November 28, 2018–An update for those of you following the saga of the Bascom Ranch. A group called Coachella Valley Preservationists appealed to the City of Victorville to save the historic home of artist and rodeo star Earl Bascom, but their pleas went unanswered. I tried again to argue the case by calling the property owner directly on November 2nd, 2018. Unfortunately, he took my call surrounded by fire trucks and a crowd of locals waiting to see the Ranch burn. I did receive an offer of assistance from a Victorville councilmember–but only after the buildings were charcoal.
Victorville Daily Press editor Steve Hunt wrote in an editorial: “This is another sad chapter in the history of Victorville and the Victor Valley. How can we expect good things ever to come about here if nobody cares enough about our historic treasures to protect and preserve them?”
Victorville can still show they care by establishing a monument to Earl Bascom, as the City of Indian Wells did after demolishing the artist’s former home and studio. A monument is no substitute for a historic ranch, but it would be a start in honoring this cowboy artist, steer wrestler, bareback rider and wild horse racing champ.
Watch the historic artist’s home burn: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rslG5BfN-lU
In Memory of Phil Kovinick
Phil Kovinick and his wife Marian Yoshiki-Kovinick spent 20 years traveling and researching their epic guide, An Encyclopedia of Women Artists of the American West. Along the way, they interviewed important figures in desert art including Jimmy Swinnerton, Bill Bender and Harriet Day, an art dealer and neighbor to Agnes Pelton. I met Phil and Marian via my research and found them unfailingly generous with their knowledge. If I had a question about Freda Marshall or Matille Prigge Seaman, Phil was glad to dive into his garage full of files. He always found something–such as the fact that Matille fought forest fires in Azusa Canyon before turning to painting in Cathedral City.
The harder Phil worked to track down information, the more he was determined to share it. The ethic of a true historian. When Phil Kovinick died on October 5, 2018, we lost half of an ace research and writing team. Thanks to Phil and Marian Kovinick for their selfless contribution to our desert art history.
Eric Merrell’s Desert Art Caper
Earlier in November, Eric Merrell was waiting for two paintings to be returned from a gallery. One of them didn’t make it home, and Eric’s efforts to retrieve it via UPS have failed so far. The painting is officially missing. If you see this painting for sale somewhere please notify Eric.
In other Merrell news, the artist is returning to a skill he learned in school: printmaking. “The cleanliness necessary in the printing process is a nice change from painting,” he says. He’s created small Merrell originals, carved and hand-printed on archival paper with oil-based inks, for $40 unframed. Algodones Dunes, Salton Sea by night and others are within reach of beginning collectors and make perfect holiday gifts for desert rats.
Desert art fans can expect a windfall in early 2019 with the Agnes Pelton exhibit opening in Phoenix, the return of DesertX in Palm Springs in February, 2019, an exhibit on early desert photographers (Postcards From Mecca) at the La Quinta Museum in January, and a major Effie Anderson Smith retrospective at the Tucson Desert Art Museum. Along with the Tucson exhibit, Effie’s grand nephew Steven Carlson has lined up a suite of events in Douglas and beyond for Effie’s 150th birthday anniversary. Look for updates on this early Arizona impressionist throughout the coming months.
Effie! Plein Air Pioneer, Tucson Desert Art Museum January 11-April 28, 2019. https://www.tucsondart.org/museum-exhibitions/
In Memory of Tim Townsley
Cathedral City lost a linchpin of the arts community with the sudden death of Tim Townsley on October 15, 2018. Tim made art since he was a boy growing up in LA. He won his first award when he was eight, and later gave up a chance to attend spring training at the Chargers camp because he’d rather paint than throw a football. He received a Masters of Fine Arts from Otis Art Institute and taught at the California Institute of the Arts (Cal Arts.) His work in LA included scenic and matte work for the entertainment industry, with work commissioned by the Walt Disney Company, the Queen Mary and other clients.
