John Simpkins personifies the tradition of the artist as a mystic and hermit. For the past seven years, he’s lived and painted in the schoolhouse in Andrews, a ghost town nestled between Steens Mountain and the Alvord Desert in Oregon’s Harney County. His days are filled with the quiet contemplation and solitary discipline of his studio practice.
In Desert Mystic, he’s created paintings inspired by the surrounding arid landscape and its wildlife. Simpkins weaves them into dense, layered allegories. His detailed and colorful paintings are shaped by influences as diverse as American Primitivism, Byzantine icon painting and Buddhist art.
He describes the animals of the region as being constant companions and transforms his frequent chance encounters with coyotes, badgers, owls and other creatures into paintings that depict them as guides and teachers, a concept he borrows from the Buddhist tradition. Consequently, the mule deer buck that startles John by peering through his studio window one morning is immortalized as a messenger wrapped in saffron robes.
Simpkins displays a tenacious dedication to his unique vision and perspective. The impressive trove of accumulated paintings from the last seven years that fill his studio are a testament to his robust work ethic. His vibrant vision has found fertile soil and flourished in its austere environment. John Simpkins has transformed the arid desolation of the Oregon desert into a creative oasis.
By Curator of Arts and Community Engagement Andries Fourie
Over the decades, photographer Edward Curtis’s sepia-toned prints of Native people have shaped the ways that many non-Native people think about American Indians and the American West. At the start of the 20th century, amid changes brought about by industrialization and the forced removal of American Indians to reservations, Curtis undertook the enormous project of photographing Native people and recording ethnographic information from over 80 tribes across North America. The project took him over 30 years and came at significant personal cost, but it resulted in 20 bound volumes, over 2,000 photogravures and numerous recordings of Native languages, music and ceremonies.
Marking the 150th anniversary of Edward Curtis’s birth, By Her Hand: Native American Women, Their Art, and the Photographs of Edward S. Curtis features Curtis’s photographs of Native women and the art they created from the Christopher G. Cardozo Collection. The High Desert Museum will also include historical and contemporary works of art created by Native artists from our permanent collection to broaden this story.
The navigational feats performed by wildlife—whether as part of their daily, local activities or long-distance migrations—are arguably some of the natural world’s most awe-inspiring phenomena. The tiny rufous hummingbird, for example, deftly finds its way from wintering grounds in Mexico and the southern United States to its breeding grounds in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska.
This new, interactive exhibition explores how such remarkable journeys are possible. Unlike us, other animals don’t have the benefit of maps and compasses, or do they? While many mysteries remain, scientists are steadily uncovering the secrets of navigation. Their findings suggest that different species are equipped with internal compass senses, intricate mental maps and other adaptations that enable them to stay on track. These mechanisms tell birds, mammals, fish and insects where they are and in which direction they are heading, even as they navigate the most testing terrains or places they have never seen before.
Human actions create some further challenges for animal navigators. For example, lights can obscure the night sky and completely disorient birds and other species. Thankfully, as we learn more about how animals navigate and how we are impacting their behavior, we also become better equipped to take effective conservation actions. This knowledge helps us to understand our own species, too, and how we might navigate using nature’s clues. Come and find out how in “Animal Journeys: Navigating in Nature.”
By Donald M. Kerr Curator of Natural History Louise Shirley