizon. We are in a show at the Loft at Liz's--I have a whole room for my work! We are hosting residents again, which means every two or three weeks the atmosphere here changes. And I'm breaking ground on MLand, even though it's not a business, just an art project right now. But moving forward helps me stay positive (it was a tough winter, being told I had no access to the land).
I'd like to buy a plane ticket somewhere for August, but between guilt at traveling and hurting the environment, and fear that the virus will again take a bad turn, we will probably stay here. My sister and I will meet in the middle of California for a weekend soon, I haven't seen her except briefly this whole year. My kids are coming out occasionally to stay, and I'm thankful they seem to be proud of our accomplishments and actually like it here.
But I certainly hope I won't be writing the same thing in March 2022. I was right about the coming of the pandemic, and now hope I'm right that it's ending.
Ted and I are finishing up a big fall project: a mini apartment in our former "cat room," where Ted's two cat's lived and he had a temporary office. We had never fixed up this part of the house, which was originally an eastern facing porch. Its biggest asset are sunrise views. The past two months have been a flurry of workers, masked and not (arggghh)--spending our small savings to create a separate space for friends, family, and residents to safely stay with us--near us, but separate from the main house. The idea is that we can interact with guests outside, where it's safe, but not share indoor space.
Arthur and Ted created a fantastic accent wall of found wood. Our contractors, true desert characters, were supportive of our crazy ideas, and even contributed some wood from their karate dojo. Nothing is square in this house, so the job was tough. Ted found a horse door at a second hand store, and it took several days to frame it in. Cheap door, expensive install, but worth it!
We hope the artists who stay with us will be inspired and comfortable. I remember every single room I stayed in at artist residencies, and it makes a difference to be in a place that is magical. You wake up each day in beauty, and get to work. Seriously, there's nothing better.
It's the day after Election Day and we are in waiting mode. The Pandemic still rages in most of the US, but here in rural California it is quiet. We wear masks when we go out, which is rarely.
But... we are moving forward! This weekend we have an artist retreat (all outdoors) for the Feminist Image Group from San Diego. Former resident Linda Litteral is creating a labyrinth in a field of our property, with the help of members of FIG. "The Walk" will contain multiple ceramic sculptures that are designed to help induce a meditative state.
And, we are starting to host artists again! We have created a safe room for residents to stay separate from us, while enjoying our outdoor spaces and barn studios. Susan Roden, from Albuquerque, will come in early 2021. Her work is gorgeous!
Meet our new baby, Pancito. Or if he turns out to be female, Panchita. Or just Old Pan. He's a Sulcata (African, not endangered), may live to be 80 and grow to over 150 lbs.
Fall has officially arrived, and the weather is getting better. August was survived, that's all I can say about that.
Pool got finished and it has been a savior. Matt made a beautiful work of land art, glowing light blue. We eat dinner out there, with our feet dangling in the cool water (and yes, it stays cool!). We lie on the edge at night and star gaze. If guests stop by for a drink, we either sit under the misters on the patio or lounge around the pool. Ted is obsessive about keeping it clean, and the filter/pump is a steep learning curve. But so worth it!
I finally had my solo show at the 29 Palms Art Gallery. Video here. I even sold a few pieces! I've also become the Coordinator of Youth Education there, convincing the board to buy zoom and hold all classes online. This is an all volunteer non-profit that has survived since 1952, so tradition looms large and I can't push too hard.
We are hoping to again host residents at the Desert Dairy, but first need to solve some logistical problems about how to keep separate and safe. Stay tuned on that. The Moonhuts is slowly getting back to business, although only about 50% at this point.
We wait for November with bated breath and grinding teeth.
An essay I wrote for The Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere at Stanford:
Report from Twentynine Palms, Morongo Basin, Mojave Desert
Well, it was 120 degrees here the other day, still the first half of July.
