In 1985, native Vermonter Leonard Knight found himself trying to get a hot air balloon off the ground in the desert just north of Niland, California.
The balloon was hand sewn by Leonard and embroidered on the side was his personal creed… “God is Love”. After countless repairs on the patchwork balloon, he gave up. Leonard decided instead to build a small tribute to express his faith, starting modestly with a half bag of cement. 25 years later, Leonard’s work still isn’t done. He’s used adobe, hay bales and over 100,000 gallons of paint to craft a six story monument called Salvation Mountain. In demonstrating his personal faith; he’s created one of the most amazing folk art installations in the world.
I was introduced to Salvation Mountain in the 2007 movie Into the Wild. I’m a fan of interesting art and alternative lifestyles are always interesting to me. When I visited there this week, I was surprised to meet Leonard. I didn’t know what to expect. I’m not a religious person. He was reclined under an awning off the back of a late model Jeep Cherokee that was covered with his iconic artwork. His hearing isn’t good, but when he realized I was there, he sat up and welcomed me with an invitation to sit in the shade, out of the 103 degree heat.
We talked about growing up in New England and the power of the Internet to bring pictures of his mountain “all the way to China”. Leonard is a gentle man with a peaceful smile. He didn’t preach or inquire about my beliefs. He never asked for a donation. Actually, he gave me a DVD and was generous to let me make his portrait.