First Sight of the Desert

Discovering the Art of Ella Peacock

Fiercely independent and idiosyncratic—comparable to Georgia O’Keefe - Utah artist Ella Peacock eschewed the limelight and painted in relative obscurity in and around her modest adobe home in Spring City. Her isolation was purposeful as she exalted in the desert landscape and rural setting, rendering the subjects around her in the subtle tonalist style acquired during her formal training at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women.

Kathryn Abajian was immediately drawn to the eighty-six-year-old Peacock upon their first meeting, and in 1991 she began to visit and interview the reclusive artist each summer until the latter’s death in 1999. During those years, Peacock became more than just an intriguing research project to her biographer. As Abajian’s life swirled around a divorce and a crisis of faith, she found in Peacock a remarkable role model for a life of voluntary simplicity, devotion to work, and dedication to an uncompromising artistic vision.

First Sight of the Desert ultimately blends the multiple colors of two women’s lives onto a single canvas, illuminating the brush strokes both bold and subtle that draw beauty from even the simplest of subjects.

Kathryn J. Abajian lives in the San Francisco Bay area, where she teaches and writes. She is the author of travel, memoir, and biographical essays. This is her first book.

Praise and Reviews:

"This is a thoughtful, sensitive, and very honest double portrait of a painter and of the writer who attempts to capture her lonely artistry in words, only to discover that both their stories are inextricably mirrored. It successfully combines biography, art history, the literature of place, and the personal essay."—Phillip Lopate, author of Waterfront: A Journey around Manhattan

"An engaging read . . . [that] constitutes an important contribution to illuminating the life and work of Utah artist Ella Peacock."—Gerda Saunders, author of Blessings on the Sheep Dog: Stories                                                                                                                                                

"This is a major contribution to Utah art history of this period . . . a much needed and very informative publication."—Vern Swanson, director of the Springville Museum of Art


"Through the framework of her own personal journey, the author makes Ella Peacock’s life and art come alive. This important book captures beautifully the soul of Spring City and the essence of a unique artist who lived and painted here."—Ruth Lubbers, executive director of VSA Arts of Utah and Art Access Gallery