by Rhonda Lane Coleman, Project Director and Curator
The history between artists and National Parks dates back to the 1870s. One of the tenets of the National Park’s Call to Action for the next century is connecting people to parks through art. In January 2015, the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Park Service announced “Imagine Your Parks” – a new $1 million grant initiative under the NEA’s Art Works category, marking the intersection of the NEA’s 50th anniversary in 2015, and the NPS’s centennial in 2016.
Both agencies are working together to support the creation of and greater public engagement with art related to the National Park System and its protection of cultural and natural resources. Concurrently, in February 2015, the California Arts Council confirmed the availability of the “Creative California Communities” program – a grant supporting collaborative projects that harness arts and culture as key economic and/or community development strategy. The announcements of these grants and support from local Park administrators provided the encouragement to pursue a large-scale collaborative art project addressing the unique cultural history of our region and the relationship between Native American artists and Joshua Tree. For many years, visual artists, musicians, filmmakers, and writers, have congregated along the 60-mile corridor bordering the northern boundary of Joshua Tree National Park. The Morongo Basin Cultural Arts Council annually hosts its Hwy 62 Art Tours, High Desert Test Sites has gained significant recognition for its experimental and immersive projects, and for more than 60 years, the 29 Palms Art Gallery has presented some of the most important artists of the Hi-Desert. Despite the high concentration of creatives in this area and the acceptance of a wide array of media, subject, and presentations, there has been little recognition of Native American artists – historical or contemporary. Sand to Stone seeks to: create an awareness about artists previously overlooked, shift assumptions about Native American Art and culture, and advance the scholarship of Native American art.
Sand to Stone: Contemporary Native American Art in Joshua Tree is a multidisciplinary art project highlighting contemporary Native American artists from the four tribes (Cahuilla, Chemehuevi, Mojave and Serrano) who have significant cultural ties to Joshua Tree National Park. Over the course of one year, this community collaboration will feature an art exhibition, site-specific installations, performances, education programs, a dedicated website, and a modest publication. Each component encourages Native American artists and local communities to respond to the land within and around park boundaries and to reconnect with the park in the production, exhibition, exploration, and performance of art, music and dance. These activities will have the added benefit of fostering cross-cultural interactions and reaching diverse populations historically underserved by the mainstream arts community.
Exhibition: 29 Palms Art Gallery, May 2016
Site-Specific Art Installation by Lewis deSoto: Joshua Tree, May 2016
Intertribal Performance of Bird Singers: Copper Mountain College, February/March 2016 Performance by Cahuilla Bird Singers: Joshua Tree National Park’s Indian Cove, April 2016 Education Programs, Ongoing
Catalogue & Website: www.sandtostone.org
NATIVE AMERICANS AND JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK
The Serrano, Cahuilla, Chemehuevi, and Mojave tribes are intimately connected to the land in and around Joshua Tree National Park. In spite of the visually barren, seemingly inhospitable desert, these tribal groups recognized an abundance of available resources and made this area their transitional or long-term home long before the arrival of Europeans in 1769. Indigenous people gravitated to land where food, water, and shelter, could be obtained. The desert landscape proved to be conducive for setting up small villages that offered necessary nourishment, protection, and trade. The rocks, ridges and canyons provided shelter; the oasis and other natural springs supplied important water sources; vegetation, such as mesquite beans and yucca root, offered dependable food sources for animals and people. These tribes were in tune with their land and made use of that which nature provided.
EARLY ARTISTIC EXPRESSION IN JOSHUA TREE
Native Americans who lived in this area left their creative marks on or within the land in many ways, the most obvious being petroglyphs (rock carvings), and pictographs (rock paintings). Their art was also prevalently visible in everyday objects, such as basketry and pottery, and perhaps the most common means of creative expression – their music and dance. Numerous sites scattered throughout the area feature etched or painted images of bighorn sheep, people, and abstract designs. Native American art, property of JTNPetched or painted images of bighorn sheep, people, and abstract designs. The Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in 29 Palms, is home to the Foxtrot Petroglyph Preserve, which contains nearly 2000 petroglyphs. Over the years, thousands of well-documented artifacts – ollas, arrowheads, tools, and weapons – have been identified by amateurs, professional archaeologists, and curators from the Marine Corps Base, the National Park and beyond. The Marine Corps Base’s Archaeology and Paleontology Curation Center is home to a large collection of projectile points and milling slabs, while Joshua Tree National Park’s museum holdings include a number of Native American artifacts, many of which were gathered and identified early on by Elizabeth and William H. Campbell, beginning in the 1920s. These objects tell important stories about the land and its inhabitants’ creative production.
CONTEMPORARY NATIVE AMERICAN ART