Saguaro SGP5by Meredith Milstead

Our Favorite Saguaro

ON A RECENT EXCURSION to Tumamoc, Meredith Milstead photographed the stages of her on-site pastel painting of one of our favorite saguaros. I thought it had a rather desert holiday feel to it, so I am including it in this last post of the year.

I also feel that this little series of stages of a painting is a great example of how to approach place-based art on Tumamoc. The important thing is the particulars?the time of the day and the view from the spot Meredith chose to stand or sit out in the fresh air, recording impressions and observations. It’s being there, on-site, never exactly like any other place.

Many Tumamoc artists have drawn, painted, and photographed this particular, huge, old saguaro growing near the Desert Lab library building. It’s so conveniently located, one hardly needs to leave the road to get near it. It fact, a modern human of the Petroleum Age might not even have to get out of their car to study, draw, or photograph it.

Our favorite saguaro looks very different depending on the time of day and the season, offering itself as a model to anyone who cares to stop, look and stay a while. The shadows change so slowly, it could function like a sun-dial of sorts, and also a calendar, offering humans a radically different sense of time. But only if they care to see it.

Just by standing there, with a natural poise, it offers an uncountable number of different compositions, angles, and subtle colors, all while holding very still. No human artist’s-model could ever pose so well. After a hundred years or so of this, it leans just a little to one side. Like most saguaros, this one is very generous, even extending one arm down to human eye level so we can watch the fruits and flowers develop, and draw them too.

You can read more about the process in making this painting, and follow Meredith’s other excursions into the real world at


plein air saguaro pastel painting by meredith milstead plein air saguaro pastel painting by meredith milstead dsc_00071

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