Upon moving to Cathedral City part-time in 2009, Townsley settled into his role as one of the lower-key resident artists. In a field where many clamor for attention, Townsley quietly produced inventive paintings of Palm Springs architecture, air stream trailers, former Cove neighbor Agnes Pelton, jazz portraits and abstracts. His wife, Cove resident Sue Townsley, says he was an avid reader of philosophy, psychology, history and world religions. One of his proudest recent achievements was using 35 different reds in his Red Elephant painting.
His friend Kirk Silsbee said Townsley’s work “breathes and moves with emotion and spirit.” For more of Tim Townsley’s spirited work: http://www.timtownsley.com/
You have a few more days (till December 2, 2018) to make the drive to Borrego Springs to see the Expressions in the Abstract show at the Borrego Art Institute, with artists from Palm Springs and Desert Hot Springs represented. This is one of the best desert art venues anywhere. As a bonus, the gallery has its own restaurant, Kesling’s Kitchen. And for anyone craving holiday peace and open space, the drive from PS to Borrego Springs through the Borrego Badlands is one of the great desert treks.
Warner Graves in 29 Palms and La Quinta
Warner Graves made a reputation for himself as a painter of interior murals and sophisticated decorative arts in the Bay Area. He’s recently returned to desert painting, inspired by his grandmother, Lula Mae Graves, who was an early photographer in the Salton Sea region. Now a Coachella Valley resident, Warner has back-to-back shows slated, the first at the 29 Palms Art Gallery November 30-December 30, 2018.
Warner next appears in the La Quinta Museum exhibit (with accompanying book) Postcards from Mecca: The California Desert Photographs of Susie Keef Smith and Lula Mae Graves, 1916-1936. Historical desert phtotgraphs by Warner’s grandmother are paired with his own contemporary landscape paintings. January 15-May 11, 2019.
Agnes Pelton: The Spiritual and the Ordinary
On December 10, 2018 at the Palm Springs Art Museum, associate curator Mara Gladstone presents a talk on Agnes Pelton and Spiritual Modernism. Over coming months you’ll hear a lot of discussion about Pelton’s immersion in Theosophy, cosmology and metaphysics, but we shouldn’t forget that the artist was also an ordinary community-minded person in small town Cathedral City. To understand her, you have to picture Cathedral City in the 1930s-50s, and the small, charitable woman who attended women’s club meetings and supported her fellow artists.
There are few photos of Agnes Pelton in circulation and here’s one I haven’t seen before. Discovered in the archives of the Shadow Mountain Palette Club, it shows her dedication to local arts as she attends an opening at the Desert Southwest Art Gallery, also known as the Desert Magazine Gallery, formerly in Palm Desert. To Agnes’ left is Cathedral City artist R. Brownell McGrew, among those at her right are Wilton McCoy and Snow Creek artist Axel Linus.
For info on Mara Gladstone’s talk: https://www.psmuseum.org/events/mondays-at-the-museum
Pearl May Ransom Discovery
Invest in an undiscovered desert artist for the holidays. The Historical Society of Palm Desert received a yard sale donation of this 20×22 unframed Pearl May Ransom painting. Ransom (1983-1968) lived in Pasadena, Mexico City and the Dakotas before settling in Indio during her final years. She was known especially for her Western scenes and paintings of the California redwoods. There’s more to be known about Pearl Ransom. Help unravel her story. For info on the painting:
In Memory of Silvio Silvestri
The La Quinta arts community lost an influential leader with the October 11, 2018 death of Silvio Silvestri. Silvio began painting in Venice Beach in the 1970s, while working as a psychotherapist. Introduced to the desert as a child, he returned regularly to desert themes and eventually settled in La Quinta. He was especially influenced by the Russian Impressionists, whose style he once described as “passionate, lively, colorful”. The same could be said of this artist and his work, which spanned the range of subjects from farm animals to Sierra peaks.
To his students he said: “Keep painting, ask questions!”
Silvestri was a regular on the La Quinta Artists Open Studio Tour. The 7th annual tour, featuring 25 artists’ studios, is on December 2nd, 2018. The $10 ticket supports the La Quinta Historical Society.