By Katie Nartonis

Imagine yourself on a self-guided desert treasure hunt. You are given a map, which leads you down country roads, along beautiful desert vistas, and through Joshua tree forests. The treasure is art, and it can be found in the 134 artist’s studios open to the public during the HWY 62 Open Studio Art Tours.

Photo by Delos Van Earl

Delos Van Earl (Studio #109) paints in mixed media and creates sculptures in bronze and steel at his studio in Yucca Valley. He identifies his art as ‘intelligent design.’ During the making process, he finds a groove where each element creates balance and the necessary tension, so that everything is “as it should be.” Van Earl reflects on his experience in past Art Tours – noting that “there is nothing like having the studio filled with people eager to see your artwork and interested in meeting you.”

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Cybele Rowe (Studio #87) is a sculptor and painter based in Landers. Her desert home and studio are surrounded by land dotted with her brave and engaging creations. She works in varied materials such as concrete, clay, bronze, wood, resin, and fiber and describes her process as “a dialogue with the medium in real time.” Rowe notes “Much of my large-scale sculptures have been built upon the desert floor. Being able to share the works in their place of inspiration makes Hwy 62 Art Tours a unique immersive experience.”

Photo by Snake Jagger

Every October for the last 20 years, the Morongo Basin Cultural Arts Council (MBCAC) has produced one of the largest open-studio events in California. The HWY 62 Open Studio Art Tours allow visitors to enjoy the beauty of the high desert, immerse themselves in its creative community and to acquire art directly from local artists and makers. With the influx of new artists to the high desert in the last few years, the MBCAC is expecting a vibrant tour experience. The 2022 HWY 62 Open Studio Art Tours takes place over three weekends: October 8-9, 15-16 and 22-23 with studios open from 10am – 5pm.

Desert artists find that the Art Tours provide an opportunity to not only share their work but also their creative environment. Many form bonds with their annual tour visitors and these visits become anticipated yearly events. There is an added layer to the art experience when one can inhabit the artists’ space and hear them talk about their work in person. Chuck Caplinger, an early co-founder of the Art Tours, reflects on celebrating its 21st year, “Thinking back on these beginnings, I’m still impressed by the spirit of cooperation expressed during the early days of the arts council and coalition movement. The Art Tours are bigger than ever and remain a vital part of the economic engine that’s generated in our Hi-Desert communities.”

Morongo based Snake Jagger (Studio #125) has a painting style he describes as ‘whimsical surrealism.’ His desert landscapes, and more fantastical surrealist images, are admired by collectors. Jagger has found that the Art Tours have become his most successful art event. He notes, “It’s a pleasure to have people coming to my home gallery and studio and enjoying the nature trails on my property that are meant to represent my desert landscape painting.”

The MBCAC, who manage the HWY 62 Art Tours, is a non-profit organization 501(c)(3) created in 2001 by a dedicated and passionate group of local artists. Its mission is to inspire and enliven the community through the arts, and to enhance the cultural and economic health of the region by supporting the art and artists of the Morongo Basin, which includes the high desert communities of Morongo Valley, Yucca Valley, Joshua Tree, Landers, Pioneertown, Twentynine Palms, Wonder Valley. Building community through the arts, the MBCAC continues to be a leading source of information, inspiration and energy for artists and patrons throughout the Morongo Basin and beyond.

Photo by Cybele Rowe

Membership includes the opportunity to show at the Joshua Tree Art Gallery (JTAG) and to take part in the annual HWY 62 Open Studio Art Tours every October.

JTAG will host the annual Collective Show, featuring the work of those artists participating in the HWY 62 Open Studio Art Tours and it is an excellent way for visitors to preview the art that can be found on the tours. The work of the artists who show at the gallery is a wonderful mix of medium and approaches including painting, sculpture, fiber, ceramics, jewelry, book art, printmaking and photography that captures the creative spirit and beauty of the desert.

Photo by Snake Jagger

A reception at JTAG for the Collective Show exhibition is open to the public during the monthly Second Saturday Gallery Walk on Saturday, October 8th from 5-8pm. The gallery has extended hours in October and will be open Friday 11am – 3pm, Saturday 9am – 5pm and Sunday from 12pm – 5pm. For a list of studio locations, places to pick up the full-color tour catalog and a link to download the app – go to www.MBCAC.org.
The tours are free – and open to all!

Katie Nartonis is an art and design specialist, writer, curator and filmmaker who lives in Yucca Valley. Her passion is telling the stories of California artists and is inspired by the many creatives who live here in the high desert communities.


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