Cheryl Jordan: Seeking the Heart of the 92256

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The heroes of early desert photography recognized that a time and place was passing long before anyone else came to the same conclusion. They had a way of seeing what would be missed. Mecca postmaster Susie Smith, for instance, documented the camps of workers building the Colorado River Aqueduct in the 1930s. Richard Steinheimer captured the now-extinct railroad shanties beside the Salton Sea. These photographers were “hyperlocal” before hyperlocal was a buzzword.

Cheryl Jordan in front of the Cactus Mart

Now, in the tradition of the early documentarians, photographer Cheryl Jordan explores the impermanence of Morongo Valley lifestyles in the “92256” exhibit at the Cactus Mart on Highway 62 in Morongo.

Morongo is a little burg of about 4,000 horsemen and women, hippies, artists and working people just up the hill from Palm Springs and en route to Joshua Tree. It’s a bowl about 12 miles long by three miles wide, completely ringed by mountains and graced by a busy wildlife corridor.

As you drive through Morongo, to your right you’ll see the nursery Cactus Mart, also home to the Purple Agave gallery. While this stop is not routine for most Coachella Valley art fans, it should be. The owner Leslie Rotstein (along with her husband, Gene) is a true patron and supporter of artists. Really the 92256 exhibit is a collaboration between muse (Leslie) and photographer (Cheryl).

Grace flying a kite

Cheryl Jordan was a high school counselor in Fontana and also taught at the University of Redlands before moving to a shingled dome in Morongo with her husband, Craig, in 2003. She’d taken up photography just a few years before. At a book group she met Leslie Rotstein. Rotstein originally migrated “kicking and screaming” from Manhattan Beach but after 27 years she’d come to love the “time warp” feeling of Morongo. Where else would you see parents dropping off kids at school on horseback?

The 92256 project started with a slur. Rotstein’s granddaughter, Sarah Scheideman, frequents the Coachella Valley arts scene (see her blog and once made a disparaging comment about Morongo. Something to the effect of: How could they even exist out there without the Ace Hotel and the Coachella Festival? That’s when Rotstein realized how much she loved her rural home and how much of the lifestyle was about to fade: “This needs to be captured before it disappears,” she said.

She decided what was needed was a black-and-white photo project, documenting the 92256 zip-code in the manner of Dorothea Lange and other great photojournalists.

Artist Penny Krebs at work

She thought instantly of Cheryl Jordan, who had shown her work previously at the gallery. Inspired by the independence of Georgia O’Keeffe and the portraiture of Annie Leibovitz, Jordan set out in search of iconic Morongo scenes and people—rural mailboxes, rusted cars, dirt lanes, horses and horse rescuers and free-spirits.

Jordan was unsure how to proceed at first. But then she decided she’d just spend time around her subjects until a picture emerged. “Leslie pushed me to do more, do different,” she says of Rotstein “She’s been my champion from the get-go.”

The exhibit that resulted from the collaboration will help define Morongo for years to come, and will make city slickers and Coachella-goers look again at the humble 92256.

The “92256” exhibit is on display at Cactus Mart through August. The accompanying book, “92256”, as well as note cards and prints are also available from the gallery. 49889 Twenty-nine Palms Highway. (760) 363-6076.

Cheryl Jordan

7 comments for “Cheryl Jordan: Seeking the Heart of the 92256

  1. What a beautiful, well-deserved writeup on these two great ladies, Cheryl and Leslie!

  2. Would like to let everyone know that this effort was sponsored by the Hummingbirds of Morongo Valley. A womens group of whom Leslie and Cheryl are members. This project helps to raise money for our annual scholarship fund raiser for the young women of Morongo Valley who are furthering their education. Since 2004 The Hummingbirds have awarded 12 scholarships for a total of $7,000 to deserving young women here in Morongo Valley. This year we gave 4 $500 scholarships. Every book or picture that is purchased; the profits go towards this fundraiser for next years recipients.
    Thank you to all who have participated in this great program.

  3. I loved this article and would like to know how I get to see the photographs Cheryl Jordan allowed “to emerge”….having been a long time friend of Cheryl’s (since high school), with her creative spirit and talents, I’m sure they are amazing!
    Congratulations!!! Love, Kathy

  4. The show itself is incredibly spectacular! Cheryl Jordan is such a gifted photographer, and her work so wonderfully highlights the people and places of 92256. Ann Japenga’s writeup is marked by clarity and grace; her fine writing, great in itself, is an extraordinary tribute to this excellent exhibit.

  5. What a delight; Cheryl’s photographic presentation of Morongo Valley and Ann Japenga’s article about the show were a great pleasure to see and read. Over the years I have watched with awe as Cheryl has explored the physical and spiritual terrain of her world and has created enduring art. She has done this through thoughtful living and public service, through the written word and masterful photography, and through friendship. Cheryl’s art, her life and love, enrich us all.

  6. I have quite a few of Cheryl’s art work pieces that I purchased from the Agave Gallery, at the Cactus Mart in Morongo Valley. Not only are Chreryl’s pieces just a delight they are representative of our sanctuary in Morongo Valley. She captures the landscape, the people of the city, everything that makes our paradise what it is. I just love the gallery in the Cactus Mart;so many one of a kind artsy pieces, I wish I had everything in there. The ants are one of my favorite garden critters to buy. Cheryl is one of the wonders here and if you are passing by, stop by and feast your eyes on what us Morongo Valleyites get to enjoy every day. Blessings from Margaret the Postmaster at the local post office. Oh yea, stop by here and pick up some stamps.

  7. Leslie’s unwavering support for everything that Morongo Valley has to offer and Cheryl’s superb photography have come together to create a magical result. I was highly skeptical when Cheryl approached me and asked to take my photo in black and white, for my life revolves around roses. How could she possibly capture the essence of the rose in black and white? But she did! By having me lean into a bloom to sniff its fragrance, Cheryl managed with black and white pixels to do more than capture the bloom’s beauty; the viewer is also transported to the world of fragrance. Kudos to Leslie and Cheryl for taking on such a challenging project. Cheryl’s success with her photo of me is but one of her many, many extraordinary photographs in this exhibit. Congratulations!


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