By Deogracio Secretario
Two events this month celebrate the life and legacy of noted American painter and former Cathedral City doyen, Agnes Lawrence Pelton: “Bringing Light to Life,” a one-woman play written and performed by Pelton scholar, Nancy Strow-Sheley at the Historic Pelton House, and “Agnes Pelton, Spiritual Modernist/ Photos of Peter Palladino,” an exhibition of limited edition photographs of select Agnes Pelton Transcendental paintings and limited edition archival giclees of her desert landscapes at Simeon Den Gallery/Fine & Temple Arts in Cathedral City.
Eight years ago, artists Peter Palladino and Simeon Den moved to Cathedral City and purchased the house and painting studio of Agnes Pelton. Although they knew a little of Pelton’s past and her stature in the art world, they were not aware of the extent to which the house, property, and surrounding neighborhood was richly historic. The fixer-upper was in disrepair but they intuitively knew that they had found their “home.” Arguably, the fixer-upper had found them. For them, the last eight years have been a rich unfolding of forgotten narratives, personal testimonies, and secret chronicles of the illustrious Pelton.
Palladino and Den have since become the guardians of her legacy. They have revived the lost history of the CC Cove neighborhood and the house that she designed and had built in 1938. For over three decades, this is where she lived and painted her renowned desert landscapes and Transcendental abstract masterworks. During that time in the 30’s through the early 60’s, Pelton and her home was the center of a vibrant arts community, an art colony inhabited by established painters, writers, and musicians, who came to live, visit, and teach. Located at the corner or F Street and Chuperosa Lane, her home also served as the first make-shift art gallery in Cathedral Village, which was the genesis of the Desert Art Center that is now located in Palm Springs.
Under the auspices of their non-profit Agnes Pelton Society, Palladino and Den produce programs and activities that continue Pelton’s historic efforts to build community. The APS advocates for Cathedral City artists, commissions Coachella Valley artists to paint original fine art murals on their Historic Chuperosa Lane Murals Path, conducts free monthly art classes for children, awards an arts scholarship to a deserving CCHS graduating senior, and produces an annual Home Tour of Artists and Historic Homes in the CC Cove.
In alignment with their mission, two years ago they engaged noted Pelton Scholar, Nancy Strow-Sheley, PhD, to write and perform the one-woman play, “Bringing Light to Life.” A performance installation, it celebrates the life and legacy of Agnes Pelton. It is a poignant and engaging dramatization of Pelton reminiscing her storied past on the last day in her house, performed on-site in her historic home.
Agnes Lawrence Pelton was born in Stuttgart, Germany and lived and studied in Europe before her family moved to Brooklyn, New York where she studied at Pratt Institute. She established her painting career in the international art world, when as a young woman, she was one of the few American artists, let alone a woman, invited to participate in the iconic 1913 New York City Armory Show. The Armory Show was the pivotal Modern Art exhibition that introduced America to the likes of Chagall, Kandinsky, and Picasso and the European avant garde including the experimental styles of Fauvism, Cubism, and Futurism.
Before settling in Cathedral City in 1932, Pelton traveled extensively, famously lived in a windmill on Long Island and spent time with family in Hawaii, where she painted landscapes and portraits of children from prominent families. She was a spiritual aspirant, who explored esoteric teachings, practiced the obscure and demanding Agni Yoga, and subscribed to the principles of The Hive, a visionary organization of Utopia-seeking intellectuals based in Pasadena. Sadly, she was forced to sell her house in 1961 and died of cancer six months later in a “little shack on C Street,” a few blocks from her beloved home.
The title of the play, “Bringing Light to Life,” attends to Pelton’s spiritual beliefs, her raison d’etre, and Transcendentalism, her professed style of painting. Although a contemporary of Georgia O’Keefe, Pelton recalls only meeting her once and in regard to their art, she commented (I paraphrase) that O’Keefe painted the physical beauty of a thing and she, instead, painted the Spirit of a thing
During the course of “Bringing Light to Life,” some of the spoken text is recited word-for-word, quoted directly from the Pelton Papers, catalogued at the Smithsonian Institute. Additionally, archival Peter Palladino photographs taken of her Transcendental abstract originals are used as visual props to support the storytelling.
“Bringing Light to Life” will be presented one-time-only on Sunday, March 11, 3pm at the Pelton House, 68680 F St. Only 50 seats are available and can be purchased online at: www.agnespeltonsociety.com
“Agnes Pelton, Spiritual Modernist/ Photos of Peter Palladino,” opens on Saturday, March 10, 5-8pm at Simeon Den Gallery/Fine and Temple Arts, 68895 Perez Road, #I-27 as part of the monthly Second Saturdays Perez Road Arts+ Design Art Walk.