Architecture in April: Pasaquan
SOURCES: Pasaquan National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, 2008,
and St. EOM in the Land of Pasaquan by Tom Patterson, 1987.
The son of poor sharecroppers, Eddie Owens Martin ran away from his abusive father at the age of 14 bound for New York City. He lived there for 35 years where he was a fortune teller, prostitute, panderer, drug dealer, gambler, transvestite, drug addict, petty criminal, and a casual art student. In 1957, Martin returned to Georgia. He inherited a tract of land that contained an 1880s saddlebag-type house near Buena Vista. In 1959, Matin, aided by several local African American men, began transforming the family farm into Pasaquan. Guided by spirits and a wide array of artistic and marijuana induced influences, Martin created a work of visionary art that today is recognized internationally by critics as a unique masterpiece. The art consists of a series of vividly painted concrete walls and buildings. A self-taught artist, Martin’s art reflects his religious beliefs that stressed humanity’s ability to communicate directly with God and his humble “cracker” social origins. St. EOM funded his art telling fortunes, selling marijuana, and offering counseling. This is just a small glimpse into the story of Eddie Owens Martin and his masterpiece, Pasaquan.
Eddie Owens Martin was born at the stroke of midnight on July 4, 1908, near the small rural community of Glen Alta, seven miles east of Buena Vista. His father, Julius Martin cultivated land as a tenant farmer for Sam Hatcher, who owned about 5,000 acres in Marion County. At 14, following an incident during which his father cruelly killed a puppy that Martin had received as a gift from a neighboring African American family, he left home. After wandering Georgia and Florida for several months as an itinerant fruit picker, you Martin drifted north. He eventually found New York City. His life began to change in 1929. That year, Sam Hatcher kicked Julius Martin off his land. His mother, Lydia Pearl Story Martin, acted quickly to save the family. She bought a couple of cows and began selling cream. By 1930, her business grew to the level where she purchased 370 ½ acres. Shortly after, Julius died of a heart attack at the age of 45.
Julius and Lydia Pearl Story Martin, c. 1905.
Pasaquan began with a vision in 1935 when Eddie was back at home in Georgia and had become very sick. He stayed in bed for ten to twelve days and one night he had a vision of “some kinda god,…bigger than a giant, man. His hair went straight up, and his beard was parted in the middle like it was going straight up.” In their conversation, the god said he could live, if he would follow the god’s spirit. That intensified his search of the occult and religion; he tended to look, as he said, “behind the façade, in all kinda religion.” When Eddie returned to New York, he became a serious researcher and constant visitor at the 42nd Street Library, the Metropolitan Museum, and the Museum of Natural History. He explored Sir James Churchward’s books on the lost continents of Mu and Atlantis, and the Mayans through the Lord Kingsborough four volumes published in the mid-19th century. He studied Egyptian and other hieroglyphics, as well as works on the religions of India and east Asia. At the Metropolitan, he learned how to request spiritual artifacts and paintings that were not on display for his personal viewing. Many of these images found their way to the walls of Pasaquan.
He also pursued art, but not through formal lessons. He knew artists who allowed him to watch them work and occasionally allowed him to “put a little paint on their canvases.” Unable to afford canvases, Martin began to draw on cardboard. One day, as he was drawing a sketch of Haile Selassie, the Emperor of Ethiopia, he had another image come into his mind, of “a man’s face with his hair long and swep’ up, and somethin’ told me that this is the natural image of man.” Several years later, he began not cutting his hair and shaping it in imitation of his spirit master. About 1937, Martin’s inner voice told him, “You’re gonna 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.” He later learned that pasa means pass in Spanish and quoyan is an Asian word meaning bringing the past and future together. He began calling himself a Pasaquoyan, but St. EOM would not start building Pasaquan for two more decades.
Martin’s mother died in 1950, and her house became vacant. During the next seven years, he spent more time in Georgia, about four months a year while he still lived in New York, where his tea readings and fortune telling generated a good income. Two tenant farmers worked the land worked the land while he was gone. He created his first decorative pieces at the house to protect it while he was in New York. He placed two tombstone-like objects in front of the house. He remembered making a figure of Shiva, which he called the Hindu god of dance. A statuary piece of this scale still exists and might be the same piece. A photograph from the period shows two concrete slabs. The one on the left appears blank and the one on the right displays a drawing of one of his Pasaquoyan people and a cross. He told the tenant farmers, “If anybody walks by this thing while I’m gone, they’ll fall under a evil spell and drop dead.”
Martin started building Pasaquan in 1957 without any overall plan. Initially, he and D.W. Milner built a wall on the west side of the house, facing the road. Martin could see the designs in his mind, beautiful symbols but “very weird.” They represented the forces of the universe. He made big circles out of cement and attached them to wood. He and Milner then mounted these vertically on bricks and rocks. The wall included a serpent based on the James Churchward’s The Lost Continent of Mu: Motherland of Man; presumably, it ran along the top. He considered this snake wall a failure. As he built, St. EOM felt the presence of spirits who advised him about the design and even specified the length of walls. He usually added a little to their dimensions. Some visitors think that LSD produced the vivid colors and the profusion of designs. Martin only used marijuana, which he grew for his own use in the surrounding woods. As the work progressed, D.W. Milner’s cousins, Jimmy and Estes, joined the work force. The Milners built the basic walls, while St. EOM told fortunes. Then, when it came to time create, Martin would dismiss his waiting customers to execute his most loved task, creating a face or a symbolic image out of wet cement.
