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Sunday, July 21, 2024 at 11:35 AM

The Desert Cross Comes Home

The Desert Cross Comes Home
Mayor Tedfor with the Churchill Arts Council newly acquired Mason Cross. Photo credit Val Swirczek.

The Desert Cross, or as it is referred to locally, “The Mason Cross,” is an impressive piece of artwork and community treasure. It was gifted to the community in the 1960s by artist John Mason, who grew up in Fallon and became a world-renowned artist. According to the Frank Lloyd Gallery, Mason was “a major figure in ceramic sculpture.”  

At a recent Board of Regents meeting, the ownership of the Desert Cross was officially conveyed to the City of Fallon, guaranteeing that this local piece of art by a local Fallon boy would remain in the community for residents and visitors to enjoy.

“This is an interesting Nevada story,” said former governor and current University of Nevada President Brian Sandoval during the Regents’ meeting, recommending that the board approve the official return of the cross to the community.

“It was interesting circumstances that the university came into possession of the John Mason sculpture, and the desire is to return it to Fallon,” he said.

Recently appraised at a value of $450,000, the cross is believed to have been created in 1963 by Mason, who originally donated it to the community in 1964, where it was displayed at the Churchill County Library in honor of the state centennial celebrations.

“I remember seeing that cross at the library when I was a boy,” said Sandoval, who also lived in Fallon during his younger years.

In 1979, the cross was transferred to the university, where it was located in the Sheppard Gallery, now the Lilley Museum of Art, but it was never officially made part of the collection. When the Churchill Arts Council opened the Art Center at the Oats Park school in 2005, the University loaned the Desert Cross to the fledgling organization, where it remained until 2023. 

In May 2023, the cross was returned to the university during a dismantling of the vast collection of artwork at the Arts Center. Shortly after the art disappeared, the City of Fallon requested that the cross be returned, and it was loaned back to the city for two years in February 2024. 

“We believe the intent of the artist was that the cross be displayed and held in the City of Fallon,” said Sandoval as he recommended conveying ownership of the Desert Cross to the City of Fallon, to be kept and maintained and preserved in museum quality condition.

The university maintains the first right of refusal to reacquire it at no cost should the city decide to dispose of the cross.

Mayor of Fallon Ken Tedford also spoke during the regent’s meeting, saying, “We should never limit the potential of a great artist to come from a small place.”  

According to Tedford, Mason grew up in Fallon and graduated from Churchill County High School. “I’m reminded of his ties to the community every time I drive by Mason Road in Hazen.”  

He said the cross was placed at the library and was “on display for an entire generation of this community. It is a reflection of this region, the genius of its creator, Mason, and a sense of unbound potential. It reminds us never to limit the potential of great artists and great art to come from unsuspecting places.”  

The cross has now been given “Pride of Place” in the Oats Park Art Center, in the special alcove built for it. “Thank you, President Sandoval and the Board of Regents. This is important to our town and means a lot to us,” he said. 

Jessica Rowe is the current Executive Director of the Arts Council and also appreciates the return of the artwork. “The Churchill Arts Council is deeply grateful for the return of the Mason Cross to the community of Fallon. We have restored the cross to its platform in the main foyer of the Oats Park Art Center. We are especially grateful to Mayor Ken Tedford and UNR President Brian Sandoval for their efforts in bringing the Desert Cross home to our community where it can reflect the historic creativity and the profound love that Fallon residents have for the Arts and for representing this beautiful region that we call our home.” 

Pictured, Virgil Getto, Barbara Getto, Florence Mason, Andrea Getto, John Mason, and Hattie Brown. Photo courtesy City of Fallon