After finishing my grades, buying and baking for the holidays, I came up to 29 for a few days with my trusty dog to work and enjoy the quiet. There were two jobs to do: dig and lay the foundation for the earth oven that we will build in January, and turn the RV into a tropical Tahitian paradise from the uninviting 80s mess it currently is (see next post). Defining jobs is important when you're here because there is so much to do it's overwhelming, and you find yourself walking in circles, directionless in the desert.
One reason to build a traditional mud oven is to respect the land, using what's on hand rather than buying supplies. I'm following the advice of my clay mentor and friend, Terri H-O, and the book she recommended, Build Your Own Earth Oven by Kiko Denzer. I gathered all the concrete blocks that were spread out over our five acres, and all the broken bricks and "urbanite" (broken concrete trash). The wheel barrow is my friend and my arms are much stronger after three days of hauling heaving stuff.
Here are the steps I followed so far:
1. dig down about 6" for the foundation (this area is not low, not at risk of flooding), and fill with gravel and rocks
2. set the first layer of bricks and start to fill in the cavity with the trash
3. continue each layer, filling with sand
Our new handyguy, Solidfoto, helped out, although he's a perfectionist and is probably frustrated by my sloppy work (I actually like that we had to level one side with smaller bricks and it's multicolored and textured). The base is long to allow for a prep area beside the oven. I'm very proud of our foundation and can't wait to build the oven and get to baking pizza and bread!
I drove down to the Palm Springs yesterday, after a long day of digging sand and moving rocks and bricks (more soon on this project). I went to see a friend's open studio, in a small strip mall where more than half the businesses are now artist work and show spaces. It brought home how much I miss having a studio with other artists nearby. Then I visited the Palm Springs Art Museum to see "Unsettled," art about the West and colonization. Strange experience to see more than four artists I know in the show, which I recommend.
Anyway, one of the reasons I went to the musem was to see in person the work of Agnes Pelton (1881-1961), an artist I find myself loving. The paintings are small and very smooth, actually better in photographs than in person. She moved to the Coachella Valley late in life and painted desert scenes for tourists. She's finally getting some recognition, similar in many ways to Hilma af Klint, which her work resembles although they probably didn't know of each other. Both mystical leaning. One of my goals being in the desert is to allow it to affect my work. Have to be patient on this.
As you have all read, when we got this place there was about 40,000 pounds of trash on it. We needed 8 large dumpsters to get most of the big stuff off the property and we still have a pile of tires and many broken TV sets, but the place does look better and you can for the first time get an actual view of the land. But, once the big trash was gone that left the small trash. Small broken piece of glass and plastic, decomposing books and catalogs, wires from old electronics and whatever else you can think of that can degrade into small pieces. The property is a microcosm of the ocean. Small pieces of plastic everywhere and when you try to grab them they break into even smaller pieces.
Anna loves this rehab process but I will admit this whole desert exercise stresses me out to no end. I do enjoy, however, just raking the sandy soil to try to clean up all the small stuff that is hiding there. It is a very zen-ish process for me. I also feel I'm becoming some sort of historical scientist. Ted Meyer - Desert Archaeologist. I start by raking the top layer of sand and then I go deeper, raking down a few more inches where I find an entirely different layer of remnants. If I revisit the same patch of soil two weeks later, after the wind has blown, the exact place will present a totally new layer of artifacts.
Today I spent about four hours raking dirt.
Here is a selection of some of my favorite things that were hiding in plain sight.
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.