Folk Art of the Desert: Part IV- Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Museum

 Who was Noah?

Born in Alabama in 1917, Noah Purifoy graduated from the Los Angeles Art Institute in 1956 and spent most of his life in the city thereafter. He was a visual artist and best known for his assemblage sculpture from charred debris and wreckage collected after the Watts Riots in 1965. In the following months, Noah collaborated with his artist friend Judson Powell to organize an exhibition called the 66 Signs of Neon, which comprises of pieces that they salvaged from the riots. It received recognition and traveled to several state universities and then nationwide.

In late ’80s, Noah moved to the Mojave Desert and started to work on his project called the Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Museum on 10 acres of open land near Joshua Tree. He created small and large scale sculptures and other artwork until he died in 2004.

“I do not wish to be an artist. I only wish that art enables me to be.” Noah Purifoy, 1963.

Our Visit:

Noah Purifoy Outdoor Museum

Noah Purifoy Outdoor Museum

On our fourth and final folk-art trip, we made the trek to find Noah Purifoy’s art exhibition. Noah was famous for wanting to create a large art exhibition out of recycled products, and he found a location for one in the far reaches of the California desert. It isn’t an easy place to locate, after all it’s not a fine art museum, yet, when we arrived there was no mistaking we had come to the right place.

Squatter's Shack

Squatter’s Shack

At first sight, Purifoy’s imposing sculptures create an intimidating air, and without the pamphlet, which explains what much of the art stands for and Purifoy’s thoughts for creating it, I would have thought that someone had simply tossed and forgotten them in the sand.

Adriens Theater

Adrien’s  Little Theater

Many of the pieces have so much to say all on their own: The Tilted House, The Hover Train, The Shelter, even The White House, which is actually a house of toilets (very interesting). Others, however, were harder to understand, such as the View of Life, or the LA Earthquake. I believe another was called Smoker’s Hut.

The Hover Train

The Hover Train

My husband and I spent almost an hour viewing the property, until it was more than we could handle to contain our two toddlers in a stroller. They were too excited to play on all that “playground” art, as my son called it.

In the end, I found myself very moved by the collection and what Noah represented. I spent hours thereafter researching all I could about his life, art and the exhibit——that’s the effect his artwork has.


Spanish Arche

I hope to revisit the Outdoor Desert Museum again one day and enjoy it with different eyes, now that I’ve learned more about an amazing man named Noah Purifoy.

Here is a video to show the outdoor Museum area.

Location:  63030 Blair Lane Joshua Tree, CA 92252


Helpful information:
  • Since The Visitors Center and The Gallery are only opened by appointment only, please contact Sue Welsh at 213.382.7516 to arrange your visit to the Outdoor Desert Museum.   If you’re a group of 10 or more, contact at least one week in advance.
  • Anyone interested in using, photographing, filming or customized commercial touring of the site, and or any purpose other than a personal cultural visit mustcontact Sue A. Welsh at the Noah Purifoy Foundation for permission.
  • There are no restroom facilities available to visitors.
  • The parking area is in front of the chain-linked fence directly across from the entrance
  • The area is open daily from 9 am-6 pm,and there are no fees.

Source: Noah Purifoy website for the history of the artist.

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Thanks for sharing such a great post, As I am very fond of tourism and have a great interest in such activities like desert safari, dune buggy, camel rock tour, off-road driving, quad biking, and Special Events. I hope you will post more about tourism.

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