In 1963 – 64, Martin and his local helper built the elevated pagoda on the northwest corner of the complex. It covered an old well that existed when his mother bought the property. St. EOM believed the well would become a healing well after his death. The circular steps leading to the pagoda were connected to the dance circle in 1967, judging from the inscription on the base wall of the entrance to the circle – JLM 1967 – meaning Jimmy Milner incised that particular wave pattern. The disk on the opposite side of the wall is marked 1971, showing how the artist kept embellishing the site. St. EOM and his helpers worked on the complex for ten years without painting anything. They gave form to Martin’s spiritual ideas with cement walls, disks, columns, and totems using incised designs, drawings, and sculpted figures but without any paint. He wanted to travel to Mexico before he applied any color. In 1967, he set forth and drove to Mexico City. He toured Mayan cities, sought out Diego Rivera murals, and explored many sites. However, he was disappointed in the experience. Then, he had a spiritual experience on the roof of his hotel during a lightning storm.
Viewing the majesty of a snow-covered volcano in the midst of an intense storm, the spirit told him he was finished here. When Eddie returned to Pasaquan, he “was fully converted to the Indian way of life – thought, beliefs, heart, mind, soul, spirit, everything. So that’s when I went into makin’ beads and learnin’ about tapestries, and I started puttin’ the paint on these walls then.”
Between 1959 and 1986, Martin made a number of changes to the farmhouse – to the exterior and interior. There are two distinctly different sections – 1. A modified c. 1880s farmhouse clad in siding and 2. St. EOM’s fanciful additions with painted concrete walls, totems, and an extraordinary metal repousse embellishing every roof cornice. Few original interior materials remain. In addition to the 1880s farmhouse, there are four historic buildings located on the property – Kiva, Garage, Pagoda, and Studio. The Kiva is a semi-subterranean, square, one-half story building with a very low-pitched roof topped by a square monitor. A descending curve staircase flanked by walls with medallions and snakes provides access to this windowless space. Paintings of mandalas decorate two sides while on the front facade a large pair of eyes guards an entrance to the complex.
The garage is an elongated, one-car garage with a half-story storage area over the parking area. Four totem pillars support the four corners of the building.
The Pagoda is an elevated rectangular room supported by brightly painted cement pillars. A cement panel between the end piers on the north side features what appears to be Christian crosses on both sides. The only interior space is on the second floor with bright blue walls and ceiling decorated with Martin’s cosmic circles.
The Studio building was one of Martin’s final additions to the property. It is a rectangular building built of cinderblock covered with cement. The corners and center of the back of the building have typical totems with protruding noses and eyes.
Martin funded all of the construction through fortune telling and doing readings. The vast majority of his clients were African American. Martin tried to be the poor man’s psychiatrist, and he called himself a counselor. Most of their problems had to do with their love life, and Martin gave them very blunt, very explicit advice. He had little use for rich kids or soldiers from Fort Benning who came out for a lark. Toward the end of his life, he was tired of telling fortunes. At times he could be extremely gruff with customers and sightseers. His stern demeanor was reinforced by Boo and Nina, two large German Shepherds, who guarded him for 15 years. Even as he continued to make his costumes, do readings, and build, Martin’s health began to fail. In 1982, he had double by-pass surgery and also problems with his kidneys, prostate gland, and inner ears. In late 1984, he attempted suicide by taking an overdose of Nembutals. His last helper and live-in nurse, cook, and groundskeeper, Scotty Steward, got him to the hospital in time. In April of 1986, realizing he cold no longer control his life or be productive, St. EOM succeeded in killing himself with a .38 pistol. He was buried next to his mother in the Ramah Primitive Baptist Church cemetery in Buena Vista.
St. EOM willed his property to the Marion County Historical Society in order to preserve Pasaquan. They relinquished ownership in 2003 to the Pasaquan Preservation Society (PPS). PPS was formed in 1992 and originally chaired by Fred Fussell, who would later become its first director.
Today, Pasaquan is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is considered among the most important visionary art environments in the United States. To revitalize the site, philanthropic organization Kohler Foundation Inc., Pasaquan Preservation Society and Columbus State University partnered to restore the artistic masterpiece. After two years of restoration, Kohler gifted Pasaquan to CSU's Foundation. Columbus State University faculty, staff, students, and alumni have been directly involved in documentation of Pasaquan, the organization of archives and assisting with the conservation process. CSU alumni and students have worked with professional conservators from International Artifacts (Houston) and Parma Conservation (Chicago). Pasaquan is again open to the public Friday through Sunday.