Editor's note: The following essay was reprinted in Resource Library on March 8, 2008 with the permission of Peter Hastings Falk. If you have questions or comments regarding the texts, please contact Mr. Falk directly through Hastings Art Management Services, inc., P.O. Box 833, Madison, CT 06443, or:
The Cosmic Visions of Ed Nelson
by Peter Hastings Falk
[Madison, Conn: Falk Art Reference, 2007]
Traveling southeast of Portland, Oregon, it takes less than an hour to reach the foothills of the Cascade Mountain range and Mount Hood National Forest. With good directions, you may discover Colton, a tiny town set amidst the beautiful wilderness in Clackamas County. Colton was settled by a group of Swedish immigrants in 1865. They were loggers of the tall Douglas fir, whose trunks were floated downstream and then cut and sold as railroad ties. It wasn't until just after 1900 that English was taught at the local log cabin school. Today, there is a gas station, a fire department, a store, and several small churches. The town's former telephone repairman recalled, "We've got fourteen people, two dogs, and one scruffy cat."
The region recalls the Old West. Herds of wild horses still roam freely here in the sagebrush. Coyote and black bears abound in the hills. And schoolteachers have been told to be vigilant for cougars while the children are playing at recess. In small towns like Colton, another species of local wildlife can be seen at the bars, often wearing holsters with side-arms. Logging and farming seem to be the main businesses here, but economic growth is not on most people's agenda. Ever since the hippie counterculture discovered the area in the mid 1960s, the major crop has been marijuana. But the Feds claim they are at least making progress in eliminating the once-ubiquitous meth labs hidden in the woods. For visitors to Colton, a car in good working order is a necessity. A cell phone is a smart addition, but reception is spotty. It is equally important to travel with a friend. The main reason the back roads are generally unsafe is that rifle shots at lone drivers are a common report.
Back in the 1960s and 1970s, one of the more notorious of shooters was Edward M. Nelson. Ed had become inreasingly paranoid that people were trying to steal his land, his inventions, and his paintings. As a result, he became fiercely protective of these three treasures he considered sacred. From the high vantage point of his property he could spot anyone approaching on the country road, and would drive them away with his guns. Everyone in town knew he was as a dead shot with his rifle. Even from a long distance he could hit anything that moved between the eyes. Those few who were allowed to enter his property also knew him as Melvin E. Nelson, the old hermit artist. As the creator of "Original Astral-Planetary Art," Ed signed his paintings with the initials, "M.E.N," which also stood for "Mighty Eternal Nation."
Actually, Ed knew nothing of art before he moved to the hilltop farm in Colton. He was born in Traverse City, Michigan in 1908, but little is known of his youth or family except that he claimed to be a descendent of Admiral Lord Nelson and of Martin Luther. In 1942, at thirty-five years old, he suddenly abandoned his wife and infant daughter in Michigan and moved to Portland. In retrospect, the break was surely the result of the emergence of his schizophrenia. He found work as an electrician at the Willamette Iron & Steel Company, a major shipbuilding firm during World War Two. After the war he worked as a "troubleshooter and investigator electrician" and by 1957 he was working as an installer for the phone company. Around 1958, he invited his old buddy, Cleo McClintock -- whom he called "Mac"-- to move with him to Colton where he had purchased a beautiful eighty-acre tract in the rolling wooded hills. Ed had likely met Mac while working on a municipal building project when Mac was employed at a Public Works laboratory in Portland. Coincidentally, in 1958 Mac had just filed a patent for an "air engine," which took advantage of the heat built up from the compression of the pistons. In Colton, both had finally found the remoteness considered ideal for the privacy they required to further develop their electronics and inventions. In addition, in his extensive writings, Ed referred to the farm as a place where he finally attained "peace and perfect life in a restored paradise." A trout stream ran through rolling fields and dense forest. Plus, the farm was located high in the hills and provided a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside.
Ed looked and acted every part the hermit. He had long white hair and a long beard. He refused to bathe or shower. According to one account, in 1978 he bragged that he had not bathed in over ten years and that he and Mac wore their clothes until they rotted off. They even refused to wear new clothes that had been given to them.
Mac was much shorter and had closely-cropped white hair. He was older than Ed by seven years, but did not have Ed's robust health. They always referred to themselves as brothers. Mac had even assigned ownership in his air engine patent to Ed. Officially they were listed as equal partners in the business of farming. They tended to cows, sheep, chickens, and rabbits. As testament, an enormous manure pile grew not far from Ed's dilapidated shack.
But their passion was inventions.
The rumor was that Ed and Mac worked on radar research at the shipyard during the war. One barn was filled with unusual generators, coils, radar equipment, antennae, and various types of electronic gear. Ed claimed to be able to levitate objects with his "cyclotronic generator." But he especially prized his "planetron," which was capable of generating cosmic energy, in much the same manner as a nuclear accelerator. In addition, the planetron provided a viewing window through which Ed could record his views of outer space as well as receive communications from UFOs. Meanwhile, the four-thousand square feet of his biggest barn was reserved to house his various rock-crushing machines and, of course, his supply of cosmic rocks and minerals. After all, it was with these machines that Ed was busy manufacturing his secret "stardust" which was an essential ingredient of the natural pigments he ground and prepared for the class of paintings he called "Photo Genetics." Even more secrets were stored in an old ice truck. Any passersby were confronted by "No Trespassing" signs posted all over the property.
Ed lived in a log cabin built in the 1860s by the Swedish settlers, which provided barely four-hundred square feet of space. Mac lived in another cabin. In all, there were sixteen buildings scattered about the property, most of which were in ill-repair. They ranged from barns to shacks to out-houses to dilapidated trailers. Ed's obsessive nature as a packrat spilled over to most of the buildings, including a sixty-foot barn made of steel posts and tin siding, with a concrete floor and a pot-belly stove. The contents would have been an antique dealer's dream, but few people were allowed inside. The interior could best be described as a path. That is, upon entering the house, one was immediately channeled to a narrow path that wound its way from room to room amidst stacks of books, magazines, and papers, some piled on juke boxes. Together with boxes, antiques, ephemera, and various objects, these stacks formed walls towering up to the ceilings on both sides of the path. Eventually, one would arrive at a clearing with a small table and chairs. Venturing a bit further down the path, one would discover a clearing for a bed. Further still was the area for an old pot-belly stove.
Children are natural uninhibited artists. As they get older, some focus more intently on exploring the arts. And as young adults, some discover that art is their true passion. Accordingly, they pursue the acquisition of skills, the mastering of materials and techniques, and the refinement of their vision. After a few decades, the mature artist is born.
Ed Nelson had no formal artistic training. But on March 12th, 1961, at age fifty-four, he was suddenly reborn as an artist. A cosmic artist. The catalyst for his ephiphany is not clear, but it is certainly linked to his experiments with electronics, magnetism, and light as well as his observations of UFOs and his contact with aliens. In any event, in one moment he clearly experienced an intuitive perception that opened a door revealing the microcosm of atomic structure as well as the macrocosm that is the universe. From this point on, Ed was acutely aware of his destiny. He must share with the world his discovery of the relationship between the sub-atomic world and the vast cosmos. He continued to create secret electronic gadgets with which he obsessively experimented in the observation of light and the forms of its radiation. Ultimately, he discovered new ways to record what he called "the spiritual atoms world controlled by magnetic light." In his extensive notes, he explained that there are two types of light. "The world of spiritual atoms is controlled by magnetic light. The world of material atoms is controlled by magnetism. The Planatary [sic] worlds are controlled by the differential movement of magnetic light and magnetism or the proto plasma of light." [Sept 3rd, 1962]
During a period that lasted only from 1961 to 1966, Ed recorded his observations with two distinctly different techniques and mediums. The first he called "Photo Genetics." Essential to the process were his "sacred" pigments, which he created by roaming his property - soon revered as a magical place - gathering certain rocks and minerals. The most important source was his "quarry," a natural cut into the hillside that was about thirty feet wide and eight feet high, exposing different layers of colored clays. Another source was discovered as he observed UFOs landing on his property, typically at the bottom of the canyon, near the creek. In the deep darkness after midnight, after watching a UFO for hours, he would carefully observe the craft's position. When the craft finally lifted off it would usually travel east over 8,000-foot Goat Mountain. Ed would then immediately rush to the landing site and collect the soil and rocks from the spot where the landing feet had rested on the ground.
Returning to the barn with his rocks and soils, Ed would grind them in an old "gold-crusher" that was cranked by hand. Because the spaceship had come from the heavens, he called this crushed material stardust. It was almost always after midnight that he would gather his stardust pigments and paper and roam his property to determine the varying strengths of magnetic forces and energies he felt being emitted from specific spots. His procedure was performed much like that of a dowser, except instead of using a y-shaped twig he used his sacred pigments on paper, observing their reactions to the fluxes in the magnetic fields of the land. It was as if he, too, possessed the same sense of magnetoreception that is integral to migratory birds. Once he found the correct locations, he created what he called his "recordings" under the stars. His purpose was ostensibly to allow the atoms in the pigment particles to release their unique image on paper, thereby portraying a true and intimate relationship to "Worlds from Outer Space." Night after night, under the numinous force of ritual, he would work in a trance-like state, appearing to drift off into an oneiric never-never land. Writing about his "Photo Genetics" images, he clarified that "These pictures are of the worlds of Tomorrow, with the design and creation of the mightiest of atoms." In a scientific manner, he fully described the significance of each recording, noting the exact time and date of each creation.
Ed called his second recording technique "Sentra Photo Thesis." In contrast to the "Photo Genetics," this series was painted with traditional watercolor or acrylic pigments. And, whereas the "Photo Genetics" explored the magnetic life of the atomic microcosm, the "Sentra Photo Thesis" revealed the relationship between those atoms and all the planets. Plus, all were painted by direct observation from his vantage point in outer space, which he reached via astral projection. He accomplished this with the aid of an invention he called the "anyzager," an "instrument of truth." It was with this "same instrument that God can see all things upon the earth below."
Ed called his second recording technique "Sentra Photo Thesis." First, he made his "on-the-spot" drawings in pencil on paper, typically on any scrap that he could find, ranging from junk mail envelopes to letterheads to and supermarket flyers. He also drew on old electrical plans and blueprints he had brought with him from Portland, as well as a large supply of menus dated 1949-1950 from a restaurant in Portland. Next, using these drawings as his guides he would recreate the cosmic scene in watercolor. The two symbols appearing most frequently in his watercolors and drawings depict the "earthly" or "material" atoms (above left), which are sperm-like in shape; and, the "planetary" or "spiritual" atoms (above right), which are shaped like caterpillars with arrow heads and tails indicating direction of movement. In the watercolor below (11.25 x 15.5 inches) he depicts how universal forces draw earthly atoms to the planet.
Earthquakes and UFOs
It is important to recognize that this region of Oregon is well-known for its numerous sightings of unidentified flying objects. In 1950, a farmer managed to snap two photos of a "flying saucer" while overlooking his fields in the town of McMinnville, not far from Colton. The local newspaper editor knew the farmer was not a publicity seeker, and experts determined that the photographs were authentic. The photos were released to the wire services and published across the country. When they were reproduced in LIFE magazine, the term "UFO" was born. This ignited the first nationwide surge of interest in a phenomenon that continues today. In honor of that historic sighting, McMinnville hosts an annual UFO fest and parade where marchers dress up as aliens. The area remains a hotbed for UFO activity.
For Ed, the UFOs were a confirmation of his quest to explore the link between two universes, the cosmos and the atomic world. He claimed to have seen UFOs land on his farm many times. Some of his pictures include depictions of UFOs as well as diagrams of the ship's officers' quarters. One large watercolor shows a figure prone on a black altar-like slab while two other figures stand by looking over it. This looks very similar to the drawings made by people who claim to have been abducted by aliens.
