People Are Like Plants
On view: September 5 – 30 | Online and by appointment

The Morongo Basin Cultural Arts Council is excited to partner with the NEA Big Read to present “People are Like Plants" a group art exhibition that supports the themes of Hope Jahren’s memoir Lab Girl and the shared curiosity, humility and passion that drives both scientists and artists. Her pioneering research focuses on the connections between living and fossilized plants and their ability to help us track changes in our global environment. Jahren explains: “A cactus doesn’t live in the desert because it likes the desert; it lives there because the desert hasn’t killed it yet.” This sentiment particularly resonates with life in the Morongo Basin.

JTAG presents a variety of art work related to science, nature and conservation that reflects the survival instinct and resilience that we see in ourselves and our desert ecology today.

Artists include: Ben Allanoff, Sharon Davis, Marilyn Froggatt, Ben Hamburger, Jef Harmatz, Emilie Harris, L.I. Henley, Kat Johnson, Jessica King, Al Marcano, Kathy Miller, Jon Otterson, Alison Paris, Jared Quentin, Jillian Sandell, Laurie Schafer, Karin Skiba, Barbara Spiller and Lynn Sweet.

Every Saturday throughout the month of September, stop-in to JTAG between 9am-2pm and pick-up your free BIG READ book bundle, including a copy of Lab Girl, the Big Read Cholla Needles Science Issue & Waking Life, a collection of poems by local author Cynthia Anderson.

A program of the NEA Big Read Morongo Basin presented by Arts Connection in partnership with the Morongo Basin Cultural Arts Council and Joshua Tree Art Gallery with the support of the Morongo Basin Conservation Association.

The NEA Big Read aims to build community and inspire conversation through the joy of sharing a good book.

To learn more about the Big Read visit:

The NEA Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest.

Learn more about the Morongo Basin Cultural Arts Council:
Learn more about the Morongo Basin Conservation Association:

Please enjoy our online exhibition. If you are interested in purchasing work please email us at with artist name and title. Thank you!

About the Artists:

Ben Allanoff is an artist based in Joshua Tree, CA, who works mostly with plant material, steel, and wire.  He also makes paintings using rust on canvas, or ink on paper, and creates large scale installations, working with institutions such as the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Garden; the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area; The Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Gardens, and the City of Oakland. Ben’s work tends to be informed by a deep connection to nature and a desire to give physical form to the invisible and intangible forces that animate our world.

Artist website: | Instagram: @ben.allanoff

Sharon Davis is the artist and founder of Earth House Studios. Her primary medium is acrylic painting but she loves experimenting with different styles and different mediums. After many years in and out of the desert, Sharon planted her roots in Morongo Valley and is fortunate enough to be able to live the lifestyle she has always had in her heart. Sharon is a self-taught artist who loves color. Art has been a major part of her entire life, now it is her way of life.

Artist website: Instagram: @earthhousestudios

Marilyn Froggatt: As a plein air painter, Marilyn Froggatt covers the landscape from the Coachella Valley to the Pacific Northwest and the Rocky Mountains. She feels there is something unique in every scene she captures and often goes back to the same place again to paint. She uses bold brush strokes to depict a sense of time, space and light.

Marilyn was born and raised in Southern California. At a young age she showed an interest in drawing and painting and was often taken by her parents to the Huntington Library, the LA Arboretum, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  While in her twenties her husband, a photojournalist, gave her an old SLR camera and taught her how to manually adjust for light and focus. That was the beginning of her career in landscape photography and eventually plein air and studio painting.

Artist website: | Instagram: @marilynfroggatt

Ben Hamburger: As a painter, socially engaged artist, and educator, I am interested in the potential of art to provoke critical thought and deepen inquiry into complex aspects of our world. As cultures and environments evolve, I use painting to look closer and explore nuanced moments of tension. From landscapes, to figurative works, to depictions of current events, my paintings tackle a wide range of subject matter, each rife with expressive brushstrokes and energy. I am fascinated by our ever-changing relationships with our landscapes and the intersection of contemporary culture and psychology. Often starting with a question and ending with more, my paintings offer a physical manifestation of my quest for meaning.

