Art and artists

Artists stand in front of their paintings featured at the 29 Palms Visitor Center and Art Gallery group exhibition Listening to the Desert: Military Musings.

TWENTYNINE PALMS — The “Listening to the Desert: Military Musings” group exhibition, in collaboration with Mil-Tree, showcases the power of art to heal and build community.

More than 35 people attended the opening reception Saturday, Jan. 5, at the 29 Palms Visitor Center and Art Gallery. The event was part of the January First Saturday Art Cruise.

Featured art was created during a November Mil-Tree hosted workshop with Australian artist Jo Bertini. Twenty participants learned a style of painting called gouache, a method of painting using opaque pigment ground in water and thickened with a glue like substance.

Attendees included active military, veterans, family members and artists.

“Some of our artists were actual artists and some were beginners. I think it is hard to tell. I think everything on this wall is fantastic,” said Mil-Tree founder Cheryl Montelle.

“Mil-Tree has done a variety of workshops in other art forms such as ceramics, expressive movement and more. We definitely brought civilians, family members, veterans and ex-military together and look what they produced. This is what community is about and Mil-Tree is all about being a bridge.”

Painting and showing their art in a gallery meant stepping out of comfort zones for some of the participants.    

“I’ve always been an artist. When I was three, I would sing. My parents supported that. This is the first time I ever painted. It was very peaceful and calming. It was different. It was very vulnerable for me, I’m more out there with my voice and singing,” said veteran Richard Anthony Finn.

“The teacher explained it well, it doesn’t matter if it’s good or not, just feel it.”

His painting is called Training an Eye on the Enemy.

“My work is on the firing range and what is going on. We don’t even know the enemy behind our back and the injustice. The canvas is us speaking out loud,” said Finn.

For a mother and son the painting workshop provided a way to express themselves and spend quality time together.

“That activity was such a treat. You have no idea. To have the moment and enjoy our desert’s natural beauty was a slice of heaven,” said veteran Sonia Johnson.

“I can’t draw a stick figure and I am like, ‘Look what I did!’ Some of us need permission to play as adults because our lives are so structured. We always put fun on the bottom of out priority list.”

Sonia Johnson served six years active duty and five years in the reserves, then decided it was time to start a family.

“I’ve never experienced anything like that. It was an escape I didn’t know I needed,” said Tysean Johnson.

“The last time I went to a Mil Tree thing, it was expressive dance and after that I loved whatever else was going on.”

The reception featured live music provided by Bill and Bob. Catering was provided by Bistro 29.    

Mil-Tree hosts projects and events like these to bridge the gap and expand awareness and understanding within the community.  

“It’s getting the information out to the community that the military is here and to connect the two cause there is so much negativity towards the military and we try to focus on the positive,” said Mil-Tree board member Bruce Baughman.

Another goal is to help people transition from military to civilian life.

“The Military is very good at initiating at getting into the military, but maybe for everyone it is not so easy to initiate out. Mil- Tree in this area, the Morongo Basin, is trying to fill the gap through arts and dialogue,” said Montelle.


The Listening to the Desert: Military Musings group exhibition will be on display through March 29 at the 29 Palms Visitor Center and Art Gallery located at 73484 Twentynine Palms Highway. The gallery is open daily. Call (760) 367-3445 for gallery hours.

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