"Jewelry for Trees: Beaded Necklace"
- Cotton thread, found wood, and coyote gourds

This was my first visit to Joshua Tree National Park. Unlike the rhythmic grey wash of bluestem and wheat to which I am accustomed, the ecosystem of the Mojave looked randomly stippled with organic life. Every plant appeared to give itself a wide berth from its neighbors, creating a dotted environment where each entity was exhibited in full view. Desert fauna is alien-like, and I had the good fortune of experiencing the Mojave at a time where it was in full bloom with many tendril and palm cupping brightly colored flowers. The desert sky rivaled a Midwestern panorama - in the daytime I was able to gauge the time by the sun's position against a brilliant blue backdrop, and at night a razor-sharp moon would rise, surrounded by a crystal clear spattering of stars.

"Sand Necklace"
- Cotton thread, plastic bag, sand, wind
- Cotton thread, irrigation fence, sand, wind

Making work in Joshua Tree was unlike any creative setting I have ever experienced. The very ecosystem seemed designed to fend itself against usurpers by thorn, tooth, and stinger. I quickly learned that I would have to cooperate with my surroundings as they changed, often from day to day. The harsh weather conditions radiated between blazing sun to chilly shadow, both often coupled with high winds, sometimes upwards of 50mph.

I was intent on creating finished work while in the park instead of spending my time only planning future projects. In preparation, I brought with me only a few select rudimentary tools and materials, my cameras, and a tripod; all other materials were sourced from surrounding areas. In accordance with park regulations, a strict system of “conceive, execute, catalog, and remove” was adopted. I could not gather any living materials from the park, nor leave anything on display for an extended period of time, as it might disturb local wildlife. Everything I brought into the park was removed upon the conclusion of my residency.  This made photography and video documentation the ideal method for recording work both physical and experiential.

"Sand Necklace"
- Cotton thread, plastic bag, sand, wind
- Cotton thread, irrigation fence, sand, wind

Most traditional comforts were gone - I slept on the ground, had no internet or phone signal, and meals were prepared over a fire. While these restrictions were uncomfortable at first, I began to thrive in their absence. I had nothing to distract me from focusing on my surroundings, which I drew from to create work. Each new day brought discovery - I became enamored with the anthropomorphic qualities of the Joshua Trees, the way the winds howled, the natural beds of crystal jutting up from the ground, and the way the natural monzogranite formations served as beacons for travelers. All this translated to risk taking and responsiveness in my work.

"A Homage to Ana With Ornamentation"
- Imprint of the artist, found wood and metal, twine, natural pigments, quartz

It was through these new limitations that I realized my dependence on accessibility back at my home studio. Often, I order what is required, and am never too far away from a needed tool. In the park, I annealed metal in campfire, problem solved at a much higher rate, and utilized garbage, stones, and borrowed blankets in my attempts to achieve what I wanted. I learned to embrace deviations from plans and place more faith in experimentation.  It’s a type of experience I encourage all makers to try.

Much thanks to Casey of Case of The Nomads for this opportunity, as well as her expertise and knowledge of the desert. There is a rich history of the desert and art-making, and now I see why.  My experiences in Joshua Tree National Park will stay with me for years to come, and I certainly emerged out of them a better artist. 

Cate Richards


"Jewelry for Trees: Earrings"
- Copper, steel

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