Ed. Update–We are sorry to report that Katherine McKay died of cancer, in Richmond, Calif., on October 12, 2011. Editor’s Note—We’ve been telling you about the early desert painters; with this essay by Katherine McKay we shift into the…
All of us who really appreciate the early California desert painters sooner or later come to the realization our taste level has exceeded our pocket book. Here are some tips to keep you in the game without a lot of money.
Read all you can about the early California desert painters in art magazines, the Internet, and library books. Become familiar with the individual artists’ styles. Visit art galleries and antique stores. Look online at auctions in San Francisco and the east coast. Attend local art auctions like the John Moran auction in Pasadena. Sometimes, prices depend on who is in the auction room and their particular interests at the time a quality desert painting comes up to bid.
Around 1930 a young botanist from Chicago came to the Borrego desert to dig in the sand and collect native plants. At some point hunting for tansy-mustard and tidy-tips wasn’t enough for her, so she took out her easel and began painting the dunes and smoke trees.
Last month I picked up one of her 1930s Borrego paintings on eBay for $99. When I hung the painting on my bedroom wall, it immediately connected me to Edith Purer herself (she became California’s first woman ecologist), as well as to the plants, topography and mood of Anza-Borrego.