Although we bought our wreck of a property two years ago, we only moved here full time as it became apparent the pandemic would make city living unbearable. It was the right decision. When my partner and I go back to Los Angeles or San Diego to get supplies, or check on family, the loss is palpable. Here in the desert we go for days without putting on a mask or seeing anyone. But it’s 120 degrees out, and leaving the swamp-cooled house is not a great idea.
We’ve become avid comet-watchers. The first time, we got up at 4am. Waiting in the darkness, our eyes adjusting, the warm night was silent. And then I saw a star with a streak, very faint, a reminder of how insignificant we are.
In the heat of midday, a baby hawk sits in the bird bath. Quail and roadrunners chirp and beep. A bobcat occasionally sleeps in our oasis. Nature continues, mostly.
We artists are trying to find a way forward. Continuing to paint/photograph/sculpt/perform as we did before Covid seems… stupid? futile? decadent? Those of us who are privileged should perhaps stay silent, and let other voices speak. Listening to these stories deserves almost all our attention. Or, maybe we continue to make work and hide it away for another time. Our calendars are filled with crossed out shows, non-existent deadlines, and canceled travel. There’s nothing but time, how should we use it?
For many years I assuaged my guilty painting-and-object-making lifestyle by teaching. My community college students needed me; I cared about them and their aspirations. I believe art saves lives, that I was helping. But as the years passed teaching became burdensome, and I felt I wasn’t doing enough. Perhaps getting older I could no longer relate to my young adult students. I gradually let the college jobs go, one by one. The nail in my teaching coffin was having to finish the spring semester remotely. I zoomed with students who couldn’t leave their houses because they were caring for a mentally disable sibling, a brother who had been shot, a granddaughter who was in an unsafe group home. It was traumatizing to us all. Teaching now belongs to a younger generation of academics, and I wish them strength.
Back to the question of what artists should be doing… perhaps continuing to make work during the pandemic, the racial unrest, and the disintegration of our democracy is simply an act of mental self-preservation. Does responding creatively to present circumstances, even if no one will ever see the work, give us reasons to get up each morning? For me, yes.
I’m now designing a big project in the desert--an arts center disguised as an entertainment park, to reach multigenerational families. I considering it a large-scale, long-term performance, and it feels more right that continuing to make objects (although I still do that, when the studio is not a body-melting temperature). As an artist, will businesses take me seriously? I do not know, and I really don’t care. It’s possible I’ll crash and burn, spending every cent I have in the process. I also don’t care.
The desert is fierce and merciless. The land has been mistreated--I will do my best to repair it, in the small ways available to a woman past her prime. The people here have been ignored, the rural children have little to look forward to. I want to help. Perhaps that’s what will be remembered about this horrible season. That art can still save lives, even if it’s just my own that is salvaged.
I can't believe it's been over two months since I last wrote. My life used to be lived at 70 miles per hour, between San Diego and Los Angeles. Last spring it slowed to 50, then 40 miles per hour, as I finished my final semester online, and we adjusted to the Covid lifestyle. My solo show in June at the 29 Palms Art Gallery was postponed, of course, and I lost my painting mojo. I continued work on my big conceptual project, MLand, and finished lots of little projects around the house and garden. I was actually thrown out of two online exhibitions because I didn't follow the "rules." WTF.
August came, the dreaded month, and the gears of my life ground down to 20 miles per hour. We rushed to get AC installed--mini splits in the living room and bed room--all we could afford. The AC guy loved our property, and remembered riding horses on our dunes as a kid. The AC units are probably the nicest part of our house, so professionally installed. And in the nick of time. The weather turned humid, and hit 119 a few days in a row (Death Valley, relatively close by, hit 130, hottest in recent history). The nights don't go down below the mid 80s. We watched the Comet Neowise, and the Perseid Meteor Shower. A big fire in Banning threatened to jump up to the Morongo Valley, but was stopped. Sky is still smokey, but that may be from the other fires that are consuming the state. This year has just been so terribly hard.
