Even the custodian of the Archives of von Meier is subject to finding his own life scattered among Kurt’s lifelong collection of assorted memorabilia. Kurt called me by my nickname, “Bean,” until the day he died. This business card dates back to 1970, when I lived at 25th and Diamond Streets, a couple of blocks south of the Diamond Sutra Restaurant at 24th and Diamond, and maintained a home address for my graphic design studio. It was at the Diamond Sutra that I first met Kurt, and lo and behold, much to my surprise, I ran across this card while making yet another pass through one of Kurt’s file boxes. Notably, I had saved no copy of my own.
Kurt von Meier was a special kind of pack-rat. His discerning eye for design combined with his fascination in tribal cultures and human rituals inclined Kurt to collect all sorts of objects. After the fire at the Diamond Sufi Ranch in 1979, Kurt had to move his collection to a new location, and being the ever-rigorous documentarian, he made a list of everything he had to relocate. Between 1979 and his death in 2011, he had added voluminously to his possessions, vastly increasing the objects, clothing, nick-knacks, artwork, photos, books and so forth that eventually filled every corner of Kurt’s living space. This list provides an insight into Kurt’s interests and obsessions.
The Diamond Sufi Ranch played host to a variety of groups and teachers during the early 70s, but this invitation was tied to a weekend devoted to Amanita muscaria, the sacred mushroom of the ancients. Kurt had taught a weekend seminar at Esalen on SOMA, but this ranch weekend was to be a hands-on affair, as this invite indicates.
PS: SANTA CLAUS IS A MUSHROOM.
OK, his last name is misspelled, but Kurt even showed up in the “30 Years Ago” portion of the “Olden times” section of the August 22, 1989 section of the Monterey Herald newspaper. An old friend sent him this clipping, and of course, Kurt saved it. The guy was a publicity magnet.
The Universal Life Church was founded by Rev. Kirby J. Hensley in 1962 and offered ministry credentials to anyone who applied and sent a small financial offering. Of course, Kurt became a member, and received Certificate No. 66343, date May 2, 1962 making him an ordained minister. Regrettably, his first name is misspelled “Kirt.” Included here is his certificate, a printed sheet with information about the Universal Life Church, and a panel from one of its newsletters. The church remains in operation.
Unexpected treats come this way now that Kurt’s archives are online; one such treat is this painting by Kurt, “Karekare” (Karekare is a black sand beach on the violent Tasman coast west of Auckland). The inquiry came through the contact form on this website and included this information: “The Chartwell Collection has acquired a work of Kurt's, Karekare, pva on Board, dated 1962, signed, 565 x 1200mm, from an Auckland auction of works from the John Perry Collection. John was a student of Kurt's at Elam.”
In 1939, when Kurt was five years old, he and his family visited the Golden Gate International Exhibition on San Francisco Bay, what we today call a “World’s Fair.” By all accounts, Kurt’s mother Dorothy loved the exhibition, and that prompted several return visits. The von Meier family was living in Berkeley at that time. (Left: Julian and Dorothy von Meier in 1940). This guidebook was passed down from Kurt’s mother to Kurt’s sister Kathie, who made it available for posting on this website.
For a while, Kurt von Meier and Walter (Clifford) Barney established an on-going relationship with James Keys, aka G. Spencer Brown, poet, mathematician and author of Laws of Form. They exchanged letters and corresponded after Brown’s attendance at the AUM Conference at Esalen in 1973. In these two letters from Brown in September of 1976, he makes special note of Kurt and Walter’s appreciation and understanding of his work. “Before enlightenment people deal only in opinions, afterwards there can be only an exchange of gifts, as in heaven. It is important how pretty the ribbons are. You and Kurt are the only members of the team with any clout who have realized this.”
One of Kurt’s most prized—and well-used—possessions was his whale’s tooth pipe (actual size, 2 3/4” in length). Discolored by years of resinous smoke and oils from being handled, when “The Tooth” (as it was affectionately called) came out, it was an invocation of the sacred, and an indication of moving into the wild and intoxicