Cabot Yerxa: The Theosophist-Artist of Miracle Hill

One hundred years ago Cabot Yerxa scraped a dugout into a clay bank, claiming a 160-acre homestead on a patch of sand alive with wind and water spirits. (Today we call them energy vortexes.) He spent $10 on a burro, Merry Xmas, then later built a Hopi-style pueblo of 35 rooms, now one of the most beloved handmade houses in California. Desert-dwellers know this story. But you might not know that Cabot traveled with a sketchbook and paints strapped to his burro. You might not know that he was pals with Jimmy Swinnerton, Agnes Pelton and Carl Eytel, or that…

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Emerging from the Shadows: A Survey of Women Artists Working in California, 1860-1960

Fans of California art had heard rumors that the fine arts conservator and scholar Maurine St. Gaudens was working on a book about California women artists. Given Maurine’s reputation, it was bound to be big. Now that the four-volume set has been released, though, it’s clear that nothing could have prepared us for this visual thrill ride. Emerging from the Shadows: A Survey of Women Artists Working in California, 1860-1960 introduces 320 mostly-overlooked or forgotten women artists and reanimates them and their work. (Bios of three desert artists are below.) Maurine was not content to render the women as footnotes.…

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The Lost Colony of Sven-Ska: Christina Lillian and the Cathedral City Artists

Evan Lindquist heard stories about his Aunt Emma all his life. She was a beautiful blonde artist–a friend to Greta Garbo and D.H. Lawrence–and she ruled over an artists’ colony called Sven-Ska somewhere out in the California desert. To a boy growing up in small town Kansas, Sven-Ska seemed as exotic as Atlantis. This legendary aunt had inspired Lindquist to become an artist himself, yet he’d never met her.  Finally, in 1959, he and his wife, Sharon, were driving from Yuma to Palm Springs. They came around a curve and there was a sign on the highway that said Sven-Ska.…

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Arne Trettevik: The Star Shaman of South Palm Canyon

When Arne Trettevik’s Alfa Romeo sputtered to a halt in Palm Springs in the late 1990s, it seemed his daring life was stalling out too. He had hitched dugout canoe rides in Belize, taught at Esalen and inspired consciousness pioneers such as Stanislav Grof.  Now–broke down and alone–he moved into a courtyard  cottage just off South Palm Canyon Drive, behind the current-day Knights Inn.   A persistent cough kept him housebound. Dust and dishes piled up in the apartment. Arne took to admiring the mountain (San Jacinto) out front and returned to the painting experiments he’d  pursued off and on…

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Smoke Tree George: The Fabled Life and Times of George Frederick Gleich

My fascination with George “Smoketree” Frederick, quintessential desert artist and Wild West character, began innocently enough when I was asked by the Mesa Historical Museum to curate a small exhibit of artwork from the Buckhorn Mineral Baths collection. The Buckhorn, a now defunct mini-resort in east Mesa, Arizona, was owned and operated by Ted and Alice Sliger.  It catered to those wanting a long soak in hot, mineral water and for many years served baseball’s Cactus League athletes needing to relax sore muscles after long practices and hard-fought games.  Also, because of the Sligers’ interest in art and their innate…

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