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Carole Rutland: Preserving Pasaquan

Over the past 20 years, Columbus citizens have had more than a few community conversations to discuss art in public spaces. Some became grist for extraordinary ideas of what should or should not appear in public places while other discussions led to serious disagreements. But in the end, no one person or organization defines what art is or isn't.

Neither can we calculate the enduring value of any given piece of art based on our own individual tastes. Opposing points of view are always part of the debate.

On the other hand, it's difficult to appreciate the extraordinary beauty of something right in your own backyard. And, if it is at the same time very different even a little bizarre, you may not want to admit this amazing object or painting might be extraordinary!

Pasaquan is one of the Chattahoochee Valley region's hidden treasures; and because of a commitment from a few devoted women and men over a period of decades, we could have a front row seat as the next chapter is written in its history.

At the Spencer Environmental Center in downtown Columbus on 12th Street, the Coalition for Sound Growth strives to recognize and preserve regional archaeological and historical resources throughout the Chattahoochee and Flint watersheds and region. Monday, Oct. 26, you have an opportunity to hear a brief overview of the ongoing restoration and rediscovery of Pasaquan.

A past, present and future summary of this enormous project will take place at the lunch hour and incorporate most of Pasaquan's current major players including Columbus State University's Michael McFalls (who takes over as Pasaquan director after The Kohler Foundation restoration is complete several months from now), Fred Fussell (former director of The Pasaquan Preservation Society and former curator of the Columbus Museum) and Cathy Fussell (former director of the CSU Carson McCullers House and member of the Pasaquan Preservation Society).

An internationally renowned visionary art site, Pasaquan is located in Marion County near Buena Vista and is currently being rediscovered by artists and historians from around the world after being mostly hidden from view since the 1986 death of founder and artist Eddie Owen Martin.

A bit of background:

Eddie Owen Martin was born in 1908 to a sharecropper couple at the stroke of midnight on the Fourth of July in Glen Alta, Ga., just a few miles from Buena Vista. (Later Eddie would name himself St. EOM, pronounced "Ohm.") According to stories, St. EOM, a self-styled psychic saint, said the visionary design of Pasaquan came to him after he'd been living in New York for several years. After his death, Pasaquan began to fall into disrepair. Even the protection offered by the Marion County Historical Society couldn't keep up with the decline of the Pasaquan structures.

Eerily, St. EOM may be working his magic once again as Pasaquan comes back from the dead through the Kohler Foundation's recent restoration with its collaborators. Most recently the Pasaquan Preserva

tion Society won the State of Georgia's 2015 Governor's Award for the Arts and Humanities.

What's the secret behind this man who was Eddie Martin and his vast colorful creation?

Maybe it was Halley's Comet that worked the magic. Like Mark Twain, he went out with Halley's Comet during its famed 1986 return. His life was intriguing and filled with countless unsettling and riveting events. Even so, the constant restlessness must have contributed in some way to his unimaginable art.

I moved to Columbus in 1966 and later met Eddie Martin, but I never had my fortune read. I was a bit intimidated by him but, couldn't help being caught up in the magical feeling of the world he built around himself. We traded for some of his art work, beads, necklaces, and a magnificent purse with beautiful hand-painted drawings and surrounding beads which I still have and cherish.

Martin was a trader and would barter for those items he needed to create his treasure trove. Many of his works of art, including purses with dangling shells, necklaces of whale bone, beaver teeth, and turkey beards, were possible because of his bartering contacts. He was truly amazing.

Futhermore, I had several close encounters (of the strange kind) at Pasaquan.

One was in 1996 (just 10 years after St EOM's death) and Comet Hale-Bopp had swung around the sun and just reached the point where it was visible to the naked eye. It was rumored this comet was going to be extremely bright but there was no way to know how bright until it rounded the sun, and we were not to be disappointed.

Stargazers always want a better view with dark skies and Pasaquan was the ideal place. We brought lots of telescopes and Cathy Fussell cooked up some UFO cookies for a really large group of folks who showed up to see the comet and also visit Pasaquan.

The location is spellbinding and thrilling all at the same time and so very appropriate that we were at Eddie Martin's astonishing home for a grand view of Comet Hale-Bopp. (For those of you who know the rest of the story share it at will.)

We are all caretakers of a passageway along the Chattahoochee/Flint River Watershed through a unique cultural heritage instant in time. It's ours for just a moment.

When we choose to preserve, we give ourselves and our descendants a little more time to share this world with something very unique. We create a greater sense of who we are and how our place fits into another speck in history.

You can be a part of the discussion by emailing Coalition for Sound Growth at

Carole Rutland, former executive director of Riverway South, is coordinator for the Coalition for Sound Growth;