Leonard Knight of Salvation Mountain passes away at 82

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.

Leonard Knight - Salvation Mountain

About three weeks ago, I was indulging in my favorite hobby of telling Leonard what was going on at his mountain. We now have two couples living there and working together as caretakers/docents/security etc. etc. This, plus the efforts of the monthly work parties, the Mountain is looking great! It is also receiving more media attention. Leonard stopped me and said it looks like all his dreams are coming true. Even more than he dared hope for! He said this with a smile on his lips but his eyes were sad. I have certainly seen Leonard fatigued or sick in the past few years, but I had not seen sad acceptance and resignation before. This haunted me. This past December and January has been challenging for him health wise. This, coupled with the realization that his eyesight, hearing and ability to walk with the prosthetic leg are not improving, has led him to see that he’ll not be returning to his beloved mountain. A week later he told me that there just isn’t anything he could do here anymore to help the mountain or the message. Maybe, he said, I can do something from the other side.
Leonard has since stopped eating. His remedy for every ailment has long been “going off my feed” or fasting to give his body a rest. This used to drive Kevin Eubank (Leonard’s 24/7 caregiver from Oct.’09 to Dec. ’11) absolutely crazy! This can work if you’re overall health is strong enough, but not if you are already frail.
Leonard entered Hospice last Thursday.
As I was writing this, I just got the call from Eldorado Care Center that our beloved Leonard past away peacefully at 1:40pm PST today. Sorry for the abruptness and lack of warning, We all thought we had more time.
I’ll be back with more later, but I have to go now.
Dan Westfall

Leonard Knight - Salvation Mountain

(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.