Like Howard Finster, Eddie Martin was a man of visions. His just came from a different kind of place.
In the 1950s, while Finster was still hard at work on his first outdoor garden museum—the first incarnation of his Bible verse-soaked folk art kingdom Paradise Garden—Martin was living the wild life in New York. He’d escaped his rural Georgia home at the age of 14, hitchiking his way to Washington D.C. and to New York City, where he made a living doing everything from fortune-telling to gambling to street hustling. Then he got sick, and then the visions started to come. Three people from the future came to him in a dream, urging him to move back home to Georgia to create an artistic utopia. So Eddie Owens Martin canonized himself St. EOM and moved back to the old family homestead in Buena Vista, Georgia. Aided by his spiritual messengers and by marijuana, armed with hundreds of cans of Sherwin-Williams paint, St. EOM transformed his late mother’s simple farmhouse into the psychedelic temple of Pasaquan.
It took us around two hours to get to Buena Vista from Atlanta. We drove through suburbs and country towns, by rolling fields already green in early April. The scenery changed once we got closer. The green fields turned brown, and most of the forests we drove by were black and halfway burned, but the dull landscape just made Pasaquan stand out all the more. The Sherwin-Williams paint may have faded over the years, but St. EOM’s compound is still probably the brightest thing in all of Buena Vista.
Eddie Martin continued to add to Pasaquan until 1986, when he killed himself at the age of 77. Today Pasaquan is operated by the Pasaquan Preservation Society, and is open one day a month to visitors. When we went there the farmhouse was crowded with people, mostly young, walking through the exhibits inside and asking questions. We even overheard one couple planning a Pasaquan wedding, which sounded kind of amazing—maybe even as good a wedding at Rock City. I’ve read before that some visitors to Pasaquan pick up on weird vibes and can’t take it, but I thought it was a cheerful place, that the only menacing things there were the bees that made their home in the meditation building.
Well, Pasaquan has bees, but then so does Paradise Garden. Walking around St. EOM’s compound, it’s hard not to make comparisons between the two places, and I wondered if Eddie Martin and Howard Finster had ever met. Their brightly painted homesteads had a lot in common as far as looks go, but their subject matter couldn’t have been much different. I imagined that Pasaquan’s pagan totems and pretty obvious depictions of genitalia would have shocked Finster, and I thought that Paradise Garden’s tributes to Jesus and Coca Cola would have made St. EOM roll his eyes, and I could picture a real Georgia folk art rivalry. The late writer and poet Jonathan Williams knew both men, and in an essay on Howard Finster he describes a much more light-hearted relationship:
Before getting [to Paradise Garden], I discussed it all with that bodacious bad-ass, Eddie Owens Martin, St. EOM of the “Land of Pasaquan”— “the Big Injun,” as Howard called him. The Big Injun claimed he said things like: “I mean, I just love to tempt men of the cloth.” He’d get on the phone and say: “Reverend Finster, yessir, good buddy-roe, I’d sure like to get into your pants!” (This is one of those telephone conversations you doubt ever got made.) No matter. The Rev. Finster, a righteous Baptist of northwest Georgia persuasion, talked about “queery boys,” as one might expect. No matter. I never heard him speak unkindly of his great contemporary, Eddie Owens Martin, who was gayer than a square grape.
I wonder if those phone calls ever took place, or if the two men spent much time together in person. I’d like to think that they did. I’d like to imagine the “Big Injun” and the good reverend making jokes and poking fun at each other, maybe talking art and their favorite shades of Sherwin-Williams.