Just one small taste of the sprawling Purifoy Art Site.
No truly “insider” visit to Joshua Tree is complete without an excursion to the remarkable outdoor sculpture garden of Noah Purifoy.
Purifoy began his artistic career in Los Angeles, as a part of the “Black Revolution” movement of “Protest Art.” He helped to found the Watts Towers Art Center, and then watched Watts burn, decimated by the Civil Rights riots of the mid-1960’s.
So Purifoy took his show on the road, and moved to a remote site in a valley just north of Joshua Tree. There his “assemblage art” morphed into “environmental art.” At a time when many people viewed the high California desert as a wasteland and a convenient bulky-item trash dump, Purifoy saw a treasure trove. For the next 20 years, Purifoy wandered the surrounding desert and collected it’s man-made detritus. He brought it home and converted his archaeological findings into vast, sprawling sculptures of whimsical fancy and undeniable brilliance.
Purifoy died in 2005, and the 2.5 acre estate is now open to the public at all times. And why shouldn’t it be? It is hard to imagine that any human hand could but enhance the ramshackle beauty of these found-art structures.
Part of the fun of a trip to “Noah’s,” as the locals simply call it, is finding the place. Most visitors to Joshua Tree rarely stray from the main drag, route 62, and so are unaware that a town has sprung up in the surrounding desert, after a fashion. True to its desert environs, only some of Joshua Tree’s streets are paved. It is quite common to find yourself at the crossroads of two dirt roads, with nothing in view except a few small cabins and a street sign! But do not worry – just keep moving and eventually you’ll find the turnoff, marked by a handpainted sign pointing the way which simply says “Noah’s.” A few helpful hints: one of Noah’s sculptures consists of the hulls of several sea-kayaks partially embedded in the ground and pointing skyward. The sculpture is over 30 feet high – easy to spot from most high points in the area!
Here are my directions, with a disclaimer: if you don’t think you’re lost at least once, you’ve missed the point!
At the west end of the town of Joshua Tree turn north at Sunburst. Follow the road as it curves right and then left again and turns into Border. Turn right on Aberdeen, then left on Center, then right on Blair. Drive approx. 1/4 mile. Art Garden easy to spot on your left.
Joshua Tree is a photogenic place, and the Noah Purifoy Sculpture Garden is no exception. Wear something fun and don’t forget your camera.