Welcome to the Morris Graves Foundation

The Morris Graves Foundation is a private, non-profit, 501(c)(3), created in 2000 – with Morris Graves’ approval and participation – by Robert and Desiree Yarber and attorneys Allen Singer and Robert Anthoine – as the designated legal administrator of Morris Cole Graves’ works of art and his life’s legacy.

With Mr. Graves’ life as its guide, the Morris Graves Foundation offers private, non-profit retreat opportunities and hosts group workshops for contemplative, creative purposes at Mr. Graves’ final home at “the Lake.”

An Artist – Morris Cole Graves (1910 -2001)

Morris Graves
Morris Graves
Photo by John Swingdler

His first word was, “See.”

Morris Graves is one of America’s esteemed artists.  From his Pacific Northwest childhood, early travels to the Orient, homes in the Pacific Northwest and Ireland, and finally, among the hills of Northern California, Morris Cole Graves pursued a dedication to a life of expressing his aesthetic vision in his paintings, his homes, and his gardens.

Graves is best known for his paintings, which reflect journeys into the realms of spiritual and transcendental consciousness.

Of his process, Graves said, “I paint to evolve a changing language of symbols, a language with which to remark upon the qualities of our mysterious capabilities which direct us toward reality.  I paint to rest from the phenomena of the external world – to pronounce it – and to make notations of its essence with which to verify the inner eye.”                  Morris Graves, Seattle, 1941

Morris Graves’ personal correspondence and papers are at the University of Oregon Special Collections and University Archives, Knight Libraries, Eugene, Oregon.     https://library.uoregon.edu/special-collections  Further correspondence and papers, as well as those of several close friends and companions, including Richard Gilky, Jan Thompson, and Richard Svare, are at University of Washington Libraries Special Collections.   http://www.lib.washington.edu/specialcollections

His Home at The Lake

From 1965 until his passing, Morris Graves established his home at “the Lake” within an ancient 150-acre rainforest near the northern coast of California.  The Lake is an exquisite, secluded, floating world of light and reflection, surrounded by aged trees, uninterrupted sky, and verdant, lush green.  The home, studio, and garden environment he built is a place of solitude and peace, a place to rekindle one’s heart, spirit, creativity.

In 1965, Graves shared his passionate reverence for the Lakes’ deep-woods with his mother, Helen Graves, in a letter to her during his early years:  “Something about these great old mature giant trees makes my heart go out to them.  I love them more than my fellow man.  Or so I feel at times.  They stand in the forest with such serenity and character, their lives so resolved – and the forest is so deep and in places almost impenetrable that many of these trees have never been seen by man.  This gives them some deep quietude of their own … I lean with my arms outstretched against these great trees when I discover them, and my heart floods with tears of love for them.  I am far from what is called a “naturalist,” but not far from what’s called a “solitary.”   I love to be alone in nature where no one else has ever been and where there’s not a chance that someone is going to be.”                 Morris Graves, 1965

Thus, at the Lake, he lived his ideal, engaging in quiet introspection, visually expressing his ideas and responses.  Moreover, he did so according to his passionate idea of direct experience, wherein no filters or enhancements are employed to mediate one’s perceptions, such as binoculars or a camera lens.  Thus, one paints what one sees directly, unfiltered, unframed, in the moment or from memory, blending with one’s inner vision.

An Idea becomes a Foundation

Robert Yarber, Graves’ long-time assistant, shared an idea with Graves to create a private retreat at the Lake in Mr. Graves’ honor, and sought his approval.  One year before Mr. Graves’ passed, he gave his approval, offered his assistance, and secured two attorneys to participate in the legal formation of a private, registered non-profit entity.  Mr. Allen Singer and Mr. Robert Anthoine generously stewarded the foundation in its formation and early years, providing legal assistance, as well as thoughtful advise for a myriad of decisions.

Mr. Graves agreed to serve as the foundation’s first president in his final year of life. According to Graves, the arrangements also ensured Robert would have his ability to choose his own future, saying to Robert, “It’s your trip now.”


As he had promised Robert, when Graves passed, he bequeathed his entire estate to his long-time assistant, who, from the age of 22, had devoted his young life to nurturing and protecting the Lake and managing all of Mr. Graves’ affairs.  By choice, after Graves passing, Mr. Yarber then assigned 100% of his financial inheritance to the foundation, thus allowing it to support his vision for a private retreat in Mr. Graves’ honor.

A Foundation and A Life

With the support of his wife Desiree, Robert then chose to officially proceed with his plans to manifest a fully-functioning retreat for artistic endeavors, doing so freely and independently, according to his design, without obligations to, expectations of, or mandates by Mr. Graves –  yet, with his deep sense of gratitude to Mr. Graves.

A Quiet Retreat

Since 2001, Robert and his wife, Desiree, have created and offer a special retreat experience, inviting and welcoming selected artists, one-at-a-time, to retreat at their home at the Lake.  They have given their heart-felt care to hundreds of creative individuals seeking solace and quietude in which to deeply practice their art in retreat from a world wherein one’s own thoughts are becoming increasingly muffled by the world’s imposed immediacy and mind-numbing distractions.

Retreats at the Lake, by definition according to Mr. Graves’ personal principles, are unplugged, without:  cell phones, cameras, computers, e-readers, i-pods, etc., nor even radios.  As a result, the Yarbers have witnessed countless guests delve more deeply “in retreat” and engage in a more personally-contemplative, timeless, and intuitive creative experience.

A Community

As a member of the local community, Mr. Graves donated over 90 works of art from his personal collection, and 7 original works of his own to the local arts agency, Humboldt Arts Council in Eureka, California, in support of their work in the community and to boost their permanent collection.  In addition, Mr Graves then provided them with a substantial financial gift and granted their use of his name for the newly-created museum.  According to Mr. Yarber, Graves’ motivation for allowing his name for the museum was to help “get the [museum] doors open.”

Therefore, two separate entities utilize Mr. Graves’ name:  the Morris Graves Foundation, located at his final home, and the Morris Graves Museum of Art in Eureka.  Each is a non-profit organization, independently managed and financed.  Each serves the community uniquely:  the museum is a public non-profit, funded publicly for the public; the foundation is a private non-profit, funded and offered privately.  Both organizations honor the life and art of Mr. Graves and strive to share his vision of life-affirming creativity.

Next – Building a Legacy at The Lake

Robert and Desiree devote their lives as foundation guardians, stewards, and trustees, nurturing and sharing the Lake with deeply passionate individuals, offering guests its greatest expression:  Robert’s lovingly-tended version of Shangri-La.

The legacy of care for the retreat at the Lake, which includes building preservation for Mr. Graves’ home and studio, goes beyond any one person’s efforts and the foundation’s original provisions from Mr. Graves estate.  Thus, the foundation seeks private donations for these endeavors as tax-deductable “gifts.”

As a matter of legal specificity, according to the 501(c)(3) Articles of Incorporation, (II:) “This corporation… is not organized for the private gain of any person.” (VI:) “No part of the net earnings shall inure to the benefit of any …trustee, director, or officer… [with the exception] that reasonable compensation may be paid for services rendered…”