RUSTFEST 2024: Rust Never Dies!

By Katie Nartonis

“Rustfest was really great this year – everyone hung out and browsed and purchased art…next year we will have more food!” – William “Billy” Savage

Simi Dabah, a self-taught artist/welder, has been creating welded steel sculptures from industrial scrap for more than fifty years. Simi has a studio in Los Angeles and a second studio in Joshua Tree on 8 acres of land. Dabah’s Joshua Tree space is home to RustFest a day long art festival – and a gift to our desert art community!

Ben Allenoff, sculptor and resident artist at the Simi Dabah recalls how this year’s RustFest came into being – and how it came to life! Allenoff recalls, “About a year ago the term “RustFest” popped into my head, and I liked it very much. So, I decided to act on it, and put together an event on very short notice. It was well attended and great fun – so I decided to do it again this year – hence, Rustfest II. We had 200 – 300 people this time on February 25th, and everyone seemed to have a great time!”

Allenoff describes this year’s event, “Sue Friedland wrapped two of my pyramid-shaped stick sculptures with her rust-died textiles, prayer-flag style. Ellen Finan, Gina Atwell, and Janice Teitel worked together to create fiber art pieces for two of my stick installations.” Allenoff’s performative sculptural works are sometimes communal in nature – where Ben invites his fellow artists to contribute to his works.

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Claudia Bucher’s arresting performative piece was a powerful addition this year. Ben Allenoff notes, “In addition to her costumed, walking performance, Claudia Bucher dressed one of my stick installations with various articles of clothing, and built her own stick installation. It “was all conceived and created as a single durational participatory performance art piece.” Bobby Furst brought some of his rusty assemblage sculptures. Bobby notes that the festival for him is “a wonderful day of Art, performance, music, food and community.” Allenoff also showed his own rustprints, crafted by allowing the natural activation of rust to create beautiful impressions captured on paper.

Allenoff describes the day’s music as a, “dreamy improvisational psych-blues-rock by Robbie Robb’and with Cat Callebrezze sitting in for a bit on the saxophone and Karl Young doing the same with his shakuhachi. They played the entire festival, it was more or less one continuous flow of beautiful sounds drifting across the property.” What an inspiring moment – one of many that blossom spontaneously from the power of the creative community of the Hi-Desert.

He continues, “Rustfest is generously supported by the Simi Dabah Sculpture Foundation – they donated the use of the property for the event (also laid out some $ for parking/ security). There was no admission charge. Just a celebration of community and creativity. People always seem happy to be on this property – Simi’s sculpture, perhaps, exudes a lot of playful, positive energy – I think my work and that of the other artists and the music, food, and people built on Simi’s vibe – it all worked together to create a great event.

We had bratwurst by Wurstwagon – well-loved, and they sold out.”

It’s powerful when land is used to elevate the work of local sculptors/artists. A natural and influential confluence of environmental and artistic expression. Proceeds from the sales of Simi’s sculptures during the event will be donated to local non-profits that serve the community. Rustfest is now something we all look forward to – another cultural festival – home-grown here in the Hi-Desert. Allenoff note, “Yes, we hope to have a Rustfest III next year, or maybe sooner.” Keep us posted for sure!

The Simi Dabah sculpture park is open Saturdays, 9am – 4pm and is located at 5255 Sunfair Road in Joshua Tree. More information at:

Katie Nartonis is a writer, curator, film maker and specialist in art and design. Her most recent documentary film, “Jack Rogers Hopkins: Calfornia Design Maverick,” about the late San Diego based mid-century designercraftsman, premiered during Palm Springs Modernism Week in 2023. She is currently writing “Glimpses of The Joshua Tree Dream,” a book on the way we live in the high desert.

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