Art Queen

On December 30, I had dinner with Shari Elf and Randy Palumbo in Joshua Tree, California, and afterwards visited their newly opened gallery, Art Queen.

Randy and Shari humored my request for a posed photo in one of the two gallery spaces they’ve created, next to one of Shari’s wryly witty folk-art-from-found-objects pieces.

Today they hung a show in one of the two gallery spaces by the late Raymond Thunder Sky.

Here’s the postcard they created to announce the show…

…with a photo of the artist in his clown collar and hard hat on the front.

A closeup of Raymond Thunder Sky’s costumes…

…and a closeup of one of his drawings.

On permanent display, in an old foto-mat building they hauled in from the desert and refurbished, is the Crochet Museum…

…housing Shari’s vast collection of crocheted animals and dolls. She doesn’t crochet herself; she just loves the “grandmother energy” of these creations. She finds them at thrift stores and garage sales, although, once her huge fan base realized she was collecting, crocheted gifts have poured in from everywhere.

Next to the Crochet Museum, an installation of garden sculptures by a desert folk artist who calls himself Moby Dick, who moved away to Phoenix. Shari and Randy had heard that his home was being sold, and they were concerned that the folk art environment Moby had created would get destroyed or thrown out by whoever bought the property, if they didn’t like it, so they went out, bought the whole collection, and set it up at Art Queen.

They’ve also set up a biodiesel filling station in back of the gallery (they both drive bio-diesel powered vehicles), and they have a band called Fairy Elf that performs locally. Here is one of Randy’s art pieces, titled “Condom Blossoms.” Randy owns 3D Laboratory, a construction company in New York City, plus a natural foods restaurant called Dodo Cafe in the South Street Seaport neighborhood of downtown New York City, and his art work has been shown in galleries and exhibitions around the country.

Shari enjoys an enormous following for her work, which she built up originally by selling her pieces at swap meets around Los Angeles, but which continues to grow as an online community forms around her wonderful website. When she posts her finished pieces on her site, there is a rapid scramble among the faithful and all are sold in a matter of hours.

Above is the sign she used at her table at the Santa Monica Airport Swapmeet back in the 1990’s, when she was escaping her former career as a seamstress.

This piece, photographed and printed on a postcard, announced Shari’s gallery show, “95% Trash,” in Kansas City at the Light Box Gallery a few years back.

Here are some of Shari’s pieces hanging in her studio, a separate small building at the Art Queen complex. Randy commented that he’d seen many art studios around New York City, but none as fun as Shari’s.

The All Star Seamstress Dogs (framed in spools of thread) commemorate Shari’s All Star Seamstress Band, in which she sings, plays guitar and omnichord, and is accompanied by percussionists playing sewing machines, scissors and pin boxes. You can hear her amazing songs on her CD (or download) I’m Forcing Goodness Upon You.

Says Shari about her choice of media: “It was, at first, for economy, but mostly because trash is more interesting. Searching for the stuff is like a treasure hunt.”