The Alvord Desert

How did I get here to the old Andrews Schoolhouse? Well, it’s a bit of a story… We’ll have to travel back in time a bit here.

First, my trip to Tibet in 2003… While hiking to the high overlook at Lhama Lhatso—elevation 14,800 feet—I asked the sky, the Cosmos, “if ever there is a place like this (but closer to Costco!) please, I would like to live there someday”. Years passed by and then in 2011 as I completed a large triptych painting for George R. Stroemple’s collection (see The Flood), George suggested I go out to visit the Alvord. “I own an old schoolhouse out there, I think you’d like it” he said. “You could live and paint there.” I asked, “where is the Alvord?” I learned that it was on the east side of Steens Mountain, about a five hour drive from Bend, Oregon, the nearest major city. I may have shrugged off George’s offer at least twice, maybe three times feeling it to be too far away!

Simpkins in Tibet, 2003. The landscapes of these two locations are nearly geographically identical.

“Why would I want to go way out there?” George encouraged me to take an exploratory trip to see it, and so it was. My friend, Madeleine Landis, offered to drive me and my dog, Phoebe, out there in May of 2011. Honestly, I wasn’t that impressed with the long drive from Bend until we passed French Glen. After we passed through Catlow Valley and Long Hollow and turned northward into the Alvord Desert, facing the high peaks of Steens Mountain and Wildhorse Canyon, I had a flashback! It was very reminiscent to parts of Tibet! My wish had been answered!

Phoebe, Simpkins' loyal companion.

Looking south towards the old Shull place where the hotel used to stand.

The old schoolhouse is made of stone, built with care in 1930. It has eight very large double­-hung windows, four of which face northward towards Wildhorse Canyon. It has great natural light for painting. The Teacherage is a small dwelling built in the 1940’s for the teacher to live in. It had everything I needed for basic living. To make this long story a bit shorter, Phoebe—my constant companion, a 16 year old standard Poodle—and I have been here since June of 2011. Oh, sure, we make occasional forays out for supplies or to the doctor or to visit friends, but most of the time Phoebe and I are here alone in the ghost town of Andrews. We have learned how to survive here using the internet to order supplies and using Facebook to stay in touch with friends from around the world! Andrews used to have around 100 residents at the turn of the century. It had two saloons, a 22 room hotel and restaurant, pool hall, dance hall, grocery store, post office and a race track! Now almost everything is gone, only the stone buildings survived the range fires, the old schoolhouse being one of them. And now I paint here, inside the old stone one-­room schoolhouse. Almost everything in it is original. Little has changed in Andrews, except that electricity was added in the 1960’s! As I write this, I realize that my dog Phoebe and I have been here almost six years now!

Often, we see no one for days or even weeks at a time. This landscape has shown me a different way of being. It is often harsh here; temperatures are sometimes extreme and there are high winds and dust, but the beauty of the light and the remarkable solitude of the desert can be addicting. It often seems like a dream! I prefer to paint large canvases now, with little or no planning ahead of time. Staying in the moment, I express whatever arises in my consciousness. The paintings become journeys unto themselves, often taking me places I could not have initially imagined. This is the way I like to work now: not knowing, simply being in each moment, allowing, encouraging images to arise from my consciousness. My inspiration is this place, The Alvord Desert with its flora and fauna but also memories and experiences, thoughts and feelings, reactions and imaginings.

My intention, my dream, is for a curated exhibition of the large paintings created here at the Old Andrews Schoolhouse over the past six years and counting. I have completed 30 paintings in my time here.

Thank you for stopping by! I hope you enjoy the work and please feel free to contact me with questions should they arise.

Deepest Bows in Your Direction,

John Simpkins Signature