Spirited Away

A night within the walls of Pasaquan, the mystical compound of St. EOM

Frieze Magazine

When I arrived at Pasaquan, the sun had already receded below the central Georgia pines. The gate was locked, and I fought the urge to jump the fence until Charles Fowler, a young musician and the site’s caretaker, arrived to greet me. I hurriedly pitched my tent beside Pasaquan’s Inner Sanctum. And then I was locked in. Immediately, I was hit by the starkness of the quiet. The moonless sky was dark and steely, with the exception of a patch of red cloud hanging low above the house. Oh, wild night.

Pasaquan is a seven-acre art environment enclosed by over 900 feet of painted masonry fences in Buena Vista, Georgia. It features an original farmhouse built in 1885, a ‘sitting room’, a sand-dance pit and a Kiva, a partially buried circular chamber designed for Pueblo Indian ceremonies. The site is the creation of visionary artist Eddie Owens Martin, who had no surviving family members, and who struggled with depression in the seclusion of his home. After his suicide in 1986, Pasaquan was left in the care of the Pasaquan Preservation Society, who after two years of dedicated restoration have reversed the course of sun-bleaching and other deterioration, and returned the site to its former glory. Pasaquan reopened in Fall 2016, and is now run by the nearby Columbus State University.

I came to Pasaquan to learn more about the man who constructed this visionary environment. Martin was born to sharecroppers in 1908. He yearned for art and dancing, wanted to discover ancient civilizations and meet men that preferred the company of other men, so he left home for New York City at the age of 14. There, Martin had the freedom to be weird. For nearly 30 years he soaked up art and foreign cultures at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Natural History. The country boy tended bar at a gay nightclub in Greenwich Village – he also worked variously as a male hustler, a marijuana dealer and a merchant seaman. While in New York, Martin ran the Pasaquoyan Pot-and-Poker Pad – an illegal drugs and gambling den – and then flourished as a flamboyant fortune-teller at the Wishing Cup Tea Room on 42nd Street. He had the appearance of a fanciful mystic, donning technicolour turbans and silk pants. With his beard and hair tied into a topknot, the uncredentialed psychiatrist had the moxie required to flatter and hustle his customers.

Not long after arriving in New York, Martin suffered from a high fever that resulted in what he believed to be a vision from the spirit world. He was to be part of a new civilization of people from the future, a Pasaquoyan named St. EOM. Martin believed ‘pasa’ meant ‘past’ in Spanish and that ‘quan’ was an Oriental word for future. When his mother passed, he inherited the compound back in Georgia, which he would transform into a work of art that combines visual elements from ancient cultures and his own visions of the distant future.

I’m here tonight, locked inside the gate, deep in high-country off Highway 137. Until I see the sun again, I’ll be alone amongst St. EOM’s totems, pagodas, temple altars and the sand-filled dance circle, all penned by cement and stone walls sculpted with colourfully-painted relief imagery based on a mélange of African, Polynesian, Easter Island, and Pre-Columbian symbolism. The former farmhouse is now regaled in sizzling orange, red and yellow. Secrets are seldom this loud.

After many years out here alone, St. EOM began talking to the faces on his totems, and I can understand why. Spending a night in their company, I was tempted to assign them names and individual stories. They protected me from the pitch-dark night, just as they protected St. EOM and his compound from the intrusions of a hostile, outside world.

Rumours spread very easily in a town of 664 people, and Eddie Owens Martin quickly became known as a kind of bogeyman. The townsfolk whispered of trained rattlesnakes, headless dogs and bloodthirsty vultures. Some believed that that St. EOM could wrangle cats. He would fill his station wagon with dozens of cats before making a run to town to buy paint; after parking the car, he’d open its doors, sending the cats scattering throughout town. After checkout, he would whistle and the felines would reassemble.

At 2am, I went to the Music Room to spend some time with the largest mandala painted on the grounds. Martin based his version of the cosmos on an Aztec Calendar Stone. Behind me was an old cabinet stereo, retro-fitted with a hidden CD player and CD recordings of Martin describing his home and his worldview. ‘Hello there all you people,’ I heard him begin. ‘This is Marion County, and Buena Vista is the county seat and I’m Eddie Martin, who lives here. I created, and drawed, and sculptured, and built walls and everything and listened to my heart…’

Pasaquan is a pilgrimage site for those looking to step into another dimension. It’s a shame that dimension didn’t filter into the outside world, for Martin’s myriad aesthetic influences make a gumbo of all faiths and cultures; in his compound, one does not belong to a race or a sexual orientation, but is a true citizen of the world. I may have only spent one night there, but Pasaquan is a world for me.