Bruno the buffalo stands bold and protective, his gilded eyes a-twinkle in the desert sunlight like a proud guardian aloft on his rooftop perch. Below at the highway’s edge, his brother Emilio – a famously beloved tailless horse – also stands like a sentry, with his dazzling coat of cerulean blue.
Each are painted in the delicate Oaxaca folk art style of the Mexican Alebrije. They beckon passersbys, as if daring motorists not to stop and make them social media famous with the click of a photo.
These iconic sculptures are part of the inherited landmark features of the town’s newly opened restaurant, Spaghetti Western.
Painted by local artist and muralist, Emily Tayman, and as commissioned by restaurateurs Jasmine and Lorenzo Tommaso, these sculptures have become part of Morongo Valley lore as the unofficial gateway greeters to this otherwise quiet and charming, growing town.
The interior of the large landmark building, warm and cozy with remnants of the theatrically western-styled saloon and brothel decor from its famous former life as “Willie Boy’s” roadhouse tavern, as well as its original incarnation as a casino built by mobster Al Capone, now also features a new stage with a back wall – a stylized and striking painted desert, also by Tayman.
The scenic wall mural changes color at the whim and fancy of the stage’s lighting, as a natural desert landscape would when the day’s light awakens the skyline at dawn, looms overhead at high noon, or coolly dims into dusk.
A muralist for 10 years, a painter since she was 14, and a sometime participant as a live artist at the Joshua Tree Music Festival, in September of this year Tayman was introduced the Tommasos by another local artist and mutual friend. Although the project had a modest budget, Tayman said she “had to take it on.”
“Robert Warner, who is a local friend of mine and leather maker who lives in Yucca Valley introduced us,” she said “They were just such lovely human beings. I couldn’t resist the opportunity.”
Working internationally as well as domestically, Tayman says she has painted approximately 220 murals in about 17 different U.S. states, in the Sayulita, Puerto Vallarta, and Sea of Cortez areas in Mexico, and an island in Thailand, she said she can make as much as $17,000 a project. But such projects can be daunting, requiring months of planning and patience with other governmental red tape. The rewards to working smaller budget projects she said can often include more artistic freedom and more timely payments for a job done.