A Visit to Salvation Mountain

Salvation Mountain

This gigantic folk art mountain lives about 3 hours south of LA, out in the middle of the desert. There’s not much else out here

Slab City

and it’s not on the way to anywhere, except the Mexican border, so you need to be specifically determined to see it. Which I was. And I found it remarkable.

Salvation Mountain

This abandoned structure lives on the outskirts of Salvation Mountain and it’s proposed purpose is a place to leave baggage. I found the implications of that act very moving.

It hard to capture the Salvation Mountain scale in a decent picture so this will have to do

Salvation Mountain

Built by one man., Mr. Leonard Knight, between 1984 and 2011. Apparently Leonard lived with his many cats in the back of one of the trucks scattered about the property, which is no small feat in the desert. It was approximately 107 when I was there yesterday. From what I can gather, all the art materials were found or scavenged or donated and even though Leonard died last year, there is a small army of volunteers who are keeping the place up with help from visitor donations.

That upkeep is no small task because the place is vast with archways

Salvation Mountain

And little altar spaces

Salvation Mountain

Containing plenty of gifts left by visitors

Salvation Mountain

Folk art has charm and humility, qualities that pervade this creation. However, this creation also has the feeling of a ward or a sanctuary, perhaps against a greater evil. The sinner’s prayer is repeated incessantly and throughout the mountain is this reminder

Salvation Mountain

That God is Love, that love is universal and in the words of Leonard himself “Love God and keep it simple.”

Wherever Leonard is now I hope he’s surrounded by love. I also hope his Salvation Mountain creation survives for quite some time. It’s well worth a visit.

Tomorrow: East Jesus sculpture garden, which has nothing to do with Jesus.

I like nonsense. It wakes up the brain cells.

Started here this morning:

Ended here tonight:

I have about 1000 pictures of the Pacific ocean from the California coast. It’s such a difficult thing to photograph and no picture ever captures what it’s like to sit on the beach watching the surf pound on the shore as the sun sets with sailboats silhouetted against the horizon. Magical.

Mostly drove today. Started listening to The Help on audiotape and LOVE it already. I’m very curious how the written version reads. I find the auditory version delectable for the character voices, accents and personalities. Those are hard things to convey in written form.

Notable today: an inventive use of trash at Tio’s Tacos in Riverside:

The beer bottle chapel:

It all feels so familiar, doesn’t it? The creative recycling, the all consuming love of concrete, the folk art and religious shrines. I could ask why (and would have, had the artist, Martin Sanchez, been around) but I’m finding that my questions for these artists go deeper than an hour long conversation about inspiration. I want to delve back and find that first point where they picked up a beer bottle, watched the light shine through it and pictured a wall; or saw a stuffed monkey and decided to make a jungle:

At what point did they need to purchase land to house their collections?

Who was the first person they ignored who said “creating a figure out of bottle caps is ridiculous!”

How many legal permits did they obtain to build their wonderlands? Are there ever enough admirers to make it worthwhile or is the act of creation enough?

After some wondering and picture taking and shaking my head, I kept driving until I ran out of road in San Clemente and then ate delicious ceviche at La Siesta:

And watched the sun set on the beach.

2 reasons to love California.

You have a full week of beach pictures coming at you! Aren’t you excited?

All right, keep it down. The neighbors will talk.

More tomorrow. See you then

Fishnets and a Bordello Boutique

If you haven’t seen a Roller Derby game, now’s the time.

 Two teams of girls on skates going in circles. What’s better than that? How about fishnets? And great names.

I mean, Bev Rage?? Kinda awesome. She’s a part of the champion Tucson team, the Furious Truckstop Waitresses, who laid waste to the Prescott team, the Whiskey Row-llers, on Saturday night. It was a bloodbath with a final score of 224 to 80. That’s an obliteration. But the FTW is a better team with better skaters. The Whiskey Row-ller’s only strong point is this chica:

Buffy something or other (the FTW also have much better names and better outfits…), a bruiser with a black mouth guard, a fierce neck tattoo and a general crushing demeanor who spent most of her time on the penalty chairs for her casual dismissal of every rule.