Ed wrote and spoke frequently about the extraordinary lights he saw at night. John Keel, author of the seminal work on UFOs that was made into a movie, The Mothman Prophesies, offered an alternative theory about the lights. According to Keel, UFOs do not come from outer space but are beings that exist in a state of energy outside the limits of our dimensions, yet can cross over into our world, often as magnificent lights. He stressed that such lights are an important means by which aliens could change people's heads. The lights could enlighten or they could make one appear to be on psychedelic drugs. The notion of the UFO, says Keel, is simply part of a cover-up controlled by this alien intelligence from another dimension. The cover-up includes the "men in black," Air Force secrecy, and stories of the mysterious government Area-51, all intended to keep the recorders like Ed from being believed by others.
To complicate matters, this region of Oregon is also well known for a natural phenomenon: earthquakes. The East Bank Fault line runs southeast from Portland through Clackamas County, making the region active in seismic events. But owing to his frequent sightings of magnificent lights and UFOs, Ed soon came to believe that a vast underground alien base lay hidden beneath his property. He claimed to be able to detect the difference between a true earthquake -- like the one that caused so much damage to his first house that he had to abandon it -- and a tremor caused by the underground aliens. Many people in the region agreed that certain earthquakes were not natural but caused by mysterious underground explosions. In the early 1970s, Ed found support among the members of a New Age religious group called the Aquarian Church who were drawn to the beauty of the property. The Aquarians, who refer to people as "entities," befriended Ed. One recalled:
Ed was a tall, lanky entity with white hair, wild penetrating, twinkling eyes, very loquacious, and our first impression was that he was on some kind of drug. He wasn't. He seemed to space out suddenly during a conversation and seemed to be looking right through us. He talked incessantly about aliens and UFOs and Bigfoot whom he had sighted several times in the woods on his property. He talked about the huge underground alien base which had an opening on his property; it had tunnels and was connected by a type of train to many other underground tunnels around the world. He had continuous visions and was mentally in contact with other entities on various vibratory planes; he also could communicate with birds and animals. He usually spent the night gazing at the stars while in a sort of trance-like state. He was an artist and frustrated that he could find few places to display his paintings, which were very cosmic-looking and somehow divinely inspired when he had a vision, which was often. 
A Spiritual Quest
The creation of Ed's art was inextricably linked to a spiritual quest that began with his epiphany in 1961. Coincidentally, this period saw the emergence of spiritualism and "exotic" religions of the New Age. Ed subscribed to the newsletters of "The Invisible Ministry," founded in California in 1963. Undoubtedly, he was attracted to their mission statement:
"We concern ourselves with principles that are immutable and eternal, recognizing that correct understanding and application of these principles, in any given situation, at any given time, must inevitably produce specific results. We do realize, however, that although we are not of the world we are nevertheless in it. And it is often necessary to acknowledge the world's view for purposes of communication. After all, we are not trying to monopolize the truth but to share it with all men. In order to do that, it becomes requisite to translate it into temporal terms." 
"The Invisible Ministry" saw its followers as "Christian Metaphysicians" and urged them to read the works of Emmet Fox [1886-1951], a popular proponent of New Thought. Ed may well have read Fox's famous Fifteen Points or Around the Year with Emmet Fox. Perhaps the essay most pertinent to Ed was "Different People See Different Worlds" in which Fox stated: "What we experience is our own concept of things. That is why no two people see quite the same world, and why, in many cases, different people see such different worlds. To put it in another way, we make our own world by the way in which we think; for we really do live in a world of our own thoughts."
Ed believed that God had granted him the special, other-worldly gift to see true views of the atoms, the earth, and the planets. Moreover, he was compelled to faithfully serve in the capacity of an official recorder of a Truth that was at once spiritual and scientific, for he had sat in the heavens as well as behind the microscope. He had been as close as Man could come to God, serving as His translator. If his epiphany was a spiritual gift he felt destined to share with mankind, then his "recordings" were translations of his cosmic visions into temporal terms that would reveal to mankind the wonders of the universe.
For Ed, spirituality, philosophy, and cosmology were one, centered on the common unifying themes of the macrocosm and the microcosm. Often, his viewpoint was looking down toward the top of the world from the empyrean, a heavenly realm controlled by magnetic light. This vantage reinforced his ability to see "the reflected world from Outer Space." He saw twelve different types of atoms making up three bands of different colors around the earth. And he saw a line of disappearance in the center of all things.
Psychoanalysts would say that schizophrenia was the catalyst for Ed's cosmic flights into the realms of an introverted reality. Certainly, his visionary experiences occurred during altered states of consciousness, but they were rooted in a synthesis of science, theosophy, alchemy, and the occult. This "old hermit" applied a scientific mind to his epiphany. In one of his notes he wrote, "Minerva Mundi = self-creation." This Latin term is the title of a chapter in Francesco Patrizi's Magia Philosophica of 1593. Patrizi has been recognized primarily for his highly original scientific views concerning the nature of space. Similar views were later developed in the seventeenth century by Henry More and Isaac Newton. It was the author's spiritual goal, however, that most likely appealed to Ed, for Patrizi sought the restoration of "true religion" by purifying the occult.
Ed inscribed many other occult terms in his notebooks, such as "Mumia of Paracelsus." This reference indicates that Ed was attracted to the history of the ancient Chaldeans of Babylonia, who discovered that simple minerals and plants yielded profound knowledge and powers. Equally compelling, he read that the Theosophists also regarded an intimate knowledge of magnetism and electricity as a necessary component of understanding man. Through his immersion in Theosophy, Ed found confirmation that the magic of his epiphany was indeed Divine. The Theosophical Society was founded in the 1870s, led primarily by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, who published The Secret Doctrine in 1888. It is her book's subtitle -- "the synthesis of science, religion, and philosophy" -- that succinctly captures Ed's aims. Blavatsky believed that it was possible to attain knowledge of nature more profound than that provided by empirical means. Thus, it was while searching for an explanation for his epiphany that Ed first discovered that alchemistic philosophy meant "true magic." Finally, his visions of the microcosm and macrocosm made sense to him. It was as if he had freed himself of Sartre's existentialist quagmire and discovered the ultimate truth and purpose of his existence.
It is interesting to note Blavatsky's profound impact on several generations of artists, as described in The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Painting, 1890-1985, published in 1986 by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. A seminal and comprehensive reference work, its eponymous ground-breaking exhibition featured ninety-five artists. However, the number of artists is legion who claim that they expressed a spiritual reality beyond that which is visible.
Mondrian [1872-1944], was among the many artists immersed in Blavatsky's theosophy. After 1908, his life and art was inspired by a search for spiritual knowledge. Edvard Munch [1863-1944], who was interested in spiritualism and had strong leanings to the occult, was committed to a psychiatric clinic for eight months. His contemporary, Kandinsky [1866-1944] espoused Blavatsky's theosophy, and believed that the artist could create "cosmic transformations." In turn, Marsden Hartley [1877-1943] was influenced directly by Kandinsky's beliefs and became immersed in mystical symbolism, the occult, and the study of ancient Mayan art.
Although Ed had no formal artistic training, the purity of his pursuit to record spiritual realities places him among the ranks of numerous well-known artists who probed the origins of symbolism in the world's religions and non-literate cultures. Along they way, most explored mystical concepts of space-time and many had out-of-body experiences. Wolfgang Paalen [1905-1959] called his series of celestial visions "Cosmogons." Gordon Onslow-Ford [1912-2003] referred to his vision as "Inner Realism." In 2001, he wrote a treatise that could just as well have been written by Ed:
As a young man, Jackson Pollock [1912-1956] heard Onslow-Ford speak at the New School for Social Research in New York. Later, Pollock's drip-action paintings -- often described as intricately woven laceworks exploring the cosmos -- won him iconic stature in art history. But what is less known is that Blavatsky's influence reached Pollock, too, for he was interested in theosophy and the occult, and later, in Jungian psychology as he continued to explore the concept of worlds of inner and outer space. Morris Graves [1910-2001] was a member of a group of artists known as the Northwest School of Visionary Art, who in their works expressed strong spiritual bonds to the Pacific Northwest. And more recently, Brice Marden [b.1938] is one who has long professed his interest not only in the concept of the microcosm-macrocosm, but in alchemy. These and many more artists would have understood Ed and his cosmic awareness. However, nowhere in Ed's writings does he mention any artist. Because he assumed his own creations were unique and apart from anything in art history, he found no need to explore the works of other artists. While reclusive and apparently unconcerned and unaware of other spiritually-inspired artists, he shared the same belief that true reality could be perceived by means of cosmic consciousness.
Rather than seek other artists, Ed found confirmation in the writings of New Age spiritualists such as Walter Russell , author of The Message of the Divine Iliad. An artist most of his life, at age fifty Russell had an epiphany that lasted thirty-nine days, turning him into a mystic and proponent of Blavatsky's theosophy. Russell described his epiphany as "that rarest of all spiritual phenomena known as the Illumination into the Light of Cosmic Consciousness." In the late 1940s he wrote:
After Russell's death in 1963 his teachings were continued and the term "New Age" entered American culture via a growing interest in spiritualism, assisted partly by the hippie movement. Accordingly, Ed may also have subscribed to Russell's A Home Study Course in Cosmic Consciousness.
Before he experienced his epiphany in 1961, it is doubtful that Ed had ever heard of Blavatsky, Russell, and other spiritualists. Rather, he sought out such sources to explain the extraordinary acuity that came with his transformation. He soon discovered that his art-making was a divine science whereby he could become close to, and even attain the attributes of, the ultimate Divinity itself. In several of his watercolors he even placed visual anagrams in geometric designs, the solution of which pointed to his position with God.
An Apocalyptic Premonition
1964 was a good year for exploring the macrocosm and the microcosm. The space race was in full swing. The Russians continued to place cosmonauts in orbit but NASA provided an edge by launching the first spacecraft to photograph Mars. At the other end of the cosmic spectrum, the theoretical physicist Professor Gell-Mann discovered the existence of "quarks," which make up subatomic particles (for which he would later win a Nobel Prize).
While Ed was likely aware of these developments, in March he had more pressing concerns on his mind. Night after night, he recorded a series of images that augur what became known as the notorious "Great Alaska Earthquake." Emanating from Prince William Sound, Alaska, it was the second largest earthquake ever recorded (at 9.2 on the Richter scale) and the largest ever to hit the United States.
To be exact, the earthquake hit on March 27th, 1964 at 5:36 pm local time. However, three days earlier from his vantage point in the heavens looking toward earth, Ed recorded the sequential development of the disaster as it was building.
Ed first spotted the harbinger of the earthquake a year earlier, in June 1963, when he recorded a whirl in space that he called "the great Octipus [sic]." But it was not until the following March that he recorded the huge black Octopus approaching the earth and then encircling it intently with its tentacles.
Each night, he continued the sequence of watercolors, each documenting the octopus establishing its galvanic grip on the earth. Three days later, on March 27th and 28th, disaster actually struck. The powerful earthquake caused the Alaskan crust to suddenly slip over the Pacific plate. Imagine the fury released by twelve-thousand Hiroshima atomic bombs detonating at once. One island off the Alaska coast moved sixty feet. Some areas were uplifted by thirty feet while others sank. The result was a monstrous tsunami two-hundred thirty feet high (the second largest ever recorded) at times rushing nearly six-hundred miles per hour. It was responsible for most of the one-hundred thirty-one deaths on the Northwest coast. Two-thousand miles south of the epicenter, tsunamis demolished much of the tiny fishing town of Crescent City, California. Even residents of Florida felt the effect of the earth's upward motion of several inches. 
The whole earth had vibrated as if constricted and shaken by a giant octopus, and Ed had seen it coming.
On a Mission to Benefit Mankind
Early in 1964, one of Ed's goals became clarified: He must use his inventions to create huge amounts of stardust to benefit humanity. After all, the fortunes earned from selling the stardust would be a great boon to mankind. His notes are often peppered with statements such as "Want to do something for humanity...need money to help people... I do not give a damn for myself. If I died tonight you would have to go ahead." Now, recognizing that his own passing would likely precede the coming of the second millennium, his writing took on an increasingly urgent tone and became more prophetic. At 2:03 on the early morning of January 3rd, 1964, as if writing a will that carried great responsibilities to its beneficiaries, he focused on the importance of his stardust:
Ed continued to hope that the fates would deliver to him good people he could trust to help him produce the stardust. Meanwhile, in 1966 another goal became clarified: He must attract investors to build his Star Dust facility. Although he predicted that his art would someday become very valuable, it was really the building of a stardust processing plant that was his all-important objective.
Ed would recruit anyone who would listen to his mission, including the San Francisco printer he contracted to produce his flyers. Ed wrote that although the first printing of the flyers was only one-thousand, he assured the printer, "We figure on mailing out in the near future 5,000,000 of these letters to all parts of the world" and further explained, "I have the evidence here at Colton, Ore on hand, also all the minerals are here on my farm. The process that I use is taken from the Scriptures and is not known by man on this earth."
The first flyer was aimed at raising capital so that Ed could complete his stardust mission. Ed always included qualifying notes to convince his printer that the venture was worthwhile:
Ed took his printer's advice and created a letterhead, using it to feature the names of the two types of artworks. As discussed earlier, "Sentra Photo Thesis, Ltd" concerned his views of the macrocosm and were painted in watercolor. "Photo Genetics, Ltd" concerned his views of the microcosm and were produced with his ground pigments and stardust. The addition of "Ltd" made it appear as if these were two ongoing companies. And his selection of an Old English font made them look scholarly and respectable. Ed's use of the word, "Thesis" underscores that his proposition to mankind was serious and based on original research. His art stood as evidence for a logical argument, dialectical by nature, that investigated the truth of a proposition that was at once scientific and spiritual. Ed was well aware that he was engaged in the same thesis that had challenged many great philosophers and scientists throughout history; that is, a rational discussion of the nature of reality.
At the top of each letter he often placed the shiny gold sticker of another New Age religious group to which he belonged, "The Mayan Order," which espoused a universal cosmic energy. "Maya" is Sanskrit, which denotes that the true nature of the world is found in illusion. "Maya" is also part of "Elo-maya-haka," another signature that Ed inscribed on works. "Elo" directly stems from "Elohim," the Hebrew plural of "God," probably referring to the original seven pre-Judaic Hebrew Gods of the original Cosmos. In more recent Western esoteric thought "maya" also appears in sound studies as the "harmonic eleven," which is a "bundle of electro-magnetic forces of maya" -- meaning the illusion that phenomenon has true existence." Although nothing can be found about the meaning of "haka," his use of it as part of his spiritual name, "Elo-maya-haka," appears to allude to harmony. 
Ed was acutely aware that he had discovered the realm of a divine magic. Because his recordings were material testament to things unseen in the universe, he took his position as God's recorder very seriously. And, while he variously referred to his art as "Original Astral-Planetary Art" and "Original Satanic Art," he regarded these terms not as seemingly irreconcilable opposites but as natural descriptions of his syncretic visions, dutifully recorded as fusions of the scientific, the spiritual, and the occult. In fact, Ed's mission was to repel sinister black-magic Satanism by tapping into his own sense of white-magic mysticism. For example, Ed likely considered his recordings of the Great Alaska Earthquake to be "satanic" in that the evil Octopus represented the dark side of nature and the occult. In the same vein, his use of the hexagram in some his works (which is also an emblem of the Theosophical Society) should not be misinterpreted as Satanic because it harks back to an ancient symbolism as the dynamic yet perfectly balanced union of the spiritual and material worlds. And this was exactly Ed's point. His stardust and his artworks were proof that the macrocosm and the microcosm acted harmoniously.
When the promotional mailer failed to attract backers for his stardust venture, Ed decided to raise money by selling his two types of pictures. Despite printing several different flyers, placing classified ads, and even producing colored pens bearing "Original Primitive Art" with his address stamped in gold, Ed's art sales venture never reached a large audience. For the next few years Ed attempted to sell his art, but in his remote region he found few takers or believers in his "Thesis." Sales proved disappointing. He quit creating his recordings. Although he must have been frustrated by the lack of recognition, perhaps he quit because he felt he had completed his "Thesis" and could provide all the proof anyone would require.
Ed continued to hope that the fates would deliver good people he could trust to help him process the stardust. In 1970, it appeared as if his wish had come true. A prospector and miner from British Columbia who had heard about the stardust visited Ed and described an attractive offer. He proposed to purchase everything: Ed's eighty-acre property in Colton as well as the house Ed still owned in the city of Portland; plus, all of Ed's artworks and both men's inventions. As part of the deal, Ed and Mac would be granted life tenancy to live on the land; and, the prospector would pay them salaries to work in a stardust processing plant he promised to build. The contract stated that Ed and Mac are the beneficial owners of, and entitled to dispose of, certain patents of invention, together with certain machines, electrical devices and components, and a miscellaneous supply of mineralized rocks and related art objects. They are possessed of certain skills and arts enabling them to convert the natural minerals and qualities of the said eighty acre tract of land into commercial products including but not limited to art productions and metal-plated objects, and to develop the machine or machines forming the subject matter of the said patents.
Although the contract was signed, the closing faced a series of lengthy delays. After more than a year had passed without any groundbreaking for the stardust plant, Ed and Mac felt betrayed. They initiated and won a lawsuit that rescinded the deal with the prospector.
The Age of Aquarius
The fates tried to help Ed again, this time delivering a stream of young people who discovered him and his stardust. In May of 1970, after the country was horrified by the Kent State Massacre, college students around the country immediately reacted with strikes. The anger boiled over into the summer. In Oregon, the Governor agreed that it would be a good idea to let off steam by hosting a rock festival in Estacada, just twelve miles from Ed's farm. The massive event known as "Vortex I" was similar to Woodstock except that it was the only state-sponsored rock festival in American history. Not only did the counterculture of the New Age discover the pristine beauty of the region, but the event also brought inquisitive young visitors to Ed's hilltop farm. Naturally, the eccentric hermit with flowing white hair and beard could hardly be concerned by the hippies' unconventional appearance. Plus, he too held a disdain for mainstream institutions. And for a decade he had already been following his own form of existentialist philosophy and newfound spiritualism. Thus, it was with this common ground that Ed became friendly with members of the Aquarian Church of Universal Service. The group was first known as the Organization of Awareness, founded in 1963 by a former university professor, Ralph Duby. Duby became the organization's Interpreter of the Cosmic Awareness, or psychic channeler, who referred to seventeen volumes of collected trance readings. Although Duby died in 1967, one church member was certain that Ed considered him a personal friend and mentor. Consequently, Ed was most receptive to meet Duby's successor, Paul Shockley. According to the Aquarian's history,
The Aquarian Church of Universal Service [formally incorporated 1974] is the Organization representing of Celestial Awareness. Celestial Awareness is that universal force or Celestial Consciousness that manifests Itself as Universal Consciousness in ultra-high levels of frequency. Its expressions are given to those who attune to those frequencies as impressions and symbols which are then interpreted by a translator channeler, such as Paul Shockley [1932-2005], who has interpreted its messages since 1969.
Ed had finally found people who believed in his ability to channel at ultra-high level frequencies. They appreciated his cosmic recordings as well as his mission. As far as the Shockleys and the Aquarians were concerned, Ed was a medium who, through his trances, could achieve the state necessary to be a true witness of the macrocosm and the microcosm. Through "Cosmic Awareness," Shockley learned that Ed's artworks were divinely inspired. One Aquarian recalled:
No, Ed was not on drugs. Paul gave him some LSD one time and Ed stated he did not feel any different than he normally felt, except he said he could see the atoms squirming in the wood walls of his shack. In other words, Ed was living in a continuous stoned state and his visions which inspired his artworks were very real to him and cosmic in origin. He smoked cigarettes and I suspect he smoked dope when he could get it. 
The Aquarians sensed, as Ed had years earlier, that the farm was possessed of its own special aura. "We saw a garden of light there," said another member. The Aquarians' visits became more frequent and Ed became more comfortable with what became a new extended family. Shockley and his family stayed in Ed's trailer. Ed gave them his old Plymouth. He could still get into town with his old pickup truck. Church members created a vegetable garden, mended the old fences, and even tried their best to clean up Ed and Mac, who were typically quite filthy. The Aquarians observed Ed as he dug clays for his pigments. They noticed that in some locations the clay was quite soft and, being immersed in the healing arts, they would often rub the clay all over their bodies and then bake in the sun. Another Aquarian testified to Ed's sensitivity to the land and its energies:
After five years, the Aquarians were certain they had found their Arcadian promised land, and Ed was certain he had found the people who could preserve the sanctity of the property as well as help him process the stardust in order to achieve his humanitarian goals. With these lofty goals in mind, in 1976 Ed donated the farm to the church yet retained life tenancy. The Aquarians, who would live on the land, promised to build a new large studio to exhibit Ed's art as well as a new building to process the stardust. In order to bequeath his living legacy, Ed would teach the Aquarians how to "see" the universe, and younger church members would be taught his recording techniques. Others would help process the stardust.
Although the Aquarians had good intentions to fulfill their promise, they encountered difficulties in raising the funds. Meanwhile, Ed kept revising the plans, each time calling for an increasingly larger building for processing the stardust. When the cost exceeded one-hundred thousand dollars, Ed's revisions were questioned. To make matters worse, Ed's lawyers, who in 1970 had rescinded the deal with the prospector, offered their own view of the matter. The Aquarians claimed that the lawyers "got him all spun out," reawakening his paranoia by asserting that the Aquarians were not a legal church but simply a counterculture group taking advantage of two old men in order to secure a free home.
By early 1977, the relationship unraveled. Mac was still highly protective of the patent claims on his air motor and his developments for an automatic transmission. He claimed his father -- who had invented improvements in automobile headlamps for Chevys in the early 1950s -- had his patent stolen from under him. Ed also refused to release any information about his own inventions. He threatened to take his secrets to his grave unless the Aquarians could immediately deliver in full the construction money that was promised. When the church balked, the imminent shattering of a dream drove Ed from malaise to the grips of paranoia. He ordered the Aquarians off the farm at gunpoint.
Meanwhile, Eden had turned into Hell. The farm that was a magical place was now a nightmare. Beyond his constant hurling of imprecations at the Aquarians, Ed threatened to shoot any church member on sight. He even said he had the consent of the mafia as well as various government law enforcement agencies, who were secretly watching the property with hidden spying technology and microphones. He specifically warned the Shockley that the FBI and the CIA had secretly told him several times that they were going to destroy the Aquarian Church and assassinate their leader. In later court proceedings, the Aquarians declared that Ed ranted that the church is a phony church and was created to steal money from people. Shockley is no minister. He is a combination of Jim Jones, Reverend Moon, and Charles Manson. He's a crook, a thief, a liar, a fraud, and has a criminal record as long and black as a freight train going up a mountain pass at midnight!
Suits and countersuits erupted. Ed's lawyers claimed the gift of the property was secured unethically by a bogus church, and should be rescinded. The Aquarians claimed that their church was not only valid and legal, but so was Ed's donation of the property. As one Aquarian sadly recalled, "It was the crooked lawyers who prompted Ed to back out of the deal with the church. They got him all spun out, telling him it was not a legal church but just a weird counterculture group looking to steal his property. In the end it was the lawyers who benefited the most."
There was one bright episode around this time that may have brought Ed at least some measure of renewed financial security. Mac sold the patent for the "air engine" (right) he had invented in 1958. When the check arrived, Mac and Ed went to the bank and cashed it, taking a good portion of it in coins. They had brought their milk buckets to the bank to take the money back home to the farm.
The trial did not begin until 1979. In the meantime, Ed was still on a rampage, driving the Aquarians and their children off the property at gunpoint and swearing that he was "going to pick them off at the gate." The complaints submitted in court show that he went on the offense beyond his farm. One account states that he piled fecal matter on the doorstep of a local Aquarian named Ken. The next day, as Ed stood vigilant scanning the farm's access routes with his binoculars he spotted Ken, presumably coming to confront Ed about the incident. Ed took a pot of coffee off his iron pot-belly stove, poured a cup, and went out to greet Ken with a friendly guise. Ken accepted the coffee as a peace offering, took a sip, and suddenly spit it out. Ed had urinated in the coffee. Ed then pulled his German luger and held Ken at gunpoint for an interminable ten minutes, threatening to shoot him and spewing vitriolic language.
In 1981, after three years of waging his war against the Aquarians, Ed was prepared to hear the judge's ruling. However, before proceeding to the courthouse, he was asked to come to his lawyer's home where he was coerced into taking a bath. Later, it was discovered that the stains were so strong that no amount of hard scrubbing could completely remove them from the bathtub.
In the courtroom, a now presentable Ed listened intently as the judge ruled that the deed to the Aquarian Church was "canceled on the grounds that it was void ab initio, right from the beginning. And my reason for that is that a person who is mentally incapacitated cannot deed property." The judge relied heavily upon the expert testimony of a psychologist, a certain Dr. Dixon, who had diagnosed Ed as "a schizophrenic personality with paranoid tendencies" and that "in all medical probabilities he never had any lucid moments since 1970 or the mid 1960s."  The judge continued, "He did do some artwork that many people feel that is outstanding, and beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And a lot of people feel that's nice and excellent, and others might disagree. I put no judgment on that. It was a good thing nobody put him away in the 1960s. He's done many things since then."
The judge went on to say that because neither Ed nor Mac were rational, yet had guns, that the Aquarians should move off the property. He also ordered that the dilapidated trailer, truck, and various abandoned vehicles be removed from the property, but the old cabins could stay.
The Aquarians appealed the ruling. However, the date for the first hearing had to be postponed because, mysteriously, the office of the Aquarian's lawyer was vandalized with a noxious substance that leached into the walls, carpets, and furniture, making the office uninhabitable and requiring fumigation. Although the appeal was denied, the Aquarians were found innocent of any wrong-doing and their good name as a legitimate church was recognized.
Unfortunately, Ed had won a Pyrrhic victory. Not only had he succeeded in shutting out a group of innocent spiritualists who cared for him, but the insanity ruling made him a ward of the court. The once fiercely independent explorer of the cosmos now had guardians appointed to him. Ed would never again record his visions, and one wonders if it was because he was placed on antipsychotic medication. Further, his attorney became his conservator, thereby earning a forty percent remainderman's interest in the property -- despite Ed's complaints about conflict of interest.
In 1990, Mac was placed in a nursing home. Now alone, Ed relied on his guardians to bring him groceries as well as wood for his stove. They also took him to the hospital for his cancer treatments. Ultimately, he was placed under full-time care at a nursing home. To pay for it all, his guardians organized a sale of the timber on the property that netted one-hundred fifty thousand dollars. On November 7th, 1992, at age eighty-five, Ed Nelson passed into a new dimension of cosmic awareness. His buddy Mac joined him the following year.
After Ed's passing, the property was sold to a real estate investor. The big barn containing Ed's inventions was torn down. The contents were sold to metal scrappers. The rest of the inventions and electronic equipment in the other outbuildings were considered useless bricolage and were buried in a big trench on the property.
One Aquarian later lamented that the property had been effaced. "They clear-cut the property and now there are twenty-nine thousand tiny trees growing there. It's been desecrated." (7) The property's new owner, who had plans to build a mansion on top of the mountain, was equally unhappy, stating,
Soon, there were squatters on the property who quickly established a large meth lab in one of the barns. Eventually, a raid by the local police and the DEA shut down the drug dealers' operation. However, the barn was so filled with highly combustible and noxious chemicals that the fire department determined the safest recourse was to burn it down.
Walking about the charred aftermath, the firemen were attracted by a pattern of glinting lights around the foundation. Looking closer, they discovered that the lights were caused by thousands of coins reflecting the sunlight. When Ed and Mac had returned home from the bank with their milk buckets, they had buried the coins in the walls.
1 August 2005 e-mail communications with Avaton, a member of the Aquarian Church and Editor of the Cosmic Awareness Communications website.
