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Richard Hyatt: A move that will preserve a legacy

Eddie Owens Martin spread out a deck of oversized playing cards on the table between us and with imposing German Shepherds on either side of him he told my fortune. His flowing beard and colorful head covering added to the spectacle and so did his kitschy costume.

His performance was flawless, but the self-proclaimed St. EOM never hinted that my future would include three years living on the grounds of the eccentric sanctuary he called Pasaquan.

Pasaquan was his outdoor canvas. He transformed wooded land in Marion County into a shrine to weirdness using store-bought paint to decorate the concrete walls and put unworldly faces on the majestic totem poles.

St. EOM said it was "a place where the past and the present and everything else comes together." It was also the place where he was born in 1908 and the place where he committed suicide in 1986, after laying out the African chieftain's gown in which he wanted to be buried.

He grew up as Eddie Owens Martin, a young man who became a New York City street hustler who learned to be a showman and a charlatan that could foresee your future. He returned as St. EOM, telling of visions that revealed him to be the religious leader of a movement of one.

After his death, Pasaquan began to decay. Vandals were paying midnight visits and supporters needed a resident manager. I moved there in 1991, living in a small building that Eddie used to dry the marijuana plants that were his only crop. The weed provided income and soothed his runaway thoughts.

In the 20 years since I found more normal addresses, Pasaquan has struggled. The Pasaquan Preservation Society, inspired by the passion of folklorist Fred Fussell, has worked diligently to preserve and protect one man's definition of art and creativity.

Last week came a move that hopefully will sustain the site for future generations. Wisconsin-based Kohler Foundation, nationally known for its preservation of art environments, will restore the seven-acre site, and when their work is done Pasaquan will be given to the Columbus State University Foundation and CSU's Department of Art.

At last, Pasaquan will receive the professional support it deserves, preserving the legacy of a backwoods original who will never been duplicated. The future is brighter but St. EOM probably knew that.