The former Borrego Valley Foods store, a mid-century modern building prominently located on Christmas Circle in Borrego Springs, has been purchased by the Borrego Art Institute for a new gallery featuring plein air desert artists. With Borrego’s vast desert wilderness, the Institute’s commitment to plein air painting and a significant modernist building—look for this to become a destination for artists and fans of California Impressionism.
The building was designed in 1949 by La Jolla architect William Kesling, known for his Streamline Moderne style. For the renovation, the Institute enlisted award-winning architect Richard Orne–formerly of LA and now a Borrego resident. Workers tore out the old market’s ceiling and gutted the interior last October. “We’re moving along rapidly,” says board member Kay Levie, with a planned completion by October, 2012, and a grand opening around the first of the year. Watch the organization’s website for updates: http://www.borregoartinstitute.org/.
The Institute hosts a popular Plein Air Invitational each year and is intent on raising the bar for art in the village, often described as resembling a very early Palm Springs. “This will be not only a center but a landmark in the community,” says Levie. “It’s going to be stunning.”
The Institute plans to name the new gallery (a restaurant will be included in the space) for a major donor. Arts patrons are officially invited to vie for the honor.
JUST DOWN BORREGO SPRINGS’ MAIN STREET from the under-construction gallery is the Borrego Desert Nature Center, home of the Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association and a well-loved, long established center for desert natural history and art. Hanging on a wall of the Center is a classic Paul Grimm painting of Palm Springs’ dunes and verbena. The owner, Association life member Nick Spain, is selling the painting with a portion of the proceeds to benefit ABDNHA.
The painting comes with great provenance. Art dealers think of provenance as proof or authentication. To me provenance is a story that gives the painting meaning. The central question that sometimes elevates a painting to a great find is: “Where did it come from?”
In this case, the painting came from a retired professor of archaeology, Nick Spain, who lives in Santa Ana, in the same house where he grew up. He knew his neighbor Lova Millard his entire life. Millard was a schoolteacher beginning in 1918 and an early botanist and naturalist who hung out in the desert with friends like natural history writer Edmund Jaeger and artist Paul Grimm. Grimm personally gave her the painting titled Winter on the Desert.
While the painting hung in Millard’s home, Spain would admire it each time he visited. After Lova died on her 100th birthday in 1998, the family found written on the back of the Grimm painting: Nick. So the painting went to Nick Spain, as Lova intended, and hung in his home for years—reminding him of Lova and the desert, where he had done a lot of archaeology work. (Incidentally, 49 of Lova’s journals of her life spanning the 20th Century—including details of her meetings with early scientists, artists and botanists– were discarded by the over-zealous clean-up crew. Only one journal was saved.)
“I treasured the painting for years and now it’s time to pass it on,” Spain says. For the next owner of this painting, I suggest taping Spain’s story to the back so Lova Millard, Paul Grimm, Nick Spain and early Palm Springs are never parted.
For information, contact Betsy Knaak at ABDNHA: http://www.abdnha.org/
Title: Winter on the Desert #11950
Scene description: Landscape; looking north across wildflower covered sand dunes along eastern escarpment of Santa Rosa/San Jacinto mountains.
Signature: “Paul Grimm” on front
Date painted: 12-30-1950
Size: 16 x 20 inches
Style: Plein air
Frame: Simple, gold-gilt on wood; 21 1/2″ x 25 1/2″; original frame “Grimm 330”
Note on back: “Location 15 miles east of Palm Springs”
Suggested sale: $3,900
Percentage of sale to Anza Borrego Desert Natural History Association