Bygone New Years Eve Tradition: Coachella Valley

Artist John Hilton burned paintings in bonfire in Box Canyon

According to Katherine Ainsworth’s 1978 biography of John Hilton, Maynard Dixon and Nicolai Fechin, both, advised Hilton to discard “unworthy” paintings. As noted in the biography as well as numerous newspaper and magazine articles, Hilton invited friends to a dramatic annual party in Box Canyon (east of Mecca, CA) when he would throw his rejects onto a bonfire at the stoke of midnight on New Year’s Eve. As the years passed, the party grew and others added to the bonfire, but Hilton reserved his painting burning for last.

One particularly memorable New Year’s was 1940/41 when the Los Angeles Times printed a photo of him tossing a painting into the fire.

L.A. Times, Jan. 3, 1941

Immediately to the right on the page was an article by Ed Ainsworth:

After several years the parties were discontinued; this may have even been the last, as a year later the US would be at war. Of course today, one would need a permit for such a fire, which the County Fire Department would never issue!

Box Canyon Road winds up from the Coachella Valley floor through the Canyon to Shaver’s Valley and on to Interstate 10. The Canyon is protected under the 1964 Wilderness Act and has not changed except for some modern road improvements and erosion by Mother Nature.
Fragrant Morning by John Hilton (one that wasn’t burned!)

Happy New Year!

4 thoughts on “Bygone New Years Eve Tradition: Coachella Valley

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