The tiny, often forlorn-looking and dilapidated
buildings---many of them abandoned or never used---stand watch over arid
five-acre parcels. But don't mistake them for mere shacks. They
are hallowed totems of High Desert culture. And they are being
the months of February and March by the Wonder Valley
Hometead Cabin Festival (www.wondervalleyarts.com).
The ubiquitous shanties have a unique
history. In an effort to distribute roughly 1,800 dusty, rock-strewn
acres that the Bureau of Land Management deemed disposable, the US government
enacted the Small Tract Act of 1938. This legislation granted free
homesteads to those willing to inhabit and improve the barren landscape of
Southern California. The resulting homestead cabins typically were
one-room boxes with a single door and a few windows. Many were erected
in Wonder Valley, at the more remote eastern end of the Morongo Basin.
Seventy years later, the High Desert is
anything but barren; it is teeming with free spirits and creative folks who
have earned repute as artists locally, regionally, and beyond. And some
have made the homestead cabins a peculiarly magical focus of their work.
Sponsored by Wonder Valley Arts, Homestead
Cabinet and the Morongo Valley Cultural Arts Council, Inc., the festival is
exploring the cabins' legacy with two commemorative exhibits open to the
public. The Palms Restaurant, 83131 Amboy Road, is hosting
"Homestead Show 'n Tell"---a gallery and stage tribute in which
artists, writers, performers and musicians present original pieces on the
theme. Visual art is on display daily (except Tuesdays).
"Homestead Obsession," open weekends at Fi-Lox-See Gallery, 7215 Fi-Lox-See
Avenue, features art from Robert Arnett, [Jackadandy], Perry Hoffman and
Arnett, for one, has long been fascinated with
the cabins. "I felt a satisfaction in documenting the time of the
homestead years," he notes of his work. "Long after the
elements have collapsed them into piles of weathered wood and shingles, the
painting will preserve the facts."
For fellow artist Scott Monteith, the
structures symbolize not only the lives of their past inhabitants, but our
collective dreams and hopes for the future. "The cabins share a
theme of starting fresh," he says. "They are artifacts of the
human condition---of particular points in time that occupy a most definitely