Now we live in the living room, all the doors and window shades closed so the AC forms a cool box. In winter we do the same thing to get warm. I've never lived in a place that has affected where I can be in my house. Expand in spring and fall, and constrict in winter and summer. No exercising outside, no venturing outside except right at dawn to water. The doves have started to eat the plants, even though we put water and food out every day.
We had bobcats in the oasis again, a mother and two kittens. We saw them live only a few times, but caught them on our motion sensor camera at the water bowl. I've always thought the oasis a bit spooky, and now we see how many animals move through there night and day: coyotes, hawks, rabbits, rats, owls, cats.
I'll try to write about MLand soon, but I'm discouraged right now. We just need to survive the heat, the fires, the political situation, the coming homeless crisis, and the diminution of our lives.
A red racer/coachwhip under the oven tarp, Gambel's quail under olive, more bees removed by friends in the barn, and barn owl in the oasis.
I haven't been writing much. Weebly has been scrambling my photos when I upload from my phone, which has discouraged me. But in reality, we are living here now, so the DD has become something less, at least for the time being. It's our 10th week in lockdown. Although we've ventured back to LA and SD for short trips, this is home, at least for now. We are grateful to be in the country, where we don't have to interact with people who are not being safe.
Emotions have run the gamut, like for everyone, I'm sure. Mental health is so important, trying to trick yourself into feeling excited about the future, and not scared, or frustrated with the economics and politics of the US. We are strategizing on how to restart the Moonhuts, which may include getting a portapotty and outside washup area. Then there's the residency, which will be harder. We are looking into a separate entrance and living area for residents. The outdoor work areas aren't the problem, it's the indoor part that doesn't add up. Sigh.
I whipped the office into better shape, and it's turning into one of my favorite rooms in the house. When we got the property, the owner was using it as storage, because it doesn't have a window to the outside. But slowly it's become very comfortable to hang out in, do zoom meetings in, watch videos. Now I've got my desk set up to keep all our businesses organized properly. Feels good. See? I'm tricking myself into happiness.
I always wanted a pink house. There was a perfect house I passed everyday on the freeway in San Diego: light pink, with white and gray trim. My grandmother loved the color, and I inherited many of her pink cashmere sweaters. And now that I think of it, her house was pink.
Anyway, my other houses were gray-blue, yellow, gray (now green), and gray again (at least I haven't had to live in many tan houses). When we got this house I didn't like the pink, it seemed the wrong shade somehow. But with my new green base, and brown trim (which I'm going to freshen up as soon as the birds finish nesting under the eaves), I think I've achieved my own pink perfection.
These are our bloomers against the house, very happy!
I haven't written about these apocalyptic world events. Yet. This is our seventh week here. We started with four, myself and T, my younger son, and a resident. For two weeks, it was a lot of cooking and gardening, and some socializing, but things didn't seem that un-normal. When Linda left we had another three weeks with A here, doing projects, and I was still cooking because he eats a lot. Then he returned to the city to finish his senior year online. In our family high school has never been the big thing, but I still mourn for him, missing all those milestones.
Now we are alone. Although we've been together now for about 11 years, we've never lived together. We need to preserve those private hours, to keep sanity and politeness alive. Of course the Moonhuts are closed so we don't have money coming in, but we are savers, so are not panicking. Yet.
I've been down, with reason. This was always going to be a transition time for me. Finishing up teaching. Moving from the city to the country. Trying to find a new career (big project on paper, but right now far from possible). Releasing my identity as "Mom," now that both my kids are moving away into adulthood. That's a big one. But all the things in our lives right now are huge: our environment, our politics, our health, our livelihoods.
My girlfriends and I meet on the hated Zoom once a week for HH. It's not the same, but better than nothing. We've decided next time to have five things we are looking forward to, because last week I told them there was nothing coming up in my life.
