Thursday, March 30, 2017

Pasaquan: After Extended Conservation Efforts, Georgia's Visionary Art Site Reopens

As the official state museum of art, the Georgia Museum of Art is fundamentally engaged with artistic developments happening throughout the state of Georgia. Recently, Pasaquan, an important Georgian visionary art site, has reopened. Located in rural Georgia, about seven miles outside of Buena Vista and about 30 miles outside of Columbus, Pasaquan is a psychedelic, pseudo-religious art complex featuring over 900 feet of painted walls and situated on more than seven acres of land. The site was conceived of and constructed by visionary artist Eddie Owens Martin (or St. EOM as he referred to himself) in the late 1950s. After St. EOM’s death in 1986 the site fell into relative disrepair with fading paint and structural concerns, but as of October 2016, the environment has been reopened to the public in a newly restored form, now reflecting its original state and Owens’s original artistic vision.
Pasaquan, 2017. Photo: Hillary Brown
“I’d recommend people go ‘while the paint’s fresh.’ That’s what Alan Rothschild, the chair of the museum’s Board of Advisors and a Columbus resident, told me, and I think it was smart advice.” 

Eddie Owens Martin

Owens was born in Buena Vista, Georgia, in 1908 to a poor sharecropping family. He ran away at age 14 to live in New York City where he first began studying and creating art. In his 20s, Owens experienced the first of his fever-induced dreams in which he was visited by giant figures from the future. In this first vision, the figures told him, “You’re gon’ be the start of somethin’ new, and you’ll call yourself Saint EOM, and you’ll be a Pasaquoyan — the first one in the world.” In 1957 after his mother’s death, the newly consecrated St. EOM moved back to his mother’s 18th century farmhouse and there began constructing the Pasaquan site onto existing structures. St. EOM explained that he “built this place to have something to identify with. Here I can be in my own world, with my temples and designs and the spirit of God. I can have my own spirits and my own thoughts.”

St. EOM (Eddie Owens Martin). Photo: Columbus State University

St. EOM’s Pasaquoyan aesthetic and spiritualism is defined by an interesting blend of various cultural motifs. His wall paintings reference both eastern and western major religions, featuring large-scale mandalas and crosses. He used masonry and bright colors to depict human forms and geometric patterns, a practice reminiscent of the bright colors and angular geometry found in ancient Aztec and other pre-Columbian works of art. He was also inspired by Edward Churchward’s writing on the fabled “Lost Continent of Mu” and the concept of a singular and peaceful ancient civilization. He created Pasaquan as a representation of his optimistic vision of the future as a cultural blend of peoples in a state of bright and fantastic unity. St. EOM has stated that his one-man religion, Pasaquoyanism, “has to do with the Truth, and with Nature, and the Earth, and man’s lost rituals.”1 He funded and built Pasaquan almost single-handedly with money he received from fortune-telling.

Great Goddess mural from the site of Teotihuacán, Mexico. St. EOM's work resembles
that of the ancient Aztecs and Mesoamericans. Image: Wikipedia
Unfortunately, although skilled, St. EOM was not a trained construction worker and painter, and much of his work was left damaged after long exposure to the elements. When he passed away in 1986, the Pasaquan Preservation Society (PPS) took over the site in a non-profit effort to conserve this valuable work of art. Despite continuous efforts, the PPS lacked the funds to properly conserve the complex and it gradually deteriorated. In 2014, the Kohler Foundation stepped in to help with the renovations, bringing conservators from all over the U.S. to help with termite damage, fading paint and structural concerns in each of the six main buildings and surrounding walls. The project took roughly two years to complete and in late 2015, the conservators completed the process and donated the site to Columbus State University, which now oversees its preservation.

Wall under conservation, 2015. Photo: David Anderson, Columbus State University Archives
After conservation, 2017. Photo: Hillary Brown
Pasaquan is currently open for public visits from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. The site is closed during holidays and for the months of December and July. Visitors are asked for a suggested contribution of $10 for adults, $5 for seniors and $3 for students. Hillary Brown, our director of communications, recently visited the renovated site after wanting to visit for years. “I’m really glad I waited until after the restoration was complete. It’s a truly special place and worth a long drive from anywhere,” Hillary recounts, “I’d recommend people go ‘while the paint’s fresh.’ That’s what Alan Rothschild, the chair of the museum’s Board of Advisors and a Columbus resident, told me, and I think it was smart advice.”

Jamie Brener 
Publications Intern

Tom Patterson, St. EOM in the Land of Pasaquan: The Life and Time and Art of Eddie Owens Martin (Jargon Society: Winston-Salem, North Carolina, 1987).

1 comment:

Cathy Fussell, Founding Board Member, PPS said...

While I very much appreciate this good publicity about Pasaquan, I do not agree with the implication in this article that Pasaquan Preservation Society failed in our mission. We did not. We *vigorously* sought the help of the Kohler Foundation, which we received. Ultimately, PPS succeeded in our mission of preserving Pasaquan. It took us 30 years, but we succeeded.