Palm Springs Art Museum
Palm Desert
Edwards Harris Center

DESERT LANDSCAPE

When first founded in 1938, the mission of the (then) Palm Springs Desert Museum was focused on natural science of the desert area but also included regional Native American culture. By the late 1940s/early 1950s the museum broadened its focus to include exhibiting and collecting Native American baskets and desert paintings and photographs along with other forms of regional art that supported the museum’s focus on natural science of the desert region.

The first gifts of desert paintings came in 1953 when Cornelia White, Mrs. J. Smeaton Chase, and Earl Coffman donated works by Carl Eytel, thus beginning a collection of paintings, artist journals, field sketches and correspondence by Eytel that would grow to over 1,200 objects. Gifts of works by other desert painters followed, including, in the 1950s, paintings by Paul Grimm and John Hilton. In 1958 a new 10,000 square foot facility was constructed on Tahquitz Canyon Way and in 1962, a second floor with galleries was added for the exhibition of fine art. Throughout the decades to follow, the collection of art inspired by the desert continued to grow and now encompasses works by Fred Penney, Agnes Pelton, John Hilton, Paul Grimm, Brownell McGrew, Clyde Forsythe, William S. Darling, Millard Sheets, Jack Wilkinson Smith, Alson Skinner Clark, Woody Gwyn, Gordon Coutts, Harry B. Wagoner, Robert C. Rishell, Fred Sayre and others. An especially notable collection of 36 paintings, field studies, and cartoon boards by James Swinnerton was acquired over the years from the artist and other donors.

In the late 1970s the museum began to acquire paintings on photos and additional photographs by Stephen H. Willard and in 1999-2000 received the artist’s extensive collection of over 14,000 negatives, photographs, paintings, camera equipment and archives from his daughter, Beatrice Willard.

A number of prominent exhibitions substantiated the museum’s growing interest in classic western American painting and sculpture: Giants of the American West: Frederic Remington and Charles Russell (1966-67); James Swinnerton Retrospective (1969); and Frederic Remington: Selection of Paintings and Sculpture (1970). In 1978, the Museum’s trustees added Western American Art as a collecting focus. A fundraising program began and in 1982 the Denney Western American Art Wing opened with a major inaugural exhibition and catalogue: The West as Art: Changing Perceptions of Western Art in California Collections. This exhibition initiated an ambitious program of Western Art and over the next twenty years, the programs focused on combining classical with modern and contemporary artworks. Other major thematic exhibitions included The American Southwest and its Native Peoples (1986/87) which combined Southwest painters such as Walter Ufer with the museum’s Native American collections; other exhibits included Carl Oscar Borg: A Niche in Time (1990), Edward Borein: Artist of the West (1991), California Grandeur and Genre (1991), American Arts & Crafts: from the Collection of Alexandra and Sidney Sheldon (1993), culminating in the landmark exhibitions Transforming the Western Image in 20th Century American Art (1992) and Agnes Pelton: Poet of Nature (1996).

Gifts to the museum and select purchases in this field also grew and eventually led to a strong group of works from the late 19th through the 20th century, including representation of Frederic S. Remington, Charles Marion Russell, John Audubon, McKinney and Hall, Grace Carpenter Hudson, Thomas Moran; Frank Tenney Johnson, Sydney Mortimer Laurence, Edgar Alwyn Payne; Joseph Sharp, Olaf C. Seltzer, William Leigh, Carl Rungius, Leon Gaspard, Lee F. Hersch, Nicolai Fechin, Philip Goodwin, Edward S. Curtis, and Wilson E. Silsby. Purchases were made of important works by William Gollings (1982), Thomas Hill (1983), William Keith (1988), Walter Ufer (1993), Merrill Mahaffey (2000), Brownell McGrew (2000), and a group of 20 paintings by Karen Kitchel (2000). The most significant event in this history was the donation of works from the George Montgomery collection. Select donations came from the George Montgomery Foundation of the Arts in the 1990s, and the museum received a major bequest of works from the Montgomery collection in 2005. These included important paintings, sculpture, and drawings by such artists as Thomas Moran, Remington, Russell, and others. The bequest also included twenty-eight bronzes and pieces of furniture made by George Montgomery along with objects from his studio and memorabilia from his film career.

Other notable acquisitions include: the donation by Fredrick Faude in 1973 of his collection of paintings by Grace Carpenter Hudson; the donation by Harold Joe Waldrum over a number of years of museum impressions of his prints with select drawings and printing plates and his gift in 1994 of his monumental painting A Dark Place from 1988; and a gift in 1995 by Steven and Ursula De Christopher of fifteen bronze sculptures from the Cowboy Artists of America group and other contemporary sculptors.

This collection remains one of the museum’s primary collecting focuses. Overall, it amounts to a broad and well-balanced survey of art of California and the American West from the late 19th century through today.

Native American and Art of the West :: Desert Landscape

Agnes Pelton, Smoketrees in a Draw

Agnes Pelton, Smoketrees in a Draw
Palm Springs Art Museum

Agnes Pelton, Smoketrees in a Draw, circa 1950, oil on canvas, museum purchase with funds provided by the Western Art Council, Mary James Memorial Fund, 2008

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Stephen H. Willard, Silent Interlude

Stephen H. Willard, Silent Interlude
Palm Springs Art Museum

Stephen H. Willard, Silent Interlude, 1948, oil on photograph mounted on Masonite, gift of Dr. Beatrice Willard

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James Swinnerton, Smoke Trees in a Desert Canyon

James Swinnerton, Smoke Trees in a Desert Canyon
Palm Springs Art Museum

James Swinnerton, Smoke Trees in a Desert Canyon (Shaver's Well Near Mecca, Calif), circa 1935, oil on canvas board, gift of Miss Anna E. King

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Fred Penney, The Golden Hour (or Deep Canyon)

Fred Penney, The Golden Hour (or Deep Canyon)
Palm Springs Art Museum

Fred Penney, The Golden Hour (or Deep Canyon), circa 1967, oil on canvas on masonite, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Harry B. Clow

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