God Is Love
February 11, 2014 1:35 AM   Subscribe

Out in a forgotten, dusty corner of Southern California, just east of the Salton Sea, Leonard Knight let his love and devotion to the Lord inspire a Technicolor vision on the desert floor. His creation came to be known as Salvation Mountain. On Monday, Leonard Knight passed away at the age of 82.

Knight seemed to enjoy sharing his vision with anyone who sought out his creation, accepted paint donations from visitors, but never wanted any more than living in his primitive settlement, without water or power, right next to the widely documented Mountain, where he could continuously work and greet visitors.

In 2011, Knight had to leave his mountain due to increasingly serious infirmity. But on rare occasion during this time, he got to visit his beloved mountain.

February 10, Knight died in his sleep about 1:40 p.m. in Eldorado Care Center in El Cajon, the place he had lived for the last two years.

Previously: 1, 2, 3
posted by 2N2222 (21 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
As homaged in Grand Theft Auto V, near the Alamo Sea, that game's analog of the Salton Sea.

Imgur picture
posted by GallonOfAlan at 2:36 AM on February 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

Rest in peace, Leonard. The Salton Sea is a special place in my heart, and you were an important person who helped make it that way.

Thank you for this post!
posted by Old Man McKay at 3:01 AM on February 11, 2014

posted by eclectist at 4:05 AM on February 11, 2014

Aw, hell. He was such a sweet man. I have fond memories of the time that a group of us roadtripped out from LA to meet Leonard and to help paint the Mountain.
posted by Optamystic at 4:49 AM on February 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


Who will upkeep the mountain-art? :(
posted by dabitch at 6:34 AM on February 11, 2014

Just a month or two ago, we watched a documentary on the Salton Sea which featured this fine fellow. His creation is one of those wonderful surprises in life, a spontaneous and ongoing devotion to something beautiful.
posted by Atreides at 6:35 AM on February 11, 2014

posted by Atreides at 6:36 AM on February 11, 2014

Atreides, that's a special documentary. I too would recommend it.

The Salton Sea may be the most unique, bizarre place in America. Any time I get someone interested in it, they are blown away by the cast of characters that have really changed the Sea, like Leonard. That documentary does a great job of getting that across.
posted by Old Man McKay at 6:45 AM on February 11, 2014

I went out and visited Salvation Mountain a few years back with a friend of mine (photos). We're both your usual ironic detached snarksters, areligious, ready to have our kooky experience laughing at the weird Christian folk art. Then we walked in and were completely disarmed by Leonard. He was charming and hospitable and friendly and quickly dismantled our ironic distance. His sincerity was profound as was his simple and kind religious message. "Jesus Loves You", "All People You Are Loved". And the monument he built is captivatingly intimate, particularly the interior spaces. I left with a newfound respect for Leonard's gentle kind of religious belief, not to mention his art. (And $20 lighter; he was appropriately not shy in requesting donations.)

He didn't look terribly healthy when we visited and I have to think living in the back of a car in the desert wasn't helping. But he seemed happy and entirely in his element. He must have hated the last two years in a hospital. I hope he kept the joy of his faith.
posted by Nelson at 7:18 AM on February 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

Nelson, when we visited the Salton Sea and Salvation Mountain 4 years ago my partner and I were really caught off guard with Leonard's warmth and sincerity. I knew he was religious and devoting his life to this religious work of art, but being in his presence and going on the tour with him was humbling.

There was a family with two kids who was there when we were. It was a weird juxtaposition because the kids really didn't care about anything and just ran around. The parents were trying to wrangle them but seemed more put out that the kids were being kids. My partner and I, we just hung on Leonard's words and demonstrations (such as how to make a flower).

I feel very fortunate to have had the chance to meet him and experience Salvation Mountain with him. While is passing is not totally unexpected (his helper told us he was starting to slow down back then), it's still very sad.

posted by kendrak at 7:35 AM on February 11, 2014 [3 favorites]


On a Salton Sea expedition last year about this time, my best friend and I tried to see Salvation Mountain and Slab City, but the sheriff had the road blocked out there for some reason. Sorry to have missed him - hopefully his life's work will live on.
posted by Celsius1414 at 8:53 AM on February 11, 2014

posted by ecourbanist at 8:57 AM on February 11, 2014

posted by Hairy Lobster at 9:18 AM on February 11, 2014

posted by dogwalker at 11:47 AM on February 11, 2014

posted by holyrood at 12:25 PM on February 11, 2014

I visited salvation mountain last spring and missed meeting leonard; he'd already been moved to a home. even without his presence, that place got me in the gut. those colors, that scope, that desert silence. I wrote a little bit about it here.

rest in peace, mountain-maker.

posted by changeling at 12:56 PM on February 11, 2014

Like so many others have said, he was a sweet man. I met him a couple of times & his genuine excitement at welcoming visitors and his commitment to his idiosyncratic project were inspiring.
posted by univac at 12:06 AM on February 12, 2014

posted by TurquoiseZebra at 7:45 AM on February 12, 2014

Was just coming here to post this. Did not know he was from Vermont!
posted by jessamyn at 9:23 AM on February 12, 2014

In between intermittent internet connection, been sitting on this one for about a week now. I don't know what kind of hyperactive-paralyzing-self-critical fear it is that prevents me from ever typing in the comment box. Lurkers gonna lurk, I suppose.

I had the good fortune of meeting Leonard Knight shortly before he was moved. I don't really know how to explain what it feels like to see, to experience such a physical manifestation of love. Choked up, eyes watering seemed all too certain.

He gave me a copy of his DVD, A Lifetime of Childlike Faith. He hoped the message would spread, that everyone would know they were loved. I'm currently serving in Peace Corps and had to pack away everything I owned for two years in two bags - this is one of the personal items I chose to bring with me. I don't intend to ever rewatch it, but simply having it on my shelf reminds me why I'm here, why anyone is still here in this crazy mixed up thing we call life.

Do it. For the love.
posted by idealist at 9:55 PM on February 19, 2014

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