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‘Desert Memories' on exhibit

October 04, 2001|By RICHARD MONTENEGRO, Staff Writer

Oils, watercolors, simple ink pen drawings, all meticulously rendered with loving care. Some were crafted for his wife, his kids, as wedding presents, as commissioned pieces or even for the pure enjoyment of creating beauty.

Since Monday, however, 35 to 40 of 80-year-old Henry Mercer's works of art have gone from personal treasures to public displays during his one-man show "Desert Memories" at the Old Post Office Pavilion in El Centro, which will run through the end of the month.

As one of a group of Valley residents credited with helping establish the Imperial County Arts Council some 25 years ago, Mercer's exhibit was booked months ago in connection with the Arts Council's silver anniversary.

Former Arts Council interim Executive Director Nan Rebik asked Mercer if he'd be interested in putting together a retrospective.

Mercer, a former El Centro resident living in Visalia, asked a reporter, "How long do you think it took me to say yes?"

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Mercer became interested in painting while overseas in the U.S. Navy. After moving to the Imperial Valley 27 years ago, Mercer began to build an art studio in his home, painting scenes from the Imperial County desert and beyond.

He continued his art after moving to Visalia with his wife, Gemma, eight years ago and has added a great many more homespun paintings, sculptures and ink drawings to his repertoire.

Mercer recently took a reporter through a tour of "Desert Memories," which opened Monday.

He said among those paintings brought for the show, he has several favorites, either for their composition or sentimental value.

Of "Julian Wash," painted in 1991, he said, "You just can't get out there anymore. You could take Ogilby at Tumco and follow it all the way to the Colorado River, with four-wheelers of course.

"I felt I really captured Julian Wash," he added.

A painting he just refers to as "The Dunes" was crafted for his wife in 1972 as a reminder of the beauty of the desert. The landscape features a rather large sand dune with the Chocolate Mountains as its backdrop.

He said the painting was later given to his wife's sister after her marriage but was returned to Mercer and his wife after the sister died several years ago.

"The Fight for Life" gets Mercer most spirited during discussion.

"You can imagine what a struggle it was for this old tree to survive," he said as he looked closely at the visage of a dying and twisted trunk being swallowed by the shifting dunes of the eastern Imperial County desert.

Mercer and his wife will be the featured guests at an artist's reception from 5:30 to 7 tonight at the OPOP.

Added the artist: "How many people get to do exactly what they want to do and have (other) people helping you up the whole way?"

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