Funeral in the Rocks: A Tale of Cathedral City’s Early Artists

In honor of Cathedral City’s 35th anniversary celebration (November, 2016) we’re featuring vintage photos of the town, on display through December 18th at the City Hall Art Gallery. Accompanying the images is an excerpt from Painted Rocks by Josephine Morse True. This hard-to-find memoir depicts the village and the artists, as they were in 1935 when True lived there. Of all the Coachella Valley cities, Cathedral City claims the most beguiling art story: an early band of free spirits gathered around the artist Agnes Pelton and the teachings of Theosophy. Instead of remaining aloof from their neighbors (as bohemians tend…

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The Hidden World of R. Lee Miller and the Araby Rock Houses

If you walk the levee behind the Palm Springs PetCo and look toward the mountain you’ll see them, but barely: four little rock houses. It looks like boulders tumbled down the hillside and assembled themselves into a hamlet out of a children’s story. Aside from one new roof–suggesting occupancy–you’d think the  structures were vacant and about to be bulldozed to make way for luxury homes. I’d puzzled over the hamlet many times over the years. Then I puzzled some more when I heard that Christina Lillian, the glamorous arts patron and friend of Agnes Pelton, had once owned them and…

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Desert Romantic: The Newly Discovered Letters of Paul Grimm

From the 1930s through the 1970s, Paul Grimm’s paintings broadcast a sublime vision of the Palm Springs landscape to tourists from around the world. Yet for all of his importance to desert art, I’ve never known more about him than the standard mini-bio: He painted movie backdrops, ran a gallery downtown, loved his fox terrier named Cholla. Because he left few personal records and had no offspring to tell his story, it seemed we’d never know more. Grimm would forever remain an encyclopedia entry. That changed recently when Harbor City resident Ann Tompkins sent her grandson into her attic to…

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A Passion to Paint: The Brief, but Fruitful, Life of Arnold Otto Krug

I made the acquaintance of Arnold Krug, desert artist, while curating an exhibition for the Mesa Historical Museum in Arizona.  This exhibit featured the work of two artists who had  lived for periods of time at Mesa’s historic Buckhorn Baths.  The Baths, a hot-spring spa and resort that catered to baseball’s Cactus league teams, was owned and operated by Ted and Alice Sliger, a kindly couple who had a soft spot for desert art and artists and who frequently offered a home to those in need of one. One of the two exhibited artists, George Frederick Gleich, was flamboyant, an…

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Effie Anderson Smith: How To Revive the Legend of A Forgotten Artist

Effie Anderson Smith was an early Arizona settler and artist who studied with the esteemed California Impressionists Anna Hills and Jean Mannheim. She admired the Salton Sea mirages, declaring them on par with the Sulphur Springs Valley mirages in Arizona. So, for our purposes, she belongs in the annals of California desert art. For her nephew’s purposes, though, she belongs everywhere. I’ve watched in admiration as San Diego resident Steven Carlson has restored Effie’s name to public view from Laguna to Bisbee. If you have an obscure desert artist to promote–or are one yourself–you’ll want to heed the story of…

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