Artist Eddie Owens Martin, aka St. EOM, created a folk art paradise in the piney woods of southwest Georgia.
I’ve heard of this radiant art oasis for years but finally, after a trip to Columbus, Ga., I was both within a quick drive to Pasaquan and had the time. Nothing could prepare me for what I found in this sprawling seven-acre compound in the piney woods of southwest Georgia.
Eddie Owens Martin grew up on a farm outside Buena Vista, Ga., but struggled to fit in as a gay man in the Deep South. He was also constantly at odds with his father and realized his future lay elsewhere. Martin left home at age 14 and hitchhiked to Atlanta, Washington, D.C. and then New York City, where he worked as a street hustler, drag queen, fortune teller and bartender. He tried his hand at painting but could never break into the New York art scene.
When Martin’s mother passed away in 1957 he assumed ownership of the Georgia property. He moved in, wore colorful clothes and feathered headdresses and earned money for 40 years telling fortunes to the residents of that corner of the world, calling himself the “poor man’s psychiatrist.”
He also created art.
Martin envisioned a tribe of Pasaquoyan and over 30 years decorated the Georgia compound of six structures and more than 900 feet of masonry walls with “African, pre-Columbian Mexico and Native American cultural and religious symbols and designs, along with motifs inspired by Edward Churchward’s books about ‘The Lost Continent of MU,’” according to Columbus State University, which maintains the site. Martin even changed his name to St. EOM.
According to the CSU website:
“For St. EOM, Pasaquan represents the future. It is his personal utopia, where all cultures and ethnic groups can come together in harmony and connect with the earth and the universe.
"At Pasaquan, St. EOM incorporated both spiritual concepts from ancient cultures and futuristic ideas of levitation transportation. In the end, St. EOM was able to communicate the traditions of Pasaquoyanism to the viewers of the future with colorful, pluralistic designs that cover the entire site.”
In his own words:
“I built this place to have something to identify with. Here I can be in my own world, with my temples and designs and the spirit of God. I can have my own spirits and my own thoughts.”
Martin committed suicide in 1986 and the property fell into ruin. The Pasaquan Preservation Society (PPS) worked to preserve the site listed on the National Register of Historic Places and, in 2014, the Kohler Foundation Inc., PPS and Columbus State University partnered to restore Pasaquan to what it is today. After restoration, Kohler gifted the property to CSU’s foundation.
Pasaquan lies deep in the piney woods of southwest Georgia. It’s not easy to find — very few signs — so we relied heavily on our GPS. Finally, down a rough country road, we discovered this colorful island in a sea of green pine trees.
The site is open to visitors from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays through Sundays. A visit requires no fee but a donation is welcomed. The farmhouse offers a video on Martin’s eccentric life and the property’s history. Rooms contain fabulous mandalas in brilliant colors, Martin’s paintings and furniture he created, such as a chair made from linoleum, wood and metal.
In the kitchen are paintings of Pasaquoyans wearing “levitation” suits and hovering above the ground. Martin believed these pressure points shown in the paintings would allow people to levitate. Martin made a suit for himself and was asked if it worked. He replied, “No, but I felt real light!”
On the day we arrived, CSU art interns were busy touching up the outdoor artwork with colors matched to the original hues. Because of the harsh Southern weather, the art needs constant attention, so please be sure to leave a donation.
If you go…
Nearby Columbus offers first-rate hotels (we recommend City Mills), several great dining establishments, the Springer Opera House, the state theater of Georgia, and world-class museums — we can go on and on but will have to describe the city in detail in another post. If you visit Pasaquan, do make Columbus your landing pad.
Marion County has many other structures besides Pasaquan on the National Register of Historical Places including two standing antebellum courthouses, Shiloh Baptist Church (originally an 1835 Methodist mission for Native Americans), the site of Ft. Perry (1813 stockade star shaped fort) on the Old Federal Road, the Bartram Trail (William Bartram trekked the Federal Road in 1774 and camped at Pine Knot Creek) and various homes.
Weird, Wacky & Wild South is written by travel journalist Cheré Coen who always brakes for the unusual, especially folk art in the wild, of which the South has many. Thanks to her carpool buddy Karon Warren who agreed to the side trip but we know she had as much fun here as we did.