I do not wish to be an artist. I only wish that art enables me to be.

-Noah Purifoy, 1963

Born in Snow Hill, Alabama in 1917, Noah Purifoy lived and worked most of his life in Los Angeles and Joshua Tree, California, where he died in 2004. He received an undergraduate degree from Alabama State Teachers College in 1943 and a graduate degree from Atlanta University in 1948. In 1956, just shy of his fortieth birthday, Purifoy received a BFA from Chouinard, now CalArts.  His earliest body of sculpture, constructed out of charred debris from the 1965 Watts Rebellion, was the basis for 66 Signs of Neon (1966), a landmark group exhibition on the riots that traveled throughout the country. As a founding director of the Watts Towers Art Center, Purifoy knew the community intimately. His 66 Signs of Neon, in line with the postwar period’s fascination with the street and its objects, constituted a Duchampian approach to the fire-molded alleys of Watts. This strategy profoundly impacted artists then emerging in Los Angeles and beyond, such as David Hammons, John Outterbridge and Senga Nengudi, who all worked with him. For the twenty years that followed the rebellion, Purifoy dedicated himself to the found object, and to using art as a tool for social change. In the late 1980’s after eleven years of public policy work for the California Arts Council, where he initiated programs such as ‘Artists in Social Institutions,’ which brought art into the state prison system, Purifoy moved his practice out to the Mojave desert, where he lived for the last fifteen years of his life creating ten-acres full of large-scale sculpture on the desert floor. Constructed entirely from junked materials, this otherworldly environment is one of California’s great art historical wonders.

The mission of the Noah Purifoy Foundation is to preserve and maintain Purifoy’s outdoor museum of assemblage sculpture as a permanent cultural center and park, and to promote greater public appreciation for the values embodied in Purifoy's work.

Purifoy’s work has been shown widely throughout the country and internationally, and is held in collections at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Corcoran Gallery, the Oakland Museum, and the California African American Museum, among others. Recent group exhibitions include Now Dig This: Art and Black Los Angeles 1960-1980, UCLA Hammer Museum, October 2, 2011- January 8, 2012 (traveling to MOMA PS1); Pacific Standard Time: Crosscurrents in Painting and Sculpture: 1950-1970, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, October 1, 2011- February 5, 2012, traveling to Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, March 15-June 10, 2012; Places of Validation Art and Progression, California African American Museum, Los Angeles, September 29, 2011-April 1, 2012; and Civic Virtue: The Impact of the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery and the Watts Towers Arts Center, Watts Towers Art Center, Los Angeles, December 17, 2011 - February 12, 2012.


In 1998, Purifoy’s representative and colleague of many years, Sue A. Welsh, suggested to Purifoy the importance of preserving his outdoor desert art museum of assemblage sculpture in Joshua Tree.  The following year the Noah Purifoy Foundation (NPF) was formally established as a 501© 3 non-profit private foundation.  NPF’s mission is to preserve and maintain the site Noah Purifoy developed in Joshua Tree, California as a permanent cultural center and sculpture park open to the public; to promote public recognition and appreciation for the values that Noah Purifoy’s work as artist and educator has embodied; and to pursue these goals in a manner that protects Noah Purifoy’s contribution as an artist and educator.

NPF Primary Activities

  1. Preservation and maintenance of Noah Purifoy's existing works of art.
  2. Maintenance of the 10-acre Noah Purifoy Desert Art Museum of Assemblage Sculpture for public engagement, tours and educational programs.
  3. Curatorial assistance to provide visitors a coherent explanation of the desert museum project, its development, its relationship to the story of America during Noah's lifetime and the recognition of Noah Purifoy as a world leader in the genre of assemblage art.
  4. Organization of Purifoy’s papers and development of research opportunities for national and international artists and scholars to review his lifetime oeuvre.

NPF Accomplishments

    Since its establishment in 1999, the trustees of the Noah Purifoy Foundation have:

  • Acquired 2.5 acres where Noah Purifoy‘s studio is located through a generous donation from the family of artist Debby Brewer, colleague of Purifoy at the Watts Towers Art Center and emeritus board member.
  • Received from Noah Purifoy the donation of his on-site art deeded to the foundation for preservation and public appreciation.
  • Addition of nearby 7.5 acres for Purifoy to expand his practice through a donation by artist and trustee Ed Ruscha for a total environment of 10 acres.
  • Hosted international conferences, local educational programs and annual Open Houses.

