Salvation Mountain – Leonard Knight
November 1, 1931-February 10, 2014
Built: Mid 1980s-2012
“Jesus, I am a sinner. Please come upon my body and into my heart.” (October, 2006)
“…I still like to do it my way. I’m gonna make a lot of mistakes, but let me make ‘em.”
Oh, my heart is broken at the news of Leonard’s passing. I had the great fortune to meet Leonard a few years ago at his masterpiece. Salvation Mountain. It just happened to be the day Sean Penn and his crew were there to film “Into the Wild”. The crew had asked him to save his voice for the filming that afternoon, but he did no such thing. He took us all over his creation – an adobe mountain of 100,000 gallons of house paint, straw and mud – regaling us with stories of his love for (and arguments with) Jesus.
Yep, a hundred thousand gallons of paint (we brought him three more) have gone into the sculpture/structure so far. He mixes his own adobe with mud and hay that he finds nearby, adding old tires and other castoffs from the desert to help him build his complex. In 1994, the state of California wanted to tear down the mountain (which can be seen in satellite photos) claiming is was a toxic waste site. Luckily, folks took up the cause and Salvation Mountain was saved.
There’s an almost biblical feel to the architecture, set off by a technicolor paint scheme in which he renders larger than life messages and verses from the Bible. Leonard wants people to know that God loves them, but he doesn’t preach. He’d rather let his mountain do that for him. If you want to talk art, he’s glad to do that, if it’s religion that’s on your mind, he’s up for that too.
And he plays a bit of guitar as well, a good way to amuse himself since there’s no electricity or running water out here. Just a very happy man with a mission.
Bottom line is this, Leonard wants everybody to know that “God is love.” I say Leonard was love. Some people would say it in church or a book, write it in letters or a song, maybe even paint it in a picture. Leonard built a mountain in the desert.
I’ll be back with more later, but I have to go now.
(the following is excerpted from “Fantasy Worlds” by Deidi Von Schaewen and John Maizels)
Leonard Knight spent five years in Nebraska sewing together a hot air balloon bearing the words “God Is Love.” The balloon grew so big, 100 metres high, that he was never able to get it off the ground. In 1986, he drove to the Mojave Desert in his dump truck with a house built on its back, tried flying the balloon there, failed again and gave up.
He decided to build a monument to God on a desert ridge instead. Carving and molding the surface, using thousands of gallons of donated paint, he covered hundreds of metres of the ridge with evangelical messages and decorations.
“God Is Love” flourished amidst fields of flowers and cascading waterfalls. After three years work the mountain collapsed but instead of quitting, Knight learned from his mistakes, switched from using heavy concrete to lighter adobe to shape the mountain, and started over again.
Knight’s home is his trailer, richly decorated in his distinctive style and emblazoned with messages of love. Leonard Knight has lived without electricity for 17 years.
Today Salvation Mountain stands bigger than ever and Knight continues working on it, welcoming visitors by the hundreds from around the world.”
“Detour Art—Outsider, Folk Art, and Visionary Folk Art Environments Coast to Coast, Art and Photographs from the Collection of Kelly Ludwig” by Kelly Ludwig, Kansas City Star Books, 2007.
On DVD – Rare Visions and Roadside Revelations, “Cali-Zona, Here We Come,” KCPT, Kansas City Public Television, 2007.
“Self Taught, Outsider, and Folk Art—A guide to American Artists, Locations and Resources” by Betty-Carol Sellen with Cynthia J. Johnson, McFarland & Company, 2000.
“Raw Creation: Outsider Art and Beyond” by John Maizels, Phaidon Press; New Ed edition, 1996, 2000.
“American Self-Taught Art: An Illustrated Analysis of 20th Century Artists and Trends with 1,319 Capsule Biographies” by Florence Laffal and Julius Laffal, 2003.
“Rare Visions and Roadside Revelations Coast to Coast Travel-o-Pedia” by Randy Mason, et. al., Kansas City Star Books, 2009.