When asked to describe the historic site known as Pasaquan, home of the late folk artist Eddie Owens Martin, it’s the book by Tom Patterson, “In the Land of Pasaquan,” that Michael McFalls refers to most often.
“He calls it a pre-Colombian psychedelic wonderland. I think that’s the best description for Pasaquan,” said McFalls, an associate professor of arts at Columbus State University and director of the 7-acre “visionary art” site outside Buena Vista, Ga., that is nearing completion of a major preservation project and grand opening this fall.
“Pasaquan has been an amazing experience,” said McFalls, who has been working with the Pasaquan Preservation Society and the Kohler Foundation — which is funding the restoration — to prepare the historic property for the general public and the academic world that includes students from CSU and other major universities.
“There’s a graduate student in historic preservation from Cornell University doing his research at Pasaquan right now. There’s a graduate student from University of Wisconsin doing research on Pasaquan,” the art professor said. “They’re not going to UGA. They’re coming here. I think that’s pretty interesting that little Columbus State University has got the big top 25 research schools coming to them to do their research and their archives.”
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Hope is building for Pasaquan, which dates to 1957 when the eccentric Martin, a native of Marion County, returned to the area after travels to the Northeast and began creating what some have called a compound. Colorful art is splashed all around, from masonry walls and buildings to murals and individual pieces of art that include his images of ancient cultures. Martin, who called himself St. EOM and dressed in regalia, died in 1986.
The local preservation group worked through the years to maintain the rural property, but applied for assistance more than two years ago through a program by the philanthropic organization Kohler Foundation Inc. The refurbishment work has taken two years and is almost complete, McFalls said, with additional interpretive elements added by CSU, which was gifted the site through its foundation by Kohler in late 2015.
The property, about 6 miles northwest of Buena Vista, also has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 2008. Pasaquan is about a 45-minute drive from downtown Columbus.
“The thing that we want to do is start doing programming and arts education out there for the community within the region. We hope to bring art groups out there,” McFalls said. “CSU’s job is to be a good steward of the site, but also to help interpret and develop people’s understanding of Eddie Martin’s creative differences. Eddie Martin was an odd character and I think a lot of people have a misunderstanding of who he was.”
In that vein, the professor recalls giving a tour of Pasaquan to a group of Marion County students. He asked any of them if they had heard of the site before and what they knew about it and Eddie Martin.
“The stories they told me were just completely backwards. It was all of this crazy myth,” he said. “Most of them thought there was some kind of devil dogs that lived on the grounds.”
McFalls said more than 70 students from CSU have had some sort of direct or indirect experience with the Pasaquan project. That has included a marketing plan developed by the university’s communications department and interpretive information compiled by students from Martin’s drawings, records and letters. An oral history of the area around Pasaquan also was gathered from local residents.
Some students also have held internships for either credit or pay working through the Kohler Foundation and the organizations hired to handle the preservation work on paintings and objects, including Parma Conservation and International Artifacts, the professor said.
“These are professional groups and our students are having hands-on experience with them,” McFalls said. “It’s been a great interdisciplinary kind of experience and I think it’s been really rewarding.”
Plans are to hold a grand opening for the general public at Pasaquan on Oct. 22, although tours of the site are already being given upon request and with a donation that goes to maintenance, the director said. The site previously had opened briefly a couple of times a year. The schedule now has it welcoming visitors 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursday through Friday all year, with the exception of December during the holidays and July when CSU’s staffing declines during the summer break.
As for some sort of tourism draw that will benefit Marion County and Buena Vista economically, McFalls said time will tell. There are estimates that the grand opening will draw between 800 and 1,000 people, and that Pasaquan might settle somewhere between 50 and 100 visitors each week.