By Renee Brown
As the twentieth century was dawning on a sleepy, desert town inhabited by the Agua Band of Cahuilla Indians and a few pioneers, a colony of artists came together to create an artistic legacy that is unique to the Coachella Valley.
Author, Robert Louis Stevenson and naturalist, John Muir came to stay at Dr. Wellwood Murray's Palm Springs Hotel around 1900. They led the way for artists like Carl Eytel, photographer, Stephen Willard, cartoonist and landscape painter, Jimmy Swinnerton to follow. The Ramada made from palm frons at the Desert Inn was the place that these early adventurers would meet and share their love of the desert. This "creative brotherhood" was responsible for capturing the desert landscape in drawings, paintings and photographs. These works of art are on exhibit today at the McCallum Adobe Museum, the Palm Springs Art Museum as well as galleries and museums all over the country.
Cart Eytel, a German born artist, settled in Palm Springs in 1903. He produced drawings of plants that were unique to the desert environment. He illustrated books and was known as "The Artist of the Palms." He created desert landscapes that were softly touched with dramatic colors that make up the desert sky at dawn and dusk. He befriended many tribal members. Upon his death, the tribe allowed him to be buried in their cemetery.
Photographer, Stephen Willard captured the rich hues of the desert in all its majesty, by gently painting his photographs that were taken before color film was available. Later, these photographs were used in postcards that visitors would send home to let family and friends know that they were enjoying temperatures in the 80's and boundless sunshine all winter long.
Jimmy Swinnerton began his career as a staff cartoonist for the San Francisco Examiner in 1892. A few years later he moved to New York and created comic strips for the Journal American. Both were Randolph Hearst publications. In 1906, doctors told him that he had contracted tuberculosis. Hearst sent his favorite employee to Colton, California. He then made his way toward the dryer air of the Coachella Valley determined to recover his health. He painted desert scenes from 1920 to 1965 in his studio near Palm Springs. Jimmy Swinnerton died in Palm Springs at the age of 98. His canvases are still in great demand.
Renee Brown is the Curatorial Assistant at The Palm Springs Historical Society