Art blooms in the desert | NevadaAppeal.com

Art blooms in the desert

Richard Moreno
The Nevada Traveler

In the early 1980s, a renowned Belgian artist, Charles Albert Szukalski, visited the Beatty, Nevada area and was captivated by the surrounding desert beauty.

So, he decided to stay awhile. In 1984, he relocated to Beatty and began exploring his new home. In particular, he was drawn to the ghost town of Rhyolite, located about four miles west of Beatty.

The vast, open desert — and the skeletal remains of Rhyolite — inspired him to create "The Last Supper," a surreal, life-size re-creation of Leonardo Da Vinci's painting of the same name that incorporates ghostly silhouettes of Jesus and his apostles made from white plaster and Fiberglass.

Szukalski later said that the setting reminded him of the lands in the Middle East during the time of Jesus Christ. He enlisted local residents to pose in sheets, which he covered with hundreds of pounds of plaster.

The giant ghost-like artwork was erected atop a hill overlooking Rhyolite. While only a few of his friends and some locals were present when the piece was completed, and there was little publicity at the time, vandals did notice and within a few months destroyed three of the life-size figures.

Not discouraged, Szukalski decided the art needed a more permanent home, where it would be more protected. He purchased about eight acres on the edge of Rhyolite and moved the figures to his property.

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He restored the work and began working on additional pieces, including "Ghost Rider," another shrouded ghost figure that appears about ready to mount a bicycle, and "Desert Flower," a twisted mass of shiny hunks and pieces of chrome sprouting from the ground.

He also recruited other artist friends, many from Belgium, to join him in creating an outdoor art gallery on his property, which became known as the Goldwell Open Air Museum.

Within a few years, Szukalski's pieces had been joined by Andre (Dre) Peeters' "Icara," a giant birdlike, wooden sculpture based on the Greek myth about Icarus.

Perhaps the strangest piece is Fred Devoets' "Tribute to Shorty Harris," a large metal outline of a prospector and a penguin. Installed in 1994, Devoets said he included the penguin because it would look as out of place as he felt while living in Rhyolite.

In 1992, Dr. Hugo Heyrman added "Lady Desert: The Venus of Nevada," a massive pink, cinder block representation of a woman. Visitors who stand before the towering block-like creation often get the impression of being in the presence of a giant, pink Lego creation.

That same year, a local artist, David Spicer, contributed "Chained to the Earth," a stone monolith with holes that represents, in his words, "the inseparability of man and woman, and the need for humankind to come back to earth."

One of the more recent additions to the gallery was "Sit Here," a sofa covered with bright, metallic tile pieces that was created in 2000 by artist Sofie Siegmann (and installed at the museum in 2007). Additionally, a kinetic sculpture, "Politician's Compass," by artist David Berg, was installed in 2011.

Following Szukalski's death in 2000, the outdoor sculpture garden and land was donated to a non-profit organization named the Goldwell Open Air Museum, which maintains the pieces and develops occasional art programs.

For information, go to the museum web site http://www.goldwellmuseum.org.