These two paintings were completed during my residency at JTHAR, a time of solitude, exploration, and concentration, amidst one of the most unique and inspiring landscapes I have ever experienced. The desert spoke to me as the best art does. I was able to see parts of myself in in the plants and the rock formations. My experience in the Joshua Tree Highlands subverted the common caricature of the desolate desert with few things struggling to survive. Rather, the desert was more alive and expressive than anywhere I have been.

Artist website: | Instagram: @benhamburgerart

Jef Harmatz is a cartoonist, writer and artist living in the high desert. He uses his preferred medium of comics to explore the absurdity and profundity contained within the mundane.

This page is original production art, which was scanned and edited for online publication.

Artist website: | Instagram: @bachelormagic

Emilie Harris: I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Art with an emphasis on Drawing, Painting and Printmaking from Portland State University. Over the years I have had many jobs but during the wee hours I always return to creating and working with my hands. I try to capture and organize and reorganize what I see, feel, and encounter. ​It allows me to understand and expand beyond my physical and mental experience.

I love the high desert for the stillness, its endless skies and the surprises one might find in the seemingly empty, barren land. In my most recent work, I’ve been processing the desert summer and all of its implications on nature, the landscape, and me. I love to collect things that I find in nature on my walks on and around our property in Wonder Valley. Examining them and drawing or adorning them is allowing me to see past the dried out / broken / dead pieces that they are and finding beauty in all of their little (im)perfections and the lives that they once lived.

Instagram: @e.m.i.l.i.e.h

L.I. Henley was born and raised in the Mojave Desert towns of Joshua Tree and Landers. A visual artist and writer, she is the author of six books including Starshine Road, which won the 2017 Perugia Press Prize, and the poetry and art book From the moon, as I fell with artist Zara Kand. A childhood spent in the desert attracted her to the risk, disappointment, and surprise of mixed media. She likes the mess. The shards. The faces hidden in the walls and bushes. The times, too, when a piece doesn’t move for days and she must stare and stare, waiting to learn what it wants to become.

Artist website:

Kat Johnson is an LA native who relocated nearly five years ago to the high desert, where she’s found welcome peace and wondrous inspiration from its inimitable landscape and creatures. Informed by both the environment and a sense of otherworldly lyricism, her found-object assemblages have been shown in galleries and shops throughout the Southland—as well as on an album cover by the band Poco.

Instagram: @katjohnsonart

Jessica King is a San Bernardino Photographer, Painter and Found Object Artist.  She has her Bachelors of Fine Arts with an emphasis in Sculpture.  Jessica studied under Richard Johnson at California State University San Bernardino graduating in 2003.  She started FaeryWing Designs Photography in 2001 where she is a destination family/wedding photographer and travels with her studio for SoCal clients.  One of her biggest clients is the Inland Empire Center for Entrepreneurship at CSUSB. Jessica is also the Director of Photography for  Her family’s roots stretch from the beaches of Oceanside, to the deserts, both high and low, and the northern mountain ranges of the Inland Empire to the Southern edge of Central Valley.  It is in these locations that Jessica seeks to find herself; in the images she captures and the treasure she collects for her found object pieces. However it’s in the DESERT where she finds her heart and creative energy returning to. Just like the cold desert wind Jessica has been relentless over the last year showing every month in at least one local Joshua Tree gallery a month.

Bury my heart.

Bury my heart, in the desert.

In the sand of ancient seas.

Leave me to be caressed.

My bones undressed

In that neverending tide of




My body bygone

Let the winds carry my soul.

Across the fleshy skin of mammoth boulders

Til I return to the seas of ancient stars

Artist website:

Al Marcano is a Los Angeles / Joshua Tree based painter working from mind and culture, using both fine art and street influence.. The desert has always held a special place in his heart. There is some type of magic here.

