Isolated in Lyndhurst, couple plans future of artist residency in the California desert

David Zimmer | northjersey.com

JUL. 21, 2020

While Charles and Jacqueline Evered ride out the pandemic in Lyndhurst, a desert ranch outside California’s Joshua Tree National Park is constantly on their minds.

It’s not a vacation getaway, but the Charles J. Evered House is a place for isolation. The couple founded the artist residency in 2017 to offer veterans and others who put themselves in harm’s way a place to find solitude and write their stories.

“The idea was: here’s a place where you don’t have to worry about rent, and you don’t have to worry about regular life for a while,” said Charles Evered, a 55-year-old writer, director and professor at the University of California, Riverside. “Just take stock of what you’re going through and tell those stories, because they will be incredibly important years and years from now.”

From 3,000 miles away, the couple has been working on Evered House’s website, building partnerships and seeking donations via social media. It's also accepting applications for residency. Just don’t apply for anytime between April and October.

“It’s so bloody hot,” Charles Evered said. “The A.C. bill would be like $7,000 a month.”

Set amid cacti and frequented by roadrunners, Evered House is in Flamingo Heights. The average July temperature is about 100 degrees. It rains just a few inches a year.

The residency is named in honor of Charles Evered’s father, a Rutherford resident who served in World War II and died when Charles Evered was 14. The couple – who met in 1978 while attending St. Mary’s School in Rutherford and married in June – last saw the California desert in early March. They thought they’d be back in April.

They now plan to return to the West Coast in mid-September, settle in Palm Desert and work on readying Evered House for a new resident to start 2021. Jacqueline Evered, an artist and designer, said it's important to give back the opportunities that you were given.

Among the home’s first residents was Loren Marsters, a two-time Purple Heart recipient and Vietnam veteran. Marsters said there is a spiritual vibe about the area – “but starting to spring up as kind of cool,” Evered said. The property is so quiet you can hear yourself breathe, Marsters added.

“For me the house and the area, were a creative, motivational, think-and-do tank,” he said. “Nothing outside of what I came there to do got in the way of me doing it.”

While at Evered House in 2019, Marsters said he didn't only work on a play he had just started. He wrote another short play, staged a reading and convinced a producer in the nearby Riverside, California area to agree to stage another play he had written.

“Evered House isn’t a residency for you to come out, sit cross legged on the floor, listen to Ravi Shankar music and ask yourself, ‘Why is there air?’” he said. “It’s about the work.”

Marianna Sierra, the public relations and development intern for Evered House this summer, said she had expected to go to France and potentially remain there following her sophomore year at Yale University. The coronavirus altered her course. The 20-year-old said Evered House’s testimonials, mission and her own residency experience drew her to the project.

“I know what it’s like to benefit from that kind of institution existing,” Sierra said. “Having the opportunity to focus on nothing except the thing that you seemingly never have time to do is just huge.”

Charles Evered said the three-bedroom home is designed to be occupied by just one person one month at a time. Accommodations can be made to adjust the duration or allow a resident to bring a significant other or child. However, he said he learned from his experiences at residencies any distraction can be a detriment to a writer’s productivity and creativity.

“Those places that I went, while they were great, they were also social – and that was a drag because that’s not really what you need when you’re concentrating on a project,” he said. “As a writer, the worst thing is to be tempted by coffee culture.”

The Rutgers graduate, who studied play writing at Yale, and sold a screenplay to Steven Spielberg before turning 30, earned residencies at the Millay Colony for the Arts in upstate New York and famed playwright Edward Albee’s residency on Long Island.

Beyond his knowledge of residencies, Evered House was inspired by a small cabin he once had in the California desert, a desire to pay it forward and his time as a U.S. Navy reservist. He joined the reserves at 34, after being introduced to the idea while working on a naval film for DreamWorks Pictures.

He said it taught him humility. Picking up cigarette butts on the weekends, when you’re supposed to be a hip Hollywood writer during the week, will do that, he said.

Beyond veterans, the desert ranch is open to others who serve. That includes photographers who work in conflict zones, first responders who volunteer for local fire and ambulance corps and the front-line workers who stock shelves in supermarkets.

Residents stay at no cost. The only thing required is a local presentation of an original work. Working on the property and helping people develop their art is all the Evereds say they want. It’s a good use of their spare time and a better way to live, Jacqueline Evered said.

“There’s no reason to do this except for the fact that you believe in it 100%,” Charles Evered said. “It’s losing us money, and we’re perfectly fine with that.”

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