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04 Jan 2018

Desert Transcendentalist: The Annual Cathedral City Artists' Home Tour Honors a Great Who Didn't Get the Acclaim She Deserved

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A historic photo of Agnes Pelton's studio. A historic photo of Agnes Pelton's studio.

Mark your calendars: The seventh annual Cathedral City Home Tour of Artists’ and Historic Homes will take place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 11. The event, sponsored by the Agnes Pelton Society, this year will show off five historic artists’ homes in the Cathedral City Cove.

The centerpiece of this year’s home tour is the low, rambling cinderblock structure on F Street in Cathedral City Cove, designed and built by Agnes Pelton in 1939.

Pelton (1881-1961) came to the desert for isolation and to live a more spiritual life. At the time, the area was considered remote, and she lived and worked in the house for 20 years. During that time, she produced paintings that sought to capture a visual representation of the meaning of life.

Financial hardships forced her to sell her beloved home and studio in 1960. She died six months later in a small cottage on C Street.

Pelton is celebrated for her exquisite “plein air” desert landscapes featuring the Coachella Valley, as well as her important abstract masterworks. The landscapes paid the bills (at least until the end), but her abstracts revealed her soul.

She is invariably compared to contemporary Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986). In fact, the two women share some striking similarities. Both Pelton and O’Keeffe studied painting with Arthur Wesley Dow in New York. They were both inspired by nature, but each took that inspiration beyond classic landscape painting. Their work was exhibited in the seminal New York City Armory Show of 1913 that introduced Picasso, Duchamp and Kandinsky to America. Both of them visited Southwestern deserts at the invitation of Mabel Dodge Luhan, legendary patron of the arts in Taos, N.M. They both produced evocative paintings of their desert environments.

However, there are important differences between the artists. O’Keeffe’s move to New Mexico launched her into fame, while Pelton’s choice to settle in what would become Cathedral City relegated her to obscurity. O’Keeffe sought to force a new vision of reality on viewers with her over-scale and highly erotic paintings of flowers, while Pelton’s abstract work focused on the spiritual.

“She was ahead of her time in her conception of spirituality, life’s purpose, and the visual representation of it all,” Pelton scholar Nancy Strow Sheley once told Palm Springs Life.

Pelton believed in astrology and numerology, and she practiced a type of fire yoga called Agni. Her transcendental paintings are full of dream landscapes, glowing shapes and feathery fountains of light. Pelton is quoted as saying, “Life is really all light, you know.”

The Phoenix Museum of Art is currently organizing a retrospective of her work. The first major exhibit of her paintings in 23 years, Agnes Pelton: Desert Transcendentalist, will include works from 1910 to 1961. Approximately 40 to 45 of her paintings will be borrowed from private collections, museums and galleries for the exhibition, which is slated to open at the Palm Springs Art Museum in the spring of 2019 before touring the country, including a stop at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City.

The home tour will also include a home on Chuperosa Lane, adjacent to the Pelton home and studio. Along its walls are murals that have been created by desert artists. One of them depicts 10 of the artists who lived, painted and taught in the thriving art colony of Cathedral City from the 1930s to the 1950s.

Live music will be provided throughout the day by students and neighborhood musicians. Local desert artists will display their works under canopies, and dance and spoken-word performances are planned.

Tickets are $20; children younger than 12 are admitted for free. For tickets or more information, call 760-459-3564, or visit agnespeltonsociety.com.

1 comment

  • Comment Link carole debeer Thursday, 04 January 2018 18:50 posted by carole debeer

    an engaging article....looking forward to the exhibit

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