OFF THE MAP / An Electric Shadows ITVS Interactive Project

A Multimedia Tour of Backyard Paradises Created by Visionary Artists Around the World

Site Features Global Tour of Ten Artists' Installments, Invitation to Create and Display or Share an Original Backyard Paradise and Classroom Resources for Educators

CONTACT: Randall Cole, 415.356.8383 ext. 254, Desiree Gutierrez, 415.356.8383 ext. 244, 

(San Francisco) Visionary art--also known as "outsider art” or "self-taught art”--is created by people who did not formally train to become artists. They usually do not think of their creations as art--and may simply think they are creating a useful object or decorating their houses or yards. Visionary artists, such as those featured in OFF THE MAP make art because of a strong inner belief, or "vision” which compels them to create extraordinary works. They often pay no attention to the opinion of others or how the community might perceive their work. 

The artists use various materials--everything from discarded objects to chewing gum to bottle caps to matchsticks. They might spend decades working on one piece of art. Visionary artists are not to be confused with folk artists, who learn to make art according to traditions passed down from a family member or a neighbor. The visionary artist instead is self-taught, and it is their own imagination which guides them in realizing their unique creation. They hail from very diverse cultures and traditions, but one key theme to their work is creating their own paradise on earth. 

A collaboration between Interactive Knowledge and the American Visionary Art Museum, OFF THE MAP is about the visions of paradise created by ten people from around the world. They do not consider themselves to be artists in the traditional sense, but what they have built is amazing and yet very difficult to categorize. In addition to touring these ten installments, the OFF THE MAP site gives visitors a chance to build a paradise of their own--online. The Make Your Own Paradise interactive tool gives visitors a backyard environment so they can create their own vision, choosing from over 150 interesting objects to shape and manipulate. Visitors can email the image they create to friends or submit it to the OFF THE MAP Web gallery. 

Each Backyard Paradise Tour guides the visitor through unique interactive features including scrapbooks, video clips, slide shows and images to "zoomify” and get a close look at the details of the artist's "larger than life” work. The Travelogue offers in-depth and entertaining information on the artist, his or her life and why he or she created a monumental work. The current state of the featured installment and how to visit the actual sites are also available. Classroom activities and extensive resources about visionary art and the featured artists extend the learning experience of this fun site. 

Backyard Paradises 

Each backyard paradise featured on OFF THE MAP is a monument to the passion and vision of its creator--works of ten untrained, visionary artists who have transformed their part of the world in rare and startling ways. 

Bottle Village - Simi Valley, California, USA Tressa "Grandma" Prisbrey (1896–1988) 

"Anyone can do anything with a million dollars--look at Disney. But it takes more than money to make something out of nothing, and look at the fun I have doing it." 

Bottle Village consists of a series of 13 structures made from colored bottles and other materials salvaged from the neighborhood dump. The third of an acre lot contains the Leaning Tower of Bottle Village, The Doll Shrine and the Pencil House in addition to other structures made from reclaimed objects. 

Owl House & Camel Yard - Nieu-Bethesda, South Africa Helen Martins (1898–1976) 

The Owl House and the surrounding Camel Yard contain over 300 sculptures made from concrete and ground glass. Envisioned as a private Mecca, all the sculptures in the Camel Yard face east. 

Palais Ideál - Hauterives, France Ferdinand Cheval, a.k.a. le facteur Cheval (1836–1924) 

"The tongues started to wag… I was laughed at, blamed, criticized. But this kind of mental attention was neither contagious nor dangerous, and as a result they did not find it useful to fetch some doctor of the mind. I was then free to devote myself to my passion in spite of everything.” 

This four-sided castle made from concrete, lime and wire, is located in Hauterives, France. Architectural styles from various time periods and countries--Algieria, China and Northern Europe--are visible in the facade. 

Paradise Garden - Summerville, Georgia, USA Howard Finster (1916–2001) 

"I wrote God's message on that lawnmower and now it's preaching for me.” 

Three acres of sculptures and structures bearing scriptures and lessons from the Bible, Paradise Garden was built on reclaimed swampland beginning in 1961. Work continued for the next three decades. In that time, Finster's earthly paradise has repeatedly made national news and has become Chattanooga County's largest tourist attraction. 

Pasaquan - Buena Vista, Columbus, Georgia, USA Eddie Owens Martin, a.k.a. St. EOM (1908–1986) 

"Pasaquoyanism has to do with the truth, and with nature, and the earth, and man's lost rituals." An architectural environment built between 1957 and 1986, Pasaquan is located in rural Georgia. Enormous sculptures flank the entrance and the tall perimeter wall is decorated with psychedelic medallions and mandalas. Influences are numerous, including factual and fictional places such as Africa, Easter Island, Pre-Columbian Mexico and Atlantis. 

Salvation Mountain - Slab City, California, USA Leonard Knight (born 1931) 

"I have no rules whatsoever, and they're lettin' me do my thing. Beautiful! Freedom! And in the United States of America we can do that. God, I love the United States!” Salvation Mountain is an interactive landscape made of adobe, covered in religious slogans and over 100,000 gallons of paint. The mountain is as wide as a football field and stretches over three stories high. Salvation Mountain looks out to a sprawling sea, also made by Knight with house paint. 

