Sara Patterson, Assistant Professor of Theological Studies at Hanover College, received a Luce Faculty Fellowship in 2010-2011 to investigate the stories surrounding Leonard Knight’s Salvation Mountain, a piece of outsider, religious art in the California desert.
In her work she argues that Knight is akin to the early Christian desert fathers who escaped to the desert in order to experience God more fully. Just like the desert fathers, Knight has pilgrims who follow him into the desert seeking out the wisdom he offers. These pilgrims believe that Knight is a modern-day prophet of sorts whose wisdom includes a critique of capitalist materialism and a challenge to intra- and inter-religious divisions. Knight offers a message of divine love for all humans. Pilgrims travel hundreds, sometimes thousands, of miles to enter Knight’s constructed world that attempts to embody his message of God’s love for humanity. In her project Patterson is examining the ways that sight, sound, and touch operate in the exchange between the artist and his visitors. It is in the exchange of stories and visions of an alternative world that both Knight and pilgrims to Salvation Mountain construct sacred space together.