Dear Artist,

At the top edge of Joshua Tree National Park and skirting the edge of the Mojave Desert is a place called Wonder Valley. In 1938, the U.S. Congress put forward the Small Tract Act, encouraging homesteaders — mostly World War I servicemen — to lease five-acre federal land parcels to convert to private ownership if they built structures, businesses or recreational facilities there. By the ’50s, thousands of cabins had been built but, after infrastructure like roads, water, power and schools failed to appear, were later abandoned. Riding a diurnal temperature variation of 30 degrees and barely crosshatched with a handful of roads, in the space of twenty years the valley returned to a nearly blank canvas.


Non-Urban Renewal Project (NURP), Dwelling #13. Photo: Cathy Allen

Today, nearby Joshua Tree has felt a bit of a boom. A great migration of artists from Los Angeles and New York has coloured the bouldered landscape with studios and AirBnBs. Now, alongside the California hippies, hikers, bikers and burnouts are the profs of the Los Angeles art schools, land artists, colour fielders, found-object installers, coffee roasters and Coachella Music Festival instagrammers — pioneering smog-free secondary studios under an infinite, Milky Way-streaked silence. “The artists came in waves while cabins were still cheap,” wrote Kristin Scharkey in Desert Magazine. “Creativity could be found in the harrowing quiet.”


Joshua Tree Garden wood carving
by Kent Holmgren

Back in Wonder Valley, a painter carved her own path before the Joshua Tree boom. After working tech in Silicon Valley, Laurel Seidl bought her parents’ rabbit farm just off the Twentynine Palms Highway for $3200 and moved there with her husband, Fred, in 1976. When her marriage ended, Laurel retired the rabbits and took up painting, submitting to local galleries in search of a show. After years of relentless rejection, Laurel contracted a friend to convert the old rabbit barn into a gallery. She paid him $200 a month and, after 18 months, she opened The Glass Outhouse Gallery in 2010. The Glass Outhouse rejects no one, and Laurel collects no commission. Admission is free and comes with snacks, cold drinks and, often, live music. “It really amazes me because, when I started, I was asking people to show their work,” said Laurel. “Now, they are coming to me.”


Lily Stockman artist studio



PS: “If you build it, they will come.” (Laurel Seidl)

Esoterica: Between the gallery and Laurel’s kitchen sits her glass outhouse. Fully functioning and perched atop her septic tank, inside is a 360-degree view of the surrounding desert and Laurel’s five acres of outdoor installations. Her gallery, which has become a kind of cult-destination, gets up to 300 visitors a month. Laurel has even painted parking stall lines on her driveway, in the dirt. “I basically started it because I couldn’t hang my own artwork anywhere else,” she said. “Sure, everyone told me I was nuts and it would never work. My family and friends all said, ‘Laurel, don’t do it. You’re going to be disappointed when it doesn’t work out.’ All I said to them was, ‘You just stand back and watch me. I will make this work and make it into something special.’ ”


The Letters: Vol. 1 and 2, narrated by Dave Genn, are now available for download on Amazon, here. Proceeds of sales contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys.

“I’m enjoying the most perfect tranquillity, free from all worries, and in consequence would like to stay this way forever, in a peaceful corner of the countryside like this.” (Claude Monet)



    • The only rejection to worry about is your own, toward yourself! I just recently, have loosened the tight rein on my own expectations towards art making. We all should revert to the fun and absorption that was experienced as children. Make art, anyway you please, and just have Fun!

      • I so agree. There are so many of us creative people now…why compete and make life miserable? Have fun…sell some, give some! I relate to Sara’s comments, because we have a special place in Eastport, Maine…far off the beaten track.

  1. Joshua Tree and the Mojave Desert are special places for me. We have homes in Las Vegas and southwestern Utah, and most creativity comes in our Utah home and a small studio in Kayenta, a community built for artists. Such a wonderful story for all of us who thrive in the empty spaces that allow art to flow.

  2. I’m there! Doing an artist interpretive program at Joshua Tree next week. The desert calms the mind and challenges the body. Serene, dry, dusty, hot. Thank you for writing about this special place that is one of my artistic homes.

  3. How about a little more info on this place. I am sure there are more than a few who are interested. Even they never make it there they can dream.

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Featured Workshop

Paint in Amalfi Italy
June 23, 2018 to June 30, 2018


The Amalfi Coast, a World heritage site, and one of the most spectacular vistas to be found in Italy.  Stay at our four-star hotel on the waterfront of Amalfi; all rooms with private bath and with Mediterranean Sea views.  Elevator available.  Small groups or painters with guests. Paint in Amalfi, Ravello, Positano, and Capri.  Work in oils or other media; beginners to advanced welcome.  Demos and individual instruction.  Breakfast each day along with 2 lunches & 5 dinners.
See for further details. series #1
Oil on canvas with pyrite and amethyst
48 x 48"/122x122cm

Featured Artist

Candace studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Angers, France but it is her travels in the deserts of Africa and Oman, Antarctica and the Arctic, and sacred sights of Machu Picchu and Petra that serve as her true place of learning. A desire to combine these experiences with a deeper understanding of her own spirituality has provided the underlying focus and inspiration for her paintings.


Robert and Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

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