So, a realistic list:
1. Summer storms
2. Our pool getting finished
3. Hearing back from advisors on my big project
4. Getting back to my indoor exercise routine
5. Receiving a mail art project back from a friend in Sweden.
A list that is less realistic:
1. Art openings
2. Iceland next January
3. Downtown Los Angeles, coffee and restaurants
4. Residents at the DD
5. Hugging my family, seeing my sister, having dinner parties, going thrift shopping, wearing nice clothes, traveling, hearing live music, hmmm I'm making myself worse with this list.
From our front door we can see a single lonely house up on Campbell Hill. We finally took a hike up to inspect it late yesterday afternoon. It belonged to James Cagney (1899-1986), who came to the desert in the 1950s thru the 1970s when he needed a break from Hollywood. Read about it at the Historical Society here.
A friend who has lived in 29 since he was a child remembers it and also John Hilton's house, who started the 29 Palms Art Gallery. Luckily the Hilton house is being well cared for (@johnhiltonhouse), but Cagney's is abandoned. Apparently the family refused to sell it. There's no fence or protection, so looks like homeless have moved in and out, and part of it has been burned. It's a lovely site, with killer views. The bones of the house are beautiful, wish it wasn't looking like this.
Well, maybe not madness, but encouraging spring growth. We've been having brief rains and almost everything is growing. Especially encouraging are buds on the ocotillo and desert willow (which we thought had not made it through the winter freezes), and the palo verde and mesquite. It would be discouraging to lose trees when we've put so much time into them.
We are sitting out the craziness of the times here, it's a relief to be out of the city. Stay safe.
Toulie invites visitors to check out our Art Donation Board, where residents can donate small works to be for sale to benefit future artist residents. The idea, and first donations of polaroids, came from resident Lori Lipsman.
I am nothing if not my mother's daughter when it comes to having a well-stocked pantry. Since I've worried for several weeks about the health crisis, I stocked up even more than normal, and that meant getting the desert ready for us to stay more longterm.
But where to put all the water, dried stuff, cans, and yes, tp? This is an old-fashioned farm house, with canning shelves in the basement, but at the moment there are also big black widows down there, so food needs to stay up top. I had to tackle the laundry room, and one big cabinet there that remained uncleaned, because Terry, the previous owner, had forgotten to empty it before she left. It was packed with stuff.
So yesterday I pulled everything out. It was filled with stuff for canning, and hadn't been opened in many years. There were jars of brown liquid, with the label, "Cactus Sondra." Sondra was Terry's mother, so they are probably 50 years old. Pickled cactus? Ted wants to find Terry's grave and make an offering of them, but research came up a blank.
There were also treasures: old thermoses, cool ladles, stainers, and funnels. And an absolutely perfect cast iron casserole. I've priced these in antique stores and couldn't begin to afford one. Today we will fire up the newly coated earth oven, make some pizza, and try to cook a pork roast inside this beauty.
We will survive!
Today we learned from a neighbor that Terry Imel, the woman who sold us the Desert Dairy, has passed away. She moved to the property when she was a little girl, and her presence is still here. We hope you had some fun before you left, Terry!
The winter has been beautiful in the Mojave. We have been working on the house and grounds as always, building a composting bin, finishing the earth oven, and starting a new fence. But we are also being more social, meeting friends out here and participating in shows. I was honored to have studio visits with two curators in the last few months, something that never happened in San Diego or Los Angeles (the desert mystique works). My work is currently on view in "Mojave Madness" at the Yucca Valley Art Center, and the two small pieces sold--the new metal series, especially the tools, seems to be hitting a nerve and opening pocketbooks.
With all the worry over the spread of the virus, it feels that 29 Palms might be a safer spot to hide out if things get bad, so we are stocking up on supplies and preparing mentally to isolate if necessary. Sort of a scary time.
The other thing I find myself thinking about is the coming summer, if we will handle it any better. Having grown up in San Diego, where the weather is almost always perfect (and perfectly boring), it's a new experience to have seasonal anxiety. I try to live in the moment, or at least the current month, enjoying our wood burning stove and getting under the feather quilt at night. We are refurbishing our above-ground pool, which we originally thought was a cow trough, hoping it will make hot days a bit more bearable. But in reality, summer is another scary thing to contemplate.
