Phippen Museum

Prescott, AZ

(520) 778-1385


Painters of the Desert

Jun. 27 through Nov. 8


The Phippen Museum in Prescott, Arizona, announces its upcoming presentation of "Painters of the Desert," a collection of desert paintings by many of America's pre-eminent Southwest artists to open Saturday, June 27 and remain through Sunday, November 1, 1998.

In addition to such contemporary artists of Southwest themes as Buck McCain, Tom Haas, Bill Freeman, Clyde Aspevig, Drake Seaman, and Bonnie Casey, the exhibit will feature paintings by deceased artists Maynard Dixon, Clyde Forsythe, Jimmy Swinnerton, Don Perceval, John Hilton, Burt Procter, William Wendt, John Anthony Conner and William Griffith.

Viewers will experience a visual journey into the beauty of our Southwest deserts as seen through the eyes of artists dating back to the early 1900s. The flora and fauna of majestic desert peaks and below sea-level basins has appealed to artists since the first adventurers penetrated that Southwest domain.

This invigorating exhibit is sponsored by the Charlie Russell Riders Foundation of Great Falls. Charlie Russell Riders is a group of friends who meet two times a year for a week's ride. They invite eight artists to paint and sculpt during the ride, and then donate their work to the Charlie Russell Riders Foundation. The Foundation was formed as a charitable arm of the Riders in order to gift Museums which feature Western art.

The Museum is located six miles northeast of Prescott on Highway 89 North. For additional information, please call 520-778-1385.


The Desert and Its Painters

by Jim Willoughby


Our Southwest deserts hold a fascination for all who view them. They are special places of mind-boggling landscapes and of varied unique species of flora and fauna, plants and animals that have successfully adapted to their less~than-hospitable environment.

There are five deserts in the Southwest that comprise what could be called the American desert as they all have contiguous or overlapping boundaries.

Desert plants have evolved root systems that absorb an abundant water supply in rare times of rain, an internal storage capability to sustain them through extended periods of drought, and outer coatings that minimize moisture evaporation. There are tiny desert seeds that can wait as long as twenty years for sufficient moisture to permit them to germinate.

Desert animals, likewise, have evolved physical characteristics that enable them to endure with a minimal intake of water. Some, like the kangaroo rat, live their entire lives never knowing a sip of water.

For centuries, the deserts were peopled by Indians who, over time, learned to adapt to their harsh, if beautiful, habitat. The white man eventually came along and either maneuvered around desert regions or passed through them (if he got through; many perished enroute) in order to get from point A to point B expeditiously.

When it was learned that the desert hoarded vast stores of gold and silver in its belly, the white man took a different view of it. The lonely 'single-blanket jackass prospector' became an increasing intruder into the deserts' solitude. He was followed by large corporations intent on cutting into the action - and riches. Towns sprung up as workers and riff-raff moved in. The deserts yielded millions of dollars in precious ores over ensuing years. People learned, too, that they held more than monetary riches. There was a therapeutic serenity about their light-filled quietness and stunning night skies unfettered by reflected city lights. But in time small towns became sprawling metropolises. Resorts began to appear and prosper, typified by Las Vegas and Reno, Nevada, attracting money-spending tourists from all parts of the globe.

Still, so vast is the deserts' expanse, there yet exist regions of natural beauty untainted by developers' bulldozers. It is to be hoped they will be protected, as some already are, and kept that way.

The first white explorers to invade the Southwest deserts brought with them Eastern artists to record the awesome landscapes and the resourceful plants, animals, and birds that called those landscapes home. For those first artists, if was a job, a scholarly task.

Later, with the advent of the railroad, business-minded people like Fred Harvey ventured along, bent on promoting the land and attracting Eastern tourists. A true entrepreneur, Harvey commissioned top artists of the day to come west and paint their interpretations of the wide, virginal landscapes. Prints of their paintings were dispersed throughout the country and had the desired effect. Easterners eagerly flocked westward, buying land and spending money with enthusiastic abandon The artists, for their part, found the deserts a virtual paradise. While they were compensated, and well, word got out and other artists followed. These came of their own volition and at their own expense. They settled and painted throughout the Southwest, sometimes establishing colonies.

A number of Eastern artists gravitated to the pristine region around Taos, New Mexico, enthralled with the clarity of light there, the architecture, the simplistic lifestyle of the local Indian population, and the bounteous beauty of the country itself. Joseph Henry Sharp, E.I. Couse, Oscar Berninghaus, and others founded an artists' group there in 1915 and called themselves The Taos Society. They grew in number and exhibited together, promoting their work until they were recognized across the country. They terminated the group's existence in 1927, agreeing that they no longer needed the group factor. They had, during their tenure, brought the world's attention to the Southwest and its spellbinding deserts.

Other artists formed similar groups with varying degrees of success. The Cowboy Artists of America bunch, now in their 32nd year, is a sterling example of the individual benefits derived when masterful artists combine their talents to promoting a region and a way of life. Each prospers as an artist and enjoys the camaraderie and prestige of being a part of the group.

Painters of the desert have not come together as a group. They function individually in their own place and in their own way. Their combined efforts, though, as evidenced in Phippen's exhibit, PAINTERS OF THE DESERT, have served to convey the desert's multiple beauties to those who love it and to those less fortunate persons not able to view it with their own eyes.

The staff at Phippen Museum continues to outdo itself. In pulling together this presentation of the works of artists who have devoted their talents to depicting the many faces of the Southwest deserts, Sue Willoughby, Kerri Vaughn, Bob Hallenbeck, and their dedicated crew of volunteers have once again done the near impossible. An exhibit of this magnitude doesn't just happen. Much studying and research is done. What artists excelled in painting the desert? What collectors, galleries, and museums have work by them and will be beneficent enough to loan it for exhibit? It took some delving, some imploring to locate and acquire the magnificent paintings brought together for this show. Artists represented are mentioned elsewhere in the catalogue, all noteworthy. Special among them as painters of the desert are Maynard Dixon, John Hilton, Ross Stefan, Carl Eytel, and Jimmy Swinnerton of "Canyon Kiddies" fame.

The desert, land of wonder, be it ever there for us.


From top to bottom: Drake Seaman, The Superstitions, oil, 36 x 48 inches; Beverly Carrick, Desert Rains, oil, 30 x 40 inches; Matt Smith, Deep Wash; Tom Haas, Saguaro Ridge, oil, 30 x 40 inches; Paul Grimm, Desert Smoke Trees, oil, 28 x 36 inches; R. Hook, no identification; Xuzheng He, Poppies in Bloom, oil, 36 x 36 inches.

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

rev. 11/26/10

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