Books & Bylines


First Sight of the Desert: Discovering the Art of Ella Peacock

Utah artist Ella Peacock—fiercely independent and idiosyncratic in the manner
of Georgia O’Keeffe, to whom she is sometimes compared—painted the desert landscape
and rural setting around her Spring City home in purposeful isolation, rendering her
subject matter in a subtle tonalist style. Kathryn Abajian was immediately drawn to the
painter, then eighty-six-years-old, and she found in Peacock a remarkable role model for
a life of voluntary simplicity, devotion to work, and dedication to an uncompromising
artistic vision. But Abajian also found that in her search to understand Peacock she was
seeking to know herself. First Sight of the Desert ultimately blends the multiple colors of
two women’s lives onto a single canvas, reveling in brush strokes that draw beauty from
even the simplest of subjects.



Phillip Lopate, Director of the graduate nonfiction program at Columbia University, his books include The Art of the Personal Essay
          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 of their stories are inextricably mirrored. It successfully combines biography, art history, the literature of place, and the personal essay.

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

Ruth Lubbers, Executive Director of VSA Arts of Utah and Art Access Gallery
          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 there.

David Ericson of David Ericson Gallery, Salt Lake City
          Kathryn Abajian has created what Wallace Stegner said made good writing. First Sight of the Desert shows time, place, presence of the artist, and the author’s discovery of both the subject and herself. By including her own memoir of her search, Abajian has lifted the art history of the book to a higher level. The narrative surprises he reader who can participate in a similar adventure. The dialogue Abajian creates between the artist, writer and reader makes this an outstanding addition to contemporary western literature.

from left, clockwise: First Sight of the Desert, oil on canvas, circa 1935; Lehi Roller Mills, oil on canvas, circa 1975; Mt. Peacock, oil on canvas, circa 1980; Springville Chapel, lino cut, circa 1975.

from A Motley Vision: Mormon Arts and Culture
          The University of Utah just published First Sight of the Desert: Discovering the Art of Ella  Peacock by Bay Area author Kathryn Abajian. The book–which combines memoir and biography–focuses on the life and art of Peacock, a relatively unknown 20th century Utah painter.  Abajian agreed to answer a few questions about the book (which can be ordered from University of Utah Press).  Also note that Abajian will be involved in a series of readings and events related to the book–including the opening of an exhibit of Peacock’s work later this year at the Museum of Utah Art and History. Continue reading...

Selected Bylines

Climbing the Coconut Tree,  originally published on; reprinted in Hot
Flashes, and Travelers’ Tales The Best Women’s Travel Writing 2005.
         “I’ve been watching you all week,” he said. “You have a nice smile.” And then, inexplicably, “You are a good wife and mother.” …..He was a waiter at Aggie Grey’s Hotel in Samoa and I was on my last day in the country, lying by the pool and trying not to think about leaving this paradise. He had been standing in the sun’s heat for forty-five minutes, holding his tray and trying to convince me to meet him in my hotel roomContinue reading

The Patina of Character San Francisco Chronicle Magazine
          It started with June Chatterton, the oldest person I knew. She lived across the street with her daughter’s family. Their home was full of antiques and Mrs. Chatterton gave me my first–a miniature hobnail blue glass perfume bottle, one small enough to hold in my eight year old fist. Something about its age caught my imagination–the smoothly worn chip on its rim, the wordContinue reading

from Meeting Ella Peacock, Again Catalyst Magazine
          After keeping myself busy in her quiet house for my own long empty days, I was gaining a better understanding of her determination to do her “full-time job of looking” at the desert mountains as a diversion from her isolation. Perhaps it was that loneliness that encouraged her amazing capacity for work in Sanpete County where she painted in her car both during the hot summers and white winters. But I was beginning to see that she wasn’t really painting for the love of it alone. She was also working so hard from a long tradition of duty and from a genuine need to survive. I only then realized the quiet power in her paintings was not entirely a reflection of her unassuming personality; it replicated her inner solitude as well.