Including: desert lily sprouting, great horned owlets, Toulie and toy, bobcat in oasis, Abe’s new hippo sculpture, and Ted watching the sunset. Never a dull moment.
The residencies of Michele Guieu and Lori Lipsman last month were phenomenal. Such wonderful women, doing amazing work! Slowly we are learning how to host artists, how to give them space and support them in their work. Lori left more than a dozen polaroids for us to use a gifts for those who donate to our residency project--let us know if you want one! And Michele's incredible installation will stand as long as the weather will allow it.
Next we will host Cindy Zimmerman, a San Diego artist, who will come out to regain her bearings, and find her Magdalene. She prefers not to have a public opening, which of course we will honor. Our job is to support each artist with whatever she needs upon arriving to the Desert Dairy. Blessings!
This photo shows our original farmhouse as it was in 1930. There was an earlier, probably temporary, house built by Frank and Mildred DeMent, but it was torn down. The strong sunlight is probably the eastern face. There was no fireplace at this point, and you can see a water tower, although there was no indoor plumbing.
This photo is possibly from 1949, when 29 Palms received a historic 19" of snow. Now you can see the fireplace, and the trees described by Jacqueline DeMent surrounding the farmhouse.
This is how our farmhouse looks today. A deep porch was added to the house, probably around the east and south edges. Eventually it was enclosed, so the fireplace is now in the interior of the house.
Frank DeMent planting palms in the front yard. The lakebed is flat in the distance, so you can see our neighbor's homestead to the south. The Pinto Mountains (Joshua Tree National Park) are behind.
Same view, now. The dune has formed since the original photo was taken! Before we found the old photos, we had decided to plant palms in exactly the same place Farmer DeMent had. Both of us wanted trees that wouldn't block the view of the mountains from the front of the house.
I choose the small, fragile and broken structure that has no roof to work with for my installation. This structure is an interesting and fascinating contrast with the beautiful surroundings the high desert offers. But it has its beauty too.
Most of the beginning of the work was to prepare the structure by removing all the sand and the hidden pieces of metal, plastic, glass littering the ground.
I collected these materials as I cleaned up the cement slab in the structure, and also around it. Today most of the cleanup is done.
I started to use all these elements as part of the installation, by attaching them on the outside wall.
All these old broken and discarded parts were sometimes made, manufactured, used. All of them are made with materials or a combination of materials coming from Earth.
I love working outside here, feeling the heat and the light changing during the day. Enjoying hours of silence - except for the loud military exercises taking place not very far away.
But in a way this is very interesting too, because it is about the reality of the world we live in. There is a the Mojave desert and its harshness and raw beauty, Twentynine Palms, a town slowly but surely growing, Joshua National Park, a unique place that people come see from all around the world. But for whatever reasons, Joshua National Park feels very far away from Desert Dairy for me. It’s not bad. Somehow Desert Dairy feels more real.
Working at Desert Dairy
by Lori Lipsman
Today is my 4th day in the high desert of Southern California. I’m here to do some art. I came with the concept of working on two Polaroid series with a refurbished SX-70 camera.
As of today I’ve seen an amazing amount of inspiring art by local artists and spent quality time in Joshua Tree National Park.
Where I’m working on finishing and displaying the series, Desert Dairy, has also brought me an incredible amount of inspiration. Not only the property, but the barn I’m working in is amazing and the view it affords me are incredible.
Tomorrow I will wake up early and go to a spot I found to see the sunrise. Thursday I’ll do a longer hike taking with me my REI Flexlite chair, a drawing pad with drawing tools and hike into the mountains in Joshua. I’ll come back to Desert Dairy to get some time in the barn.
Looks like I could have 4, maybe 5, series of work by Saturday. And each piece will be free to anyone gracious enough to give it a home.
Thank you Anna & Ted!
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.