NPF Site Use Permission Guidelines

The mission of the Noah Purifoy Foundation is to preserve and maintain the art site developed by Noah Purifoy in Joshua Tree, California to be an Outdoor Desert Art Museum of Assemblage Sculpture open to the public. Site users must be aware that the grounds are a museum. The artwork should be treated the same as one would at an indoor museum, i.e. no handling, moving or removing any objects, or defacing anything. The foundation considers each request separately from anyone interested in a professional filming, photographing or use of the site and requires a fee for use. If NPF deems a project and purpose within the scope of its goals, the basic requirements are:

Renters (filmmakers, photographers, artists etc.) may use the Joshua Tree site under the following terms:Release the Foundation from any claims resulting from any and all accidents, personal injury and/or property damage and present a certificate of insurance; Use the site from sun up to sundown; Clean up the site and leave it in the same condition they found it.

NPF Support/Volunteer Opportunities

I’m impressed because I can see that Noah is making art that will have its own unique future.  It’s not going to be packed away in warehouses; it’s going to be as he shows it.

-Ed Ruscha, Artist

Noah’s art inspires aesthetic awe and is larger than life.  His works are conceptually massive and biologically inanimate yet filled with the flash of collective spirits.

-Joseph S. Lewis III, Dean, Claire Trevor School of the Arts, University of California, Irvine

    The foundation board, in the process of defining long-range plans for the preservation of Noah’s art museum and his legacy, has identified the following ways for individual and community participation:

  • Volunteer to assist with financial support activities including fundraising and grants research.
  • Assist with the annual Open House at the museum site, docent-led art tours, and educational programs for art students.
  • Identify resources to assist in the maintenance and preservation of existing work in order to protect the museum from the harsh desert environment.
  • Engage curatorial assistance that will provide visitors with a coherent explanation of the project, its development and its relationship to the story of America during Noah Purifoy’s lifetime.
  • Identify resources to support the upgrade and sustainable green design of the on-site BREWER HOUSE to accommodate arts educational projects and workshops. The BREWER HOUSE is named after Debby Brewer, artist, arts educator and former colleague of Noah Purifoy in Watts. It was her family home in Joshua Tree and studio for many years until her death in 2002. In 1989, Brewer invited Purifoy to move from Los Angeles to Joshua Tree. At the time Purifoy had completed 11 years of service as a founding member of the California Arts Council appointed by then Governor Jerry Brown. Purifoy was searching for a large space to begin a new and exciting environmental sculpture project. Purifoy established his studio on Brewer’s two and a half acres and made his home in a trailer on the site.


Joseph S. Lewis III, President

Noah Purifoy Foundation


Claire Trevor School of the Arts

University of California, Irvine

John Cordic


RJC Builders, Inc.

Los Angeles, CA

Gil B. Friesen, MOCA Trustee

MOCA Trustee

Los Angeles, CA

Demetrio “Dee” Kerrison

Financial Advisor, UBS

Newport Beach, CA

Yael Lipschutz

Independent Curator

Los Angeles, CA

Séamus Ó Dubsláine

Vice President

Noah Purifoy Foundation


Big Bear City, CA

Ed Ruscha, Artist


Venice, CA

Sue A. Welsh, Trustee/Secretary

Noah Purifoy Foundation

Los Angeles, CA


Debbie Brewer, Artist

Joshua Tree, CA

Mona Brookes, Artist/Founder


Ojai, CA

Paul Karlstrom

San Francisco, CA

Joan Robey, Artist/Interior Designer

Santa Monica, CA

Richard Candida Smith

Professor of History

UC Berkeley

Berkeley, CA

NPF Community Partners

Morongo Basin Cultural Arts Council (MBCAC)

Joshua Tree Chamber of Commerce

Hi-Desert Test Sites

Trust for Public Land

Send inquiries to:

Sue A. Welsh, Trustee


Noah Purifoy Foundation

Tel: (213) 382-7516

E-mail: tarashall@att.net

*Top photograph of Noah Purifoy courtesy artist Harry Drinkwater and The Jack Tilton Gallery.