Inspired by the Mexican Arboles del la Vida, La Quinta–based artist Ellen Kimmel created Hope and Renewal, a hand-built ceramic Tree of Life candelabra, for her stepson and his fiancé, who were set to be married in Los Angeles when their wedding was cancelled due to fears of the spreading novel coronavirus.

The work earned Kimmel a $500 grant to “Keep Art Alive” from the California Desert Arts Council (CDAC). The nonprofit organization is offering relief for working visual and performing artists in the Coachella Valley whose livelihood has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Kimmel, who studied ceramics at Santa Monica College and Loyola Marymount University, studies sculpture at Old Town Artisan Studio in La Quinta and teaches a clay class at Trilogy Creative Arts Club.

In Mexican culture, newlyweds received clay pieces of the Tree of Life as a symbol of fertility and abundance. Kimmel’s version has amulets that represent protection, such as the Middle Eastern hamsa (hand) and the evil eye. Sickness and death, represented by the skeleton figures and masks, are surrounded by symbols an abundant and fertile life — pomegranates, flowers, grapes, agave plants, tacos, and tequila bottles, etc. Hope and Renewal is Kimmel’s personal message to her family and others. “Especially in the midst of death, life is to be cherished and celebrated,” she says.

CDAC and affiliate La Quinta Arts Foundation established a $50,000 Keep Art Alive fund to award grants to Coachella Valley artists and arts organizations who create thoughtful, inspiring, and relevant works responding to the crisis.

Follow Ellen Kimmel on Instagram at @ekimmel1308