La Quinta Museum Unveils Rediscovered Photos of the California Desert


La Quinta, CaliforniaPostcards From Mecca: The California Desert Photographs of Susie Keef Smith and Lula Mae Graves is open through May 11, 2019 at the La Quinta Museum. This is the first exhibit to showcase the work of 1930s Mecca postmaster Susie Keef Smith and her cousin Lula Mae Graves. A new book about the adventurous duo accompanies the exhibit. While making postcards for the PO spinner rack, the cousins ventured into the untracked desert east of the Salton Sea and documented the last of the desert prospectors, burro teams and stagecoach roads, as well as construction of the Colorado River Aqueduct and the All-American Canal.

The body of Susie Smith’s work was nearly lost to history when a public administrator in charge of her estate tossed her photo albums into a dumpster. A savvy archaeologist jumped into the bin and rescued many of the images in the exhibit. While unknown until now, the women’s work compares favorably with that of noted desert photographers Stephen Willard and Burton Frasher.

Although Susie was disabled by childhood polio, she and her cousin managed to create an unparalleled portrait of the remote desert between Mecca and the Arizona border. Exhibit photos were selected from the collections of Lula’s grandson, Warner Graves III, as well as the Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Association and private collectors. Curators of the exhibit are Warner Graves, a Coachella Valley artist, and Ann Japenga, a Palm Springs-based journalist and founder of the online magazine

Postcards from Mecca: The California Desert Photographs of Susie Keef Smith and Lula Mae Graves will be on display along with landscape paintings by Lula’s grandson, artist Warner Graves, Jan. 15–May 11, 2019 at the La Quinta Museum. 77885 Avenida Montezuma, La Quinta, Calif. (760) 777-7170.

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