Skates in the air: never good, though Buffy looks pleased.

We spent a couple hours watching Buffy body check the opposition and yell at the ref through her mouth guard while the FTW sidestepped all the Whiskey blockers and scored points until they got tired and called off the jam.  A very solid Saturday night.

My friend Missy and I spent Easter Sunday in Jerome, a little mining town over the mountain from Prescott, AZ.

Virgin Guadalupe gets a lot of love in the Southwest.

More strange yard art:

Why does the hulk have a dryer on his head and his leg in the air? Why ask why… At some point, I expect to see John Dempsey’s backyard turn into a type of Tinker Town.

He and his wife Mary run a shop called House of Joy, housed in the building that once held a brothel in Jerome. They call their shop a brothel boutique (very likely the only one in all the world) and they sell brothel-esque paraphernalia (sequin pasties, anyone?), original brothel inspired artwork inclusive of pin up girls and glitter and a fair amount of antique pieces found in and around Jerome. I was kind of intrigued with their brothel tokens that looked like metal poker chips. Miners bought them and redeemed them with prostitutes, which is a reasonable system that kept all the money in one location thus reducing risk to the girls who could have gotten robbed in addition to everything else

In continuation of our bordello themed exploits, Missy and I ate dinner at an Italian place called Belgian Jenny’s Bordello Pizzeria. I’m going to classify the name as incredible, the food as good, the décor as disturbing (Christmas decorations should come down by April…) and the service as abysmal. I wouldn’t recommend it but I do love the name.  We then came home to watch trashy movies and hang out.

I’m calling that a great Easter. I hope yours was equally as interesting.

Tomorrow, California.

See you then.

We are what we repeatedly do.

I met my friend Carol at one of my favorite Tucson places for lunch.

Vegetables! For a change of pace…

Carol is one of my (non-smug) married girlfriends who loves what I do. (See also Jen, PN, Diane, Jess and Bet) Were these girls single, they’d be out wandering the world. Instead they’re immersed in the important business of looking out for their husbands and raising their kids to be good citizens, work both critically overlooked and underappreciated. Because I’m unobligated in that way, I feel like an advance scout sent out to experience foreign lands and come back with stories. When they have the time and wherewithal to travel, they’ll have plenty of ideas of where to go.

After lunch I went to the Sam Hughes neighborhood near the University of Arizona area and tracked down a metal artist I remembered seeing there. Please meet Ned Egen:

His truck:

His work bench:

And the yard around his house:

Isn’t that a terrible picture?? I had such difficulty photographing his yard.

Between the light and the negative space in his sculpture against a unsolid background of trees, cactus and vines my camera did. not. know. where. to. look. I had much more success in his back yard.

But back to Ned. He walked out of his house right when I drove up and spent about an hour and a half walking me around and talking to me. Delightful.

Ned’s a former chemistry professor at the University of Arizona who also developed, started and ran his own biotech company and made his yard into a metal jungle. He says he fell in love with steel in his 20s when he lived on the east coast. He’d photograph bridges and girders and junk piles, fascinated by the way metal rusted and cured and looked. He started collecting steel pieces and when he moved to Tucson, he moved about 1000lbs of steel with him and started creating a junk pile in his back yard that quickly grew to about 10 tons.

He learned to weld in his 30s so he could make wood burning stoves for his house. He made two stoves and put his welder away but continued to collect steel pieces and take pictures and he says he made his first sculpture when he turned 40.

 His wife, Sue, is a fiber artist and loves flowers. Ned says Sue always incorporated flowers into her artwork so it seemed natural that he would make flowers.

They remain his favorite subjects.

He recycles old water heaters and uses the blue enameled inner lining to for these flowers.

He also loves faces

 And many of his anthropomorphic sculptures are kinetic with springs that make them bend and spring and boing when you touch them.

