(This article appears in Issue #1 of Americana Magazine, True Blue, written and photographed by Margaret Malandruccolo)
I lived in Southern California for fourteen years before I ever heard of Salvation Mountain, and then all of a sudden I heard about it incessantly from different people from different walks of life. So finally, I had to visit and photograph this incredible piece of Americana Obscura. Road trip time!
This art mountain has been called “a visionary environment,” “a national treasure,” and “profoundly strange and beautifully accessible,” (by California senator Barbara Boxer). Created by Imperial County, California local resident Leonard Knight (1932-2014), the mountain was made from adobe, straw and thousands of gallons of lead-free paint. It displays hundreds of Christian sayings and Bible verses in a colorful, eclectic, interactive experience to rival a theme park.
While not religious myself, I have a profound respect for people who spread good actions and inspire others to do the same. My experience at Salvation Mountain was one of awe and joy. I couldn’t believe this mountain was actually standing, that it has lasted decades, and that one man had the dedication and vision to make this happen, creating a legacy and spreading joy through his most personal expression.
As with most outsider art, the obvious questions and criticisms arise, but the awe over-took me. I didn’t need to know “why,” I was just glad that it was.
While Leonard passed away in 2014, visitors and volunteers pitch in to maintain and protect the project from the harsh desert environment, donating time and paint. In 2012, Salvation Mountain, Inc. was established as a public charity. As visitors attest, it must be seen to be fully appreciated.