Picturing Healing Energy: Paintings by Agnes Lawrence Pelton

I’ve recently returned to painting and, searching for inspiration, ran across Agnes Pelton’s extraordinary transcendental paintings, images full of energy balanced with a cool serenity.  She has quickly become one of my favorite painters.

Pelton, Resurgence


Agnes Lawrence Pelton was born in 1881 to American parents, William and Florence Pelton, in Stuttgart, Germany. She spent her early childhood in Europe before moving to Brooklyn with her mother when she was seven. Florence Pelton ran The Pelton School of Music out of their home and kept food on the table by teaching piano, as well as German and French. William Pelton overdosed on morphine at his brother’s home in Louisiana when his daughter was nine.


Awakening: Memory of Father, 1943

Agnes Pelton graduated from the Pratt Institute in 1900, continuing her study of painting with Arthur Wesley Dow, who also taught Georgia O’Keeffe. His emphasis on structure, imagination and non-naturalistic color deeply affected both women. Pelton referred to her early works as “imaginative paintings“, “moods of nature symbolically expressed” that exhibited humanity in harmony with nature and experimented with natural light. She often dressed in flowing gowns with flowers twisted into her hair and set up her studio in Greenwich Village, a hotbed for political radicals and avant-garde artists.

Pelton, Vine Wood, 1913

Vine Wood, 1910


West Wind, 1915


Room Decoration in Purple and Gray, 1917

In 1919, Pelton made a visit to Taos, New Mexico, as a guest of the colorful Mabel Dodge Luhan, who built the image and brand of “Southwestern Modernist Art” by inviting artists to her home and promoting their work. Here Pelton painted realistic portraits and romantic desert landscapes. These paintings honed her technique and sold and showed well, but her true calling was to paint inner visions rather than realistic representational scenes. Enchanted by the desert but, most likely, uncomfortable with fitting in to a commercial, mainstream artistic movement, especially one so aggressively shepherded by a personality like Luhan, she returned to New York to be near her mother. After Florence died in 1920, Pelton took up residence in a historic windmill on Long Island, seeking solitude and deeper abstraction, still heavily influenced by nature. It was here in the winter of 1926 that her first introspective, abstract paintings were born. She also traveled heavily, feeling herself to be a bit of a nomad. In 1932, the windmill was sold. Homeless at the age of 50, Pelton decided to travel across the country to Cathedral City, California, intending on a short stay. She would live out the rest of her life in the California desert.

Pelton, California Landscape near Pasadena

California Landscape near Pasadena, 1930

Pelton, Smoke Tree

Early Morning in the Wash, 1936

The vibration of this light, the spaciousness of these skies enthralled me. I knew there was a spirit in nature as in everything else, but here in the desert it was an especially bright spirit. 

Pelton, Star Grazer

Star Gazer, 1929

Pelton, The Voice

The Voice, 1930

Pelton, Untitled, 1931

Untitled, 1931

Pelton, Sea Change

Sea Change, 1931

Pelton, Messengers

Messengers, 1932

Pelton, Winter

Winter, 1933

In 1938, a group of artists based in Taos calling themselves the Transcendental Painting Group contacted Pelton. They were inspired and excited by her work and wondered if she would become their first president, sort of a patron saint for spiritual abstract painting. She accepted, and for five years she had an artistic community. The Transcendental Painters sought “to carry painting beyond the appearance of the physical world, through new concepts of space, color, light and design, to imaginative realms that are idealistic and spiritual.” The group broke up in 1943 as World War II made life difficult for everyone. Pelton’s work became more personal and abstract, and she receded not only from the art world, but from society in general. She had no interest in promoting her art, and died largely forgotten in 1961 at the age of eighty. Recently, her work has been rediscovered and promoted. I am very excited about a traveling exhibition originating at the Phoenix Museum of Art this spring called Agnes Pelton: Desert Transcendentalist. It will tour to the Whitney Museum in New York City, The New Mexico Museum of Art in Santa Fe and to the Palm Springs Art Museum. I’d like to see it, wouldn’t you?