Instagram: @Al_Marcano

Kathy Miller has been a resident of Southern California for twenty-five years. Prior to moving to Joshua Tree to semi-retire, Kathy was a very successful studio and natural light portrait photographer. Her landscape photography work first gained recognition in juried exhibitions over twenty-years ago. The love of the Mojave Desert, Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks heavily influenced her desire to explore other mediums of expression, including sketching and acrylic painting. Kathy does not shy away from computer manipulated photos to create digital paintings of impressionism and abstraction. She enjoys the challenge of making a photograph different. For Kathy, the motivation to create and express ideas through photography and acrylic painting frequently involves: environmental survival, contrasts, geology, and the overall impact of the human race. It’s the details within a landscape that creates the big picture. All of those influences are magnified here in the desert. She finds spending time alone, in quiet, just to observe and think, is her natural medicine for inspiration and mental health.

Artist website:  | Instagram: @kathymillerphotography

Jon Otterson: I am a lifelong desert dweller, self taught artist and musician. I was born and raised in Indio, but I also love the high desert, as it has its own personality. In many ways, it reminds me of my early childhood. Before much of the development. Including, native wildlife, that increased human population has all but forced out. The desert has a unique calm and undefinable spirituality to it. And much of my landscape backgrounds and atmosphere come from a lifetime of impression and memory. Although, I have never painted an actual, ‘real’ location. I frequently use symbolism and metaphor to stimulate a wider range of interpretation from the viewer.

This piece of artwork is a little more direct. In it, the almost, ‘post-apocalyptic’ location, is in contrast to the clear blue sky, after the rain.  This indicates renewal, cleanliness and hope, over a polluted environment. The little boy, who seems oddly out of place, uses ‘a toy’ he found, to gently prod at the only other living thing around. I used the same color scheme, to accentuate a connection between the two. Their youth, and resilience, defy the damage done.

I am a member of the Palm Springs artists counsel, Culturas music and arts, and a committee member for the Synergy music and arts festival.

Artist website:

Alison Paris is a fiber artist currently based in Flamingo Heights, CA.  When her small New York City apartments began to overflow with stones, sticks, shells, and plants she’d collected, she turned to art to literally tie these earthly gifts with creative ideas and messages.  Since first leaving the city in 2008, she has had the privilege of living in and exploring much of California, the Pacific Northwest, and the American Southwest.  Each piece she creates is a collaboration with the land on which it is made.  Her work is intended to blend the natural world into our domestic lives and bridge the gap between the outside and the inside.  Whale bones from Northern California beaches, petrified wood from Washington forests, agates dug from Oregon coast cliffs, and now the infinite inspiration offered by the Mojave Desert in her own back yard.

“Mutual Partnership”: Where partners agree to cooperate to advance their mutual interests.  Where two entities benefit for each other.  The desert gives the color: natural fiber dyed with creosote, ephedra, and sagebrush.  I give the desert back its space: cleaning up the trashed area nearby those plants.  The evidence of humans using the desert and giving nothing back is vast. Dump sites and shooting ranges litter the landscape.  Social media feeds overflow with photos of people climbing delicate Joshua Trees and laying on fragile wildflowers.  The “Mutual Partnership” series is inspired by the phrase “people are plants”, we are the land on which we live.  By positioning the found trashed items next to the dyed rope, I hope to inspire others to see the need to work with the desert rather than simply taking what she has to offer.

Instagram: @notmypolaroids  | @_rainy_day_woman_

Jared Quentin: I moved to Twenty Nine Palms approximately three years ago in an effort to pursue a more creative direction with my life and work. My general interest in photography and documenting nature became more focused as I realized the biodiversity and magic of native plant communities in the Southern Mojave Desert. Some literature indicates there may be more than 500 indigenous species in this area, many with a rich cultural history. I believe this creative path will help educate myself and others to conserve and protect this natural heritage.

