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Arts & Culture

Efforts To Save Salvation Mountain Under Way

Salvation Mountain, with the moon rising.
Angela Carone
Salvation Mountain, with the moon rising.

As I reported earlier this week, folk/outsider artist Leonard Knight was admitted to a local long-term care facility, raising questions about the future of his desert-based artwork, Salvation Mountain.

Efforts are under way to secure the mountain's future, including increased momentum on establishing a non-profit organization. A coalition of volunteers, including friends of Knight's and representatives from SPACES (an organization that supports the preservation of outsider art) will meet in the coming days to explore future stewardship of Salvation Mountain.

In the meantime, volunteers are working to protect and maintain it. Athan Pixler has been involved with the mountain's upkeep and Knight's care since 2009. He also manages Salvation Mountain's Facebook page. He will spend the Christmas holidays away from his family, guarding the mountain and conducting maintenance.


Pixler said an immediate issue is the daily patchwork Salvation Mountain requires. He added, "If we have another wet winter, there are parts of the mountain that could collapse. We want to make sure that doesn't happen."

Further, there is always concern about vandals and theft if Salvation Mountain is left unattended.

The Imperial Valley Press reports that nearby residents of Slab City are part of the efforts to maintain Salvation Mountain. Slab City is a unique community of year-round, off-the-grid desert dwellers and annual snowbirds who arrive in their RVs and set up camp for the winter.

One important question remains: Who owns the land Salvation Mountain is built on? Officials are not sure if that parcel of desert land is owned by the state of California.

One of the preservation possibilities is for a non-profit to partner with a museum. Pixler says talks are under way with three different museums (Pixler would not name the institutions for fear of influencing negotiations).


I spoke with Jo Hernandez, the executive director of SPACES, earlier this week and she mentioned a similar option. "There are many alternatives that we’ve seen with art environments in terms of successfully maintaining them and sometimes it can mean we remove the site as much as possible and recreate it inside a museum," she said.

But both Pixler and Hernandez say those are options only if Salvation Mountain cannot be preserved as is. Hernandez said she's heartened by "the fact that there are some people down there already being proactive about this."

When I spoke to Curtis Fossum, chief officer with the California State Lands Commission, he talked about what would be required if Salvation Mountain were designated a cultural resource.

Hernandez said such a designation does not ensure the artwork's preservation.

One of the suggestions people often make is let's make it a state historical landmark or a national historical landmark. But unfortunately we’ve seen that, even if they were to get that designation, it doesn’t necessarily protect them and it certainly, in these days, doesn’t bring funding from the state.

There seems to be overall agreement that Salvation Mountain requires an immediate plan of daily upkeep combined with collaboration and planning for its future.