The Forevertron - Baraboo, Wisconsin, USA Dr. Evermor, a.k.a. Tom O. Every (born 1938) 

"I was a bit upset with the world… and I wanted to perpetuate myself back into the heavens on this magnetic lightning force field." A 300-ton kinetic sculpture assembled from relics of the industrial age and designed for space travel, the Forevertron is located behind Delaney's Surplus on Route 12, seven miles south of Baraboo, Wisconsin. 

The Rock Garden - Chandigarh, India Nek Chand (born 1924) 

"It began really as a hobby. I started not with the idea that it would become so famous.” A 40-acre park of paths, courtyards, plazas, waterfalls and thousands of lively sculptures made from recycled materials, the Rock Garden was built in complete secrecy in dense forest outside the city of Chandigarh, India, over four decades. 

Watts Towers - Los Angeles, California, USA Simon Rodia (1879–1965) 

"I had in mind to do something big and I did it.” Spiraling steel spires embellished with colored glass, beach shells, broken tile, mirror shards, and pottery fragments, all circa 1920–1950. The Watts Towers were built by Italian immigrant Simon Rodia on his triangular lot in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts over the course of 33 years. 

Windmill Park - Lucama, North Carolina, USA Vollis Simpson (born 1919) 

"I had to find something that was better than watching television.” Approximately 30 windmill-like sculptures which shine and reflect in the sun and whirl and spin in the wind, Simpson's whirligigs are made from recycled machine parts, then painted and covered with thousands of small reflectors. Many stand up to 50 feet tall. 

About the Creative Team 

OFF THE MAP is a collaboration of Interactive Knowledge (, the American Visionary Art Museum ( and ITVS ( for the acclaimed PBS series Independent Lens on whose interactive website this installment resides. 

Interactive Knowledge, an established web site design company launched in 1991, has been recognized by education, technology, design and museum professionals as one of the top web designers in the country. Their web sites and interactive kiosks deliver content in a compelling and intuitive way that keeps visitors engaged. Interactive Knowledge is based in Charlotte, North Carolina. The company specializes in the design and production of web sites and kiosks that use a wide variety of interactive solutions intended to help museums and cultural organizations reach their goals. 

The American Visionary Art Museum, deemed by unanimous vote in Congress as America's official "national museum, repository, and education center for the best in original, self-taught artistry,” has been hailed a treasure house, full of the most outstanding creations born of intuition and self-styled imagination. All seven galleries in the main museum hold wonders created by farmers, housewives, mechanics, retired folk, the disabled, the homeless, as well as the occasional neurosurgeon--all inspired by the fire within. From carved roots to embroidered rags, tattoos to toothpicks, the visionary transforms dreams, loss, hope and ideals into powerful works of art. 

The museum's spirited new wing, The Jim Rouse Visionary Center is designed to magnify this national museum's founding mission and programming and places special emphasis on linking creative acts of social justice, thus celebrating the spirit of social visionaries around the globe. 

About Independent Lens Web-Exclusive Presentations 

Independent Lens is proud to present Electric Shadows, award-winning Web-original projects inviting users to, "step outside the confines of time and space and choose where non-linear digital stories will take you.” 

ITVS Interactive's Electric Shadows funding initiative brings independently produced, innovative projects to the Web. More about Electric Shadows is available at 

Interactive projects created by imaginative thinkers and online features inspired by independent film are highlighted on the Independent Lens Web site at 

About Electric Shadows 

OFF THE MAP is the fourth project funded through ITVS's Electric Shadows initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Technically innovative, these content-rich projects are also in keeping with ITVS's mission to give voice to underserved communities and foster cross-cultural understanding. Examples of these previously funded projects are found at 

About ITVS 

The Independent Television Service (ITVS) funds and presents award-winning documentaries and dramas on public television, innovative new media projects on the Web and the weekly series Independent Lens on Tuesday nights at 10 P.M. on PBS. ITVS is a miracle of public policy created by media activists, citizens and politicians seeking to foster plurality and diversity in public television. ITVS was established by a historic mandate of Congress to champion independently produced programs that take creative risks, spark public dialogue and serve underserved audiences. Since its inception in 1991, ITVS programs have revitalized the relationship between the public and public television, bringing TV audiences face-to-face with the lives and concerns of their fellow Americans. More information about ITVS can be obtained by visiting ITVS is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American People. 

About PBS 

PBS is a private, nonprofit media enterprise that serves the nation's 349 public noncommercial television stations, reaching nearly 90 million people each week through on-air and online content. Bringing diverse viewpoints to television and the Internet, PBS provides high-quality documentary and dramatic entertainment, and consistently dominates the most prestigious award competitions. PBS is the leading provider of educational materials for K-12 teachers, and offers a broad array of educational services for adult learners. PBS' premier kids' TV programming and Web site, PBS KIDS Online (, continue to be parents' and teachers' most trusted learning environments for children. More information about PBS is available at, one of the leading dot-org Web sites on the Internet, averaging more than 30 million unique visits and 380 million page views per month. PBS is headquartered in Alexandria, VA. ITVS is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American People.

Posted on March 22, 2005