Pasaquan: Folk-art wonderland hidden in rural Georgia
Two hours south of Atlanta, Marion County seems unassuming to most travelers.
Story by John Jackson + Photos provided by Columbus State University
Although it’s mostly filled with farmland and sleepy communities, it has a secret: Pasaquan. This seven-acre historic property is unlike any other place in the whole Southeast, or perhaps even the country. Visitors often describe it as “magical,” “exquisite,” or “pure happiness.” Even more often, they are at a loss of words to explain what this gigantic piece of art really is.
In simplest terms, Pasaquan is an art installation. It has painted masonry walls, mandala murals, and sculptures. It was also once the home of its artist, Eddie Owens Martin, who lived and worked on it for several decades until his death. It still has the house where he lived, but the building now resembles a museum. Every surface, from the walls to the roof, is covered in his paintings and sculptures. Outside, there are towering totems, pagodas, and paintings of mystic people floating above the earth. The style resembles a blend of African, pre-Columbian, Native American, and Asian artwork. Martin intended his art to depict the future, but it feels as much like the past, or a mythological history that never existed. As you wander through, it’s easy to forget you’re still on earth, and perhaps you really have been transported to the mystical land from his paintings.
Martin was known as a crazy recluse during his lifetime. His list of occupations and activities included hitchhiking, prostitution, and fortune telling. He once saw a vision of a land in the future, where people could fly and live in peace with the natural world. His vision told him that this land was called Pasaquan, and he was going to be its prophet. After that, Martin dubbed himself St. EOM (pronounced “ohm”). He moved back to his hometown in Georgia and began building the land from his vision. It was his sanctuary from the outside world, which he viewed as corrupt and destructive.
After Martin’s death in 1986, the paint faded and the art deteriorated. Local enthusiasts had to work hard to restore it. As of 2016, the local Columbus State University brought it back to its former glory. They have opened it to the public, hoping to spread Martin’s vision of a beautiful, peaceful future.
If you choose to embark on the journey to Pasaquan, you may find yourself reminded of “The Road Less Traveled.” You will have to leave the busy interstates and navigate through smaller highways. You probably won’t pass many major destinations along the way, at least not within the last hour of your trip. Even when your GPS tells you that Pasaquan is just around the corner, don’t expect to see any big billboards or signs announcing it. Trees and chain-link fences hide Pasaquan from the outside. But once you park and walk through the gate, there is no denying that you have entered another land.
Pasaquan can be appreciated the same way that you would enjoy a park or a garden. It’s kid-friendly and it’s not big enough for anyone to get lost. To make the most out of your trip, you may want to pack a cooler with lunch for a picnic, or bring some take-out from one of the restaurants in the nearby town of Buena Vista. Your visit can be as long or as short as you would like. There’s plenty of room to run around or just lounge and enjoy the moment. Many visitors find it fulfilling to meditate or reflect on the artwork. Almost everyone is glad they brought a good camera.
On your way out, it’s worth visiting Buena Vista for some small-town southern cooking. There, it’s easy to find literature and artwork about Pasaquan and Eddie Martin’s life. One thing is sure: wherever you’re going next, whether it’s Columbus, Atlanta, or somewhere else, it will seem different now that you’ve traveled through the land of Pasaquan. It’s hard not to wonder, will Martin’s visions of the future ever come to reality?