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December 4, 2014

When is an art gallery a work of art? When it's the "Glass Outhouse".

Written by  Hilary Sloane
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Laurel Seidel, owner of the Glass Outhouse, is a witty, humble woman with a wicked and sometimes self-deprecating sense of humor. Her handyman, friend, and fellow artist Frank Mezget is more than half the reason the gallery is what it is today.

All of this is important to know when considering the Glass Outhouse. The three-room gallery that started as a rabbit hutch in one of Seidel's past incarnations has become a gallery where people line up to show, and art lovers are willing to travel to. The gallery, located at the east end of 29 Palms, is in a neighborhood known as Wonder Valley. Wonder Valley is approximately 147 square miles with a population of 433. The area, known for its abandoned homesteads and its proximity to the 29 Palms Marine Base is vast, stark, and oddly beautiful. It is the perfect place for a gallery that defies all gallery traditions.

"It's halfway to falling off the earth," says Seidel. "I wanted a place that would make people feel comfortable. I didn't want anything snobby. I wanted this to be a gallery that people come to and feel joy. I want them to stand around and talk. I want them to walk around the sculpture gallery and relax."

The gallery that has recently grown to three rooms has shown a long list of local artists. Seidel never screens her artists or their work. She asks them if they want to show and when they say, "Yes," she puts them on the schedule. The gallery doesn't take a commission. The artists are responsible for all of their advertising and the opening reception.

Seidel isn't in the business for the money. She loves art, and artists, and wants both around her. She explains to visitors that this is the best way to have a constant changing show and a monthly party.

Before the gallery was even a thought, Seidel, who was then married to her second husband, found herself moving to the high desert from San Jose. She and her husband had planned to travel around the country selling collectibles at local swap meets. One day her husband traded a shotgun for two goats, and their home became a working farm that evolved into a Rabbit Hutch. The bigger of the two wood shacks was the rabbit pen, and the shack that is now the gallery was the nursery. After six years, unavoidable setbacks, and the demise of her marriage, Seidel found herself alone and working a number of different jobs. When things got tough, she turned to making arts and crafts. Through the encouragement of her niece and an unexpected suggestion from her mother to sell her paintings, she began to exhibit at art fairs and arts and crafts shows. Her work, painting with acrylic on rocks, shells, saw blades, wood - anything she could find, sold very well.

When her health declined, and she could no longer continue painting or working, she met a 6 foot tall cowboy with "a voice that came from the bottom of his feet." She rented him the trailer on her property and with the extra money hired a local handyman to build her gallery. Her initial impulse was to put her work on the walls, but her handyman exhibited his work at the first exhibit. 125 people showed up. As they came in Seidel would ask them if they wanted to do a show. When they said yes, she had them sign up immediately.

At first, the public never believed she would open the gallery and then they didn't believe she would stay in business. Five years later, the gallery is booked three years in advance and is drawing visitors from across the country and around the world. Its reputation is all word of mouth.

The name of the gallery and the glass outhouse that stands on the property came from the need for a bathroom and glass doors that had been left unclaimed. "We need a bathroom, Seidel told one of the handymen, "can you do anything with these glass doors?" The Glass Outhouse got everything it needed.

Whether sitting in the outhouse looking out toward the mountains or walking around the property it becomes quite clear that the area is something special, and people are drawn to it.

After some time, Mezget, who came to 29 Palms from the mid-west, rented the trailer and took on the position of handyman. It was Mezget who suggested they make a trail around the property.

The trail started as a pathway from the gallery to the cement pond, that Seidel says, is the "exotic fish" pond. "Some (of the fish) come from Italy, China, Taiwan." She says this with a slight grin as her bright eyes explore the person she's talking to for a reaction. It takes a trip to the pond to discover that there is no water, and the fish are ceramic, aluminum, plastic and other assorted materials. The fish are fanciful bits of yard sale collectibles, the same as all the other items in the sculpture garden. These items include gym equipment with skeletons exercising, a wooden Tiki, a well-planned maze of colored glass bottles, and a row of bicycles at the entrance. Everything is deliberately placed along the stone edged path that now covers an extensive part of the two acre property. In addition, there are metal sculptures from other artists, a Zen garden and the chapel which Mezget recently built.

As I sat and talked to Frank and Laurel in the gallery one afternoon, they both expressed the ease they share with each other. They both said they have no trouble coming up with ideas and making them happen. (Like the chapel that now sits on the property a short distance from the gallery.)

"I wasn't thinking of a thing and all of a sudden... I turned to Frank and said we have to build a church." says Laurel. Frank nods in agreement but admits he's a bit confused at the moment.

In the gallery are several glass sculpture stands that Frank made from found glass. The piece Frank is struggling with will be a “glass piece”. At the moment, neither Laurel nor Frank have any idea what it will look like. They only know it will be made out of rescued glass, and when they get “a whole bunch of it,” they will set it out and see what happens.

I walk around the gallery as the sun is setting. The maze of bottles are catching the last of the light and the beautiful wood Chapel with stained glass windows beacons anyone to stop and spend a quiet moment. The sign on the door reads - open 24/7. The "Church," as Laurel calls it, has its own parking lot separate from the gallery, and the door is always unlocked.

It's all a work of art - the gallery, the artists that show there, the quirky vignettes of found objects and the Church/Chapel without locks. People who come here keep coming back. The shows are getting bigger, and this is good for the artists.

The sculpture garden...well, who knows what or who will show up next…

The Glass Outhouse is located at 77575 Twenty Nine Palms Highway, 29 Palms, CA. Gallery hours are Tuesday to Sunday from 1:00 - 5:00. There is a new show every month and a reception the first Saturday of the month.


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