Pelton, Future, 1943

Future, 1941


Pelton, The Blest, 1941.jpg

The Blest, 1941

Pelton, Prelude

Prelude, 1943

Pelton, Passion Flower, 1945

Passion Flower, 1945

What I love so much about Pelton’s painting is its serene luminosity. Her light is powerful and energetic but remains benevolent and nurturing. She had a profound interest in spirituality and in finding common ground with other cultures. Heavily influenced by numerology, spiritualism and yoga, her work lies at the beginning of what would become the New Age Movement There is something very feminine and abundant about the portrayal of her inner world. At a time when many modernist painters were paring things down to straight lines and redactive images, her work is refreshing in its roundness and expressivity. Organized and elegant, she never overwhelms the eye, although she has a lively sense of color. World War II must have been a great challenge, yet she remains strong and hopeful in her painting, as if presenting a vision of healthy humanity undimmed despite pain and difficulty. What a refreshing vision for any age!

Pelton, Ligh Center, 1961

Light Center, 1961





Quote for Today: Margaret Atwood

Mom and daughter doing housework by Julie de Graag (1877-1924).

The structure of the house was hierarchical, with my grandfather at the top, but its secret life – the life of pie crusts, clean sheets, the box of rags in the linen closet, the loaves in the oven – was female. The house, and all the objects in it, crackled with static electricity; undertows washed through it, the air was heavy with things that were known but not spoken. Like a hollow log, a drum, a church, it amplified, so that conversations whispered in it sixty years ago can be half-heard even today.

Margaret Atwood, “Significant Moments in the Life of My Mother”, Bluebeard’s Egg

Image: Mom and daughter doing housework by Julie de Graag (1877-1924). Original from the Rijks Museum. Digitally enhanced by rawpixel

Storm Structure: Rotating Supercell Near Booker, Texas, Time Lapse by Mike Olbinski

© kelvinsong with CCLicense

© kelvinsong with CCLicense

Mike Olbinski is a wedding photographer based in Phoenix, Arizona. When he isn’t doing weddings, he’s out chasing storms. Below is a glorious time lapse video of a rotating supercell near Booker, Texas, on the border with the Oklahoma panhandle. The structure of this storm is amazing. It spawned no tornados, although the sirens in the small town of Booker were going off and the whole situation was quite “intense”. These storms are unpredictable, which is the reason that the video is in four parts, as Olbinski and his buddy Andy Hoeland had to keep moving. Please take the time to read the description beneath the video on Vimeo; it paints quite an exciting picture.

The camera used was a Canon 5D Mark II with a Rokinon 14mm 2.8 lens. Brilliant work!

Iimuahii – Structure And Texture

Check out these fascinating avant garde outfits from Elena Slivnyak reblogged from my favorite fashion blog, The Citizens of Fashion. You might remember the outspoken Slivnyak from Project Runway. She has been quoted as saying that her experience there taught her to make her clothing “more sellable”. Synkroniciti is glad to find that she hasn’t taken that advice too far. The textures here are out of this world and these models look like computer generated science fiction characters. Somebody has to keep dreaming, folks!

Weaving the Willow Wand: Baskets of Lise Bech

Baskets  Image © Zoe Rimmer with CCLicense

Baskets by Lise Bech
Image © Zoe Rimmer with CCLicense

Lise Bech is a basket maker who creates beautiful and useful objects from organic and sustainable materials, chiefly from various species of Scottish Willow. Each species has its own texture, pliability, and color which lend character to the work produced. The basket featured in the video below, titled Plantweave, is one of her more traditional designs, made from willows collected by hand from the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh. Her assertion that working with willow branches is “a cooperation” in which one must never “go past what the willow will do naturally” is a fascinating revelation about working with natural materials in general. Bech invites us to share her reverence for the plants which form her creations. She sees weaving as a meditative act which unites her consciousness with her local landscape. It is amazing to see the piece progress from a rough and unwieldy structure to an organized and stable one. Bravo, Lise!

Video via William Robertson on YouTube.

Revealing a Subterranean City: Pouring Cement in an Ant Hill

Public Domain Image via Pixabay

Public Domain Image via Pixabay

Scientists wanted a closer look at the subterranean passageways of an ant colony, so they decided to pour cement down an ant hill and then excavate it. Three days and ten tons of cement later, they had filled the colony. They then waited a month before digging it up. What they found shows a high degree of structure and is quite beautiful. It is also enormous. Please enjoy this marvelous clip from Ants! Nature’s Secret Power with a distinct “Raider’s of the Lost Ark” feel. The entire documentary is available for free viewing on Hulu.

In my mind there is something a bit a chilling about this endeavor, as if it were a reenactment of the disaster at Pompeii featuring ants. It’s hard to be sentimental about ants, but this is uncanny. What do you think?

From Ants! Nature’s Secret Power by Bert Hölldobler.

Video via nevets815 on Youtube.