2 North County Times, 7 May 2006. From the obituary of Albert Stuart Otto: "In 1954 Stuart had a profound inner experience which revolutionized his outlook and started him on the metaphysical approach to spiritual truth. In 1964 he founded 'The Philosophical Library' and was active in it until his 'Christ-Jesus awakening.' Stuart founded 'The Invisible Ministry,' a healing prayer ministry in 1963, 'The Dominion Press' in 1968 and 'Church of the Trinity' in 1972. From 1963 to 2004, The Invisible Ministry functioned continually as a beacon of Truth and Love to all who turned to it. Trinity Center included Trinity Healing Prayer, Trinity School of Theology, Church of The Trinity, The Dominion Press, The Chapel of The Eternal Word, and The Affiliated Christian Emortalists. Friend Stuart, as he was known, authored 18 books and many publications and was listed in Marquis Who's Who in Religion 1985 for 'outstanding achievement in his field of endeavor.' "
3 Gordon Onslow Ford website, "Inner Realism: The Rebirth of Modern Art" (January, 2001)
4 Russell, Walter. The Message of the Divine Iliad. [Waynesboro, Virginia: Univ of Science & Philosophy, 1971, Vol. 2, p.69]
5 Sources on the history of the Great Alaska Earthquake include Professor Doug Christensen at the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska; and, Varble, Bill. "Crescent City's '64 Tsunami" [Mail Tribune, Oregon; 3 Feb 2005]
6 Thurman, Robert. Philosophy of Tibet. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1984, p.24
7 The author is grateful to three early members of the Aquarian Church for their interest and cooperation: Avaton, quoted earlier (August 2005); DeDe Farrell ("garden of light" quote, 21 Nov 2006 and epilogue quote 12 Dec 2006); and, Roshana Shockley, who with her husband, Paul, lived on the farm (21 Nov 2006). It was in 1963 that Dr. Timothy Leary was dismissed from Harvard as he was campaigning for the legalization of LSD. In 1964, Leary wrote Psychedelic Experiences; and in 1966 he founded the League for Spiritual Discovery as a religion. Although his new religion was never formally recognized owing to its promotion of LSD, Leary firmly believed that LSD could trigger cosmic consciousness. In 1967 he made his famous dictum to a generation, "Turn on, Tune in, Drop out." He later preached that outer space was a ultimate medium for spiritual transcendence, and advocated space colonization. Curiously, it was during the mid-1960s when Ed was most prolific in recording his visions. However, while it is quite possible that one of the Aquarians may have introduced Ed to LSD as early as 1970, it is unlikely that LSD was the source of his visions because he only recorded them during the 1960s. Ed may possibly have experienced drugs during the 1960s, but his town was not "discovered" by the New Age groups until the major Vortex I rock concert in 1970.
8 ibid, Roshana Shockley.
9 A paranoid schizophrenic does not necessarily harbor fears of persecution but typically is diagnosed as delusional and experiencing hallucinations. And, like Ed, he may believe he is an important emissary chosen by God for a special mission. Ed's lack of bathing and wearing shabby clothes was also symptomatic but he was not disorganized in his thinking. On the contrary, he clearly expressed his thoughts and exhibited scientific discipline in his procedures.
10 telephone and e-mail interview with Mark Campbell, 26 July 2005.
Tuchman et al. The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Painting, 1890-1985 [Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1986].
Theosophy, Vol. 48, No. 10, Aug. 1960
Sundvaal, Bertil. "Swedish Settlement in Oregon" (heranet.com)
Submitted by Peter Hastings Falk, who gave a talk on this subject at the American Folk Art Museum in New York City on January 26, 2008. The talk was part of the series, "Uncommon Artists XVI: A Series of Cameo Talks".
About the author
Peter Hastings Falk has long been recognized as one of the country's leading experts on American art. He is best known as the author of the biographical dictionary, Who Was Who in American Art. Lauded by critics as "the most significant research tool ever published in the field," the massive 3-volume opus won the Wittenborn Award for the best art reference book published in North America, awarded by the Art Libraries Society. It also won the American Library Association's "Outstanding Academic Title."
Under his Falk Art Reference imprint (formerly Sound View Press) he continues to publish a series of important reference books on American art, such as the Exhibition Record Series, which William Gerdts, dean of American art historians, calls "the most important basis for art historical research in late 19th to mid 20th century American art." Four other continuing series include monographs on American artists, catalogues raisonnés, and conservation & art forensics. (right: Peter Hastings Falk. Photo courtesy of the author)
Falk is also known for pioneering in the publishing of auction indices tracking the art market. In 1981, he published the first index to photographs sold at auction, entitled The Photographic Art Market. In 1991, he published the largest index to fine prints sold at auction, entitled the Print Price Index. And in 1993, he began publishing the "blue book" for the entire art auction market, Art Price Index International. During the 1990s and through 2006, he served successively as the Editor-in-Chief of the three major on-line art information companies, developing their databanks of auction price records and artist biographies: ArtNet.com (founding Editor-in-Chief, New York), Artprice.com (Lyon, France), and of AskART.com (Scottsdale).
Well-known as an appraiser, Falk has served on a number of important trial cases. In 1994, for example, he served as a key expert witness in helping to ultimately win what the media referred to as the "Warhol War" - the highly publicized trial over the worth of the extensive collection of art produced by Andy Warhol. He has also provided testimony on high-profile litigation cases involving the paintings of Monet, Picasso, Malevich, and other masters. He has also managed many artist estate collections. Integral to the process has been the research and writing of scholarly monographs, typically published concurrently with "rediscovery" exhibitions held at various museums and galleries around the United States.
As President of Hastings Art Management Services, Inc he has managed many artist estate collections. Integral to the process has been the research and writing of scholarly monographs, typically published concurrently with "rediscovery" exhibitions held at various museums and galleries around the United States. In addition, Falk and his staff work closely with high net worth individuals and corporations, providing advisory services for the sound development of a fine arts collection and the enhancement of its value. He also develops effective selling strategies, including estate succession planning. His feature articles on various aspects of art as investment and the art market have appeared in Art + Auction magazine.
Falk is listed in Who's Who in America and has lectured throughout the United States and Europe, for various organizations. He is a member of AHAA (Association of Historians of American Art), ARLIS (Art Libraries Society of North America), CADA (Connecticut Association of Dealers in Antiques), and others. He earned his undergraduate (Art History) from Brown University in 1973 and completed his graduate work (Architecture) at the Rhode Island School of Design in 1976.
REFERENCE BOOKS BY PETER FALK
PRICE GUIDES TO INTERNATIONAL ART AUCTIONS BY PETER FALK
EXHIBITION MONOGRAPHS BY PETER FALK
Resource Library editor's note:
The above essay was reprinted, without illustrations, in Resource Library on March 8, 2008 with the permission of the author. Resource Library wishes to extend appreciation to Lonnie Pierson Dunbier for her help concerning permission for reprinting the above text.
RL readers may also enjoy:
Search Resource Library for thousands of articles and essays on American art.
Copyright 2008 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.