Dorland Mountain Arts Colony:
Rising From the Ashes
"If you have ever wondered about the source of art that touches us deeply and nourishes our finer senses, Dorland was such a wellspring.”– Watercolor artist Robert Willis
The first time I visited Dorland Mountain Arts Colony, Southern California’s only residential artists’ colony, was in early 2004. Located about eight miles south of Temecula, the turn-off to Dorland from Highway 79S was easy to miss, marked only by a small sign indicating the road that wound up the hillside.
The colony was situated on a ridge of land surrounded by raw, natural habitat. I envied the group of artists who were holed up in the little bungalows with nothing to distract them from working on their paintings, song lyrics, books, or screenplays except the birds chirping overhead in the thick canopy of ancient oaks. A dozen buildings were scattered around the property, so that no one would feel as if they would be disturbed by a neighboring guest. Most of the one-person bungalows came with just enough amenities to guarantee the artist’s comfort. Besides the bare-bones accommodations, there was an old adobe structure, once the home of Ellen Dorland, who lived on the property until shortly before her death in 1986 at the age of 98. Additional buildings included offices, studios, a kitchen, and an eating area.
The non-profit mountain sanctuary began as a 300-acre ranch homesteaded by Ellen and Robert Dorland in the 1930s. From the beginning, Ellen hoped to host men and women in the arts, creative people who would come to nurture their crafts amid the tranquil setting. Mrs. Dorland had been a renowned concert pianist, and music and the arts were in her heart and soul.
For decades, Ellen Dorland’s dream had been a reality. Over 1,200 talented artists from around the world had stayed at the colony. The author of The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold, honed her craft here. So had bestselling novelist Noelle Sickels and many, many others.
All of that came to a tragic end a few months after my visit when wildfires destroyed the peaceful arts colony in May 2004. The antiques in the adobe that had belonged to the Dorlands; the hundreds of rare books in the library; the artists’ paintings in the studios; the priceless grand piano…it was all smoldering rubble.
Thanks to the efforts of countless volunteers and organizations in surrounding communities, funds were raised and donations made to help rebuild the arts colony. Two new artists’ cabins were completed in 2009, and many of the gardens and hillsides have been replanted. For now, a big trailer suffices as the main office, and another trailer is used as a teaching studio and conference room. As additional fund-raising continues, more artists’ cabins will be constructed, as will an “art barn,” which will include six individual studios, gallery space and executive offices.
Most of the towering oaks survived the fire, and the charred hillsides have given way to wild grasses, shrubs and wildflowers. “LakeTicanu,” a large spring-fed pond located just above Dorland, has been cleared of debris, and the hiking trails once again invite guest artists to wander and explore.
“Without the help of so many local dedicated volunteers, Dorland’s rebirth would not have been possible,” Curtis Horton, President of Dorland’s Board of Directors, stated. “Our new bridges to the community are as important as the actual buildings…and we will be working hard to maintain and expand those new connections, while providing opportunities for many to experience the creative process in new and deeply personal ways.”
For information about scheduling a residency or volunteering:(951) 302-3837or www.dorlandartscolony.org