Howard Pierce Sightings at Joshua Tree

Thursday January 15, 2009

I’d mentioned in the previous post about Roselane birds that we recently took a three day trip to the Joshua Tree area. We stayed in the town of Joshua Tree and visited the park for one day. The other two days we spent in Yucca Valley and Palm Springs. One of the reasons we decided to visit was to try and track down a few of the Howard Pierce sculptures that are scattered around the area.

Howard Pierce Owl Sculptures - Potteries of CaliforniaHoward was primariliy a studio potter who created animals and figural ceramics for sale to the general public. He was mostly a one man operation, with help from his family, so he was kept quite busy by his business. However, he still found the time to work on other projects. Some of these were simply renovations on his house and the surrounding area. But he also ended up working on larger sculpture and statues as well. Some of the pieces can still be seen in various public facilities.

While the Pierce family only moved to Joshua Tree from Claremont in 1968, they donated quite a few pieces of art to the Hi-Desert area community. We knew about several different pieces. I think a lot of the folks who live in the area know about the statues, but they might not know it was made by Pierce - or who he was.

The first piece that we came across were the Great Horned Owls at the Hi-Desert Nature Museum in Yucca Valley. It’s located off 29 Palms Highway (turn at Dumosa) and is right in front of the building. It’s a 2000 pound statue depicting a mother and baby great horned owl, and Pierce also created smaller ceramic versions of it for the museum to sell to visitors.

There’s supposed to be a permanent exhibit of Howard Pierce porcelain animals at the museum, but for some reason it wasn’t there when we visited. We got there late in the afternoon and had to hurry on to try and find a few others before it got dark.

Howard Pierce Reading Girl Sculpture - Potteries of CaliforniaThe second Pierce sculpture we found was the “Reading Girl” which was located at the Yucca Valley Library which is in the same plaza as the museum. It’s located in the back, and we weren’t really sure where the sculpture was. So, we actually asked one of the librarians if they knew where the Howard Pierce sculpture was.

It took her awhile, but she finally realized we were talking about the sculpture of the girl reading a book which is located in the Kids reading area of the library. They also made miniature ceramic versions of the Reading Girl for sale at the library - too bad we didn’t know about it when it was still being sold there!

We headed further east on Highway 62 to look for Murtle the Turtle. This wasn’t originally a Pierce design - it was actually a mascot for the community. So the Pierces rennovated it, building up the entire turtle from reinforced concrete and then painting it with fiberglass plastic.

Howard Pierce Murtle the Turtle - Potteries of California

I’d seen the turtle in other people’s pictures, but I wasn’t sure exactly where it was. I knew it was along Highway 62 but I wasn’t sure if you would necessarily notice it. We visited Joshua Tree in 2004 or so, before I knew anything about Howard Pierce, and I didn’t recall seeing anything as we drove on Highway 62.

We found the Murtle this time, however. It’s located a few streets before Park Blvd on Highway 62, on the right hand side going east. It’s sort of on the outer island ofwhat looks like a small mini mall. I believe it was just after Hillview Road.

The turtle also has a plaque near it which reads “Murtle The Turtle Donated To The Community By Howard Pierce.” There is another larger plaque (I believe both are by the Rotary Club) that talks about another community member. It says: “This island is dedicated in memory of Al Mackin known as ‘Mr. Turtle’ for many years of loyal and faithful service to youth 1-1-29 to 10-30-92″. The turtle looked rather weathered and worn, but it was still intact for the most part. It seems they’ve painted it a bit with green and red paint - I thought this made it made it appear more goofy looking. I believe the head and feet were painted plain black originally.

Howard Pierce Roadrunner Sculpture - Potteries of California

The last piece of Pierce sculpture we came across was a bit of a surprise. We’d actually reversed direction and drove just up the hill to our hotel, the Joshua Tree Inn. We got out, looking to check in as the weather was getting cold and light was getting dim. I looked over to the right and right in front of the Hi Desert Cultural Center was an enormous statue of a roadrunner. I knew right away this had to be a Howard Pierce sculpture. It’s a wonderful six foot tall statue and was actually given to the cultural center as a gift after Pierce passed away.

We spent a long time taking pictures of it, I think anyone who passed by must have thought we were crazy. We did find his signature and the date of 1993 at the base of the figure.

There are several other Pierce statues that we didn’t get to see this time around - namely at the Hi Desert Medical Center, Copper Mountain College and the U.S. Marine Corp Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms. We’ll have to save that for the next trip out to the desert.

Pierce Sig on Roadrunner - Potteries of California


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3 Responses to “Howard Pierce Sightings at Joshua Tree”

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  1. Matt Says:

    Sounds like you had fun. My spouse and I did a similar tour about 10 years ago. We even got to go up to Pierce’s old house and took pictures of the custom roof trim and the hilltop sculpture of two giant roadrunners he put up there. Definitely schedule a return trip!

  2. Bryan Says:

    @matt - wow, we didn’t get a chance to visit Pierce’s house. Do you know if it’s open to the public currently? I woulda loved to have seen it - have been thinking of making a return trip sometime soon.

  3. Kathryn Stevens Says:

    I knew Howard Pierce and had the opportunity to visit his home on numerous occasions to purchase his ceramic pieces for the gift shop that use to be in the Hi Desert Cultural Center. Howard had to be the sweetest, most gentle and kind soul you would ever wish to know. He and his wife loved the desert and their house on the hill with it’s magnificent view. I so miss those visits.




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