Instagram: @two_scorpions_

Jillian Sandell: Soon after moving to Joshua Tree in 2016, I began to notice the creosote bush all around me. Larrea Tridentata is one of the most widespread and resilient desert plants in North America; as Mary Austin wrote in 1903, “the desert begins with the creosote.” I became fascinated with the plant – first observing it, then drawing it, and more recently learning about its botanical and healing properties. The more I learned about the creosote bush, the more I realized I was learning about what it takes to survive in the desert, and perhaps survive more generally: it is a critical part of the fragile balance of the desert ecosystem, living in relations of mutual benefit with other desert animals; it has a combination of deep and lateral roots, which provides strength and access to resources; it has developed multiple adaptations to be able to survive the heat; it has long been cherished for its various healing properties; its beloved scent alerts desert dwellers to an increase in humidity; it has underground networks of roots providing soil stability and protection for small animals; it has different names reflecting varied cultural associations; and the fractal pattern of its branches, which mirrors patterns in other living organisms, reminds us of the interdependence of all living things. In 2020, these lessons have felt more urgent than ever – that our collective survival depends on us recognizing how we are all part of an interconnected world.

Artist website: | Instagram: @morethanadequate

Laurie Schafer: Desert Vista From My Screen Door, part of my Dangerous Beauty series, evokes childhood memories of the adventure that lies beyond and the safety of returning home at dusk and closing the screen door. Moving from the lush, verdant Northern United States to the Southern California Desert requires an adventurous spirit. Initially, my eyes and work could not adjust. Eventually I began to appreciate the dangerous beauty of the desert.

The long, dry hike to my favorite location, Willow Hole.

The Super Bloom after torrential monsoons.

The everchanging, rippling waves of sand after the Haboob.

These phenomena now influence the creation of my desert series,

Dangerous Beauty.

Artist website: | Instagram: @ballerinawithagun

Karin Skiba: I began professionally exhibiting my artwork in Canada, and moved to California in the late 70s. I received my MFA from CGU in Claremont, CA in 1982, and was a full time art professor at Norco College, RCCD, from 1990 until 2011.  I continue to teach online. With a strong resume, I have created art for over 45 years as an example of artistic persistence and passion with shows in Los Angeles, Detroit, Chicago, Portland, Joshua Tree, and Riverside. Now I have a studio in Joshua Tree, and devote the majority of my time to making art.

Living and working in the alien but beautiful and often forbidding desert, I work from an instinctual basis. I am the oarsman directing the flow from source on my journey as an artist. The desert encourages this to happen very naturally. Ideas come to me and I develop them as Georgia O’Keefe says, “Making the unknown known”.  The open space of the desert is a different sort of beautiful and one that I enjoy for that reason. We are part of a community that recognizes this special quality, thriving each in our own way.

Artist website: Instagram: @karinskibaart

Barbara Spiller: For as long as I can remember I’ve been a collector and a scavenger, making something from whatever is around me. My “untraining” as an artist took place at Douglass College in the late 50’s guided by the likes of John Cage, Alan Kaprow and Bob Watts, Fluxus members who left me sometimes floundering in the world of chance and intuition. In the 70’s at NYU I learned to draw. Later I discovered that the monotype process was a natural for me, first using oil paint as the medium, then, encaustic paint.

When we first began going to the desert what struck me was the space, light and quiet. Soon, however, as I walked in the wilderness, I began to notice what was underfoot, and began to gather the imagery of things brought together by chance – things grown, blown, fallen, toasted – an endless universe of intricate, beautiful and largely unnoticed compositions, punctuated rarely by the blessing of a puddle, or, frequently by the blossoms of anthills.

Artist website: Instagram: @spillerbarb

Dr. Lynn Sweet is a plant ecologist and amateur photographer living in Yucca Valley, working in conservation biology in the Colorado and Mojave Deserts. She recently rebooted her love of photography in the Spring of 2020 as a way to cope with the global pandemic and captured these images on nature outings with her son and ecology research trips .

Instagram: @sweetlynnc