I photographed about a quarter of his work and thought to ask him a question that’s been on my mind since seeing so many prolific collectors and artists across this country. Namely, how long did it take him to do all this? He said it took him several years but he was also working 2 full time jobs. He looked around the yard while we talked and said he thought he could recreate the whole thing in a year if he did nothing else.


I was shocked. He was amused. He says he works quickly, he doesn’t stockpile ideas and he usually has about 30 things he’s working on simultaneously. If he gets stuck in one project and can’t figure out how to move forward or finish it, he moves on to another project and finds that it unsticks him. He had a very practical attitude towards work. He loves metal, what it can do and how it looks. He likes to work. He works every day.

He said he’s had a lot of walk up business in the past week and it makes him a bit nervous because he doesn’t want to sell more than he can easily replace. He wants the yard to continue to look like it does now. I think he was intrigued by my questioning, my interest and my itinerant lifestyle and figured I had things on my mind that went deeper than just his artwork and his yard.

He’s right.

But that’s a subject for another post. I think I need to mull it all over a bit more before I write about it.

One more day in Tucson and then I’m headed north and west.

See you tomorrow.

Tinker Town and the vast New Mexico sky

Driving through the panhandle today. Lots of this:

And this:

And the sun is HOT. I got sunburned just sitting in the car driving. But the wind is cold, sweeping over the plains in giant gusts that make picture taking almost impossible because I can’t hold the camera steady. I’m forever pulling over to the side of the road and waiting interminable minutes while trucks pass so I can photograph the horizon and remember what everything looks like.

Today the terrain changed a lot. I left Amarillo early and then gained an hour once I got over the New Mexico border; so, although I had a lot of driving, the day felt relaxed. As I drove through northern New Mexico, it got more mountainous with a giant sky and clouds but still the same cold wind and hot sun.

Disconcerting combination as I’d get hot driving in the car and need a jacket when I get out of it. I drove up into the Sandia Mountains on my way north of Albuquerque and arrived here about noon:

I didn’t know what to expect, and rarely do, but this place blew my little mind. TinkerTown houses the collection of all collections by collector and artist, Ross Ward:

It seems the Ross Ward’s collecting habits and his wood carving grew up together and this little town is an outgrowth of his collection. Creatively, the most impressive section is the world he created which is incredibly difficult to capture on film when it’s behind glass so here are some crappy pictures:

And an enlarged example of one of the figures.

This town is a fantastical version of the Old West with all the requisite establishments – saloon, candy store, general store, blacksmith, Chinese laundry etc. – all peopled with figures carved by Ross Ward, painted by him and dressed in clothes made by him doing things with accessories made by him on top of platforms and inside buildings created by him. He built this entire world from the bottom to the top from recycled wood, fabrics scraps and discarded items. Some of the pieces are animated and when you press buttons they move up and down or jump or fly or whatever. It’s literally thousands of little figures.

And that’s just the beginning of Tinker Town! The museum portion is an indoor/outdoor place with wooden pathways lined with cement walls inset with bottles that look this way on one side:

And this way on the other.

But each twist and turn of the pathways holds stuff. If you name it he collected it and then he painted it or plastered it or attached it to something else to create a mobile.

Around each corner is a shrine:

Or a sign:

Emphasizing a live free or die attitude that shines from every corner of this place. I love some of the quotes he chose to display, namely:

If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.

And my favorite:

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely…broad, wholesome, charitable views cannot be acquired by vegetating in one’s little corner of the world. – Mark Twain

I met Ross’s sister-in-law Mary and his wife Carla:

Who now run the place as Ross died of Alzheimer’s a couple years ago. They were delightful and told me stories of his early collecting and his time traveling with the carnival. He sounds like a fascinating man and I wish I’d met him. I’m glad this place lives on in his memory.

Tonight I’m here:

Georgia O’Keeffe’s Ghost Ranch up in Abiquiu visiting my friend Greta and it’s magical.

I have a million pictures and I’ll take more tomorrow and post them. But here’s the moonrise from tonight:

I don’t want to live up here but I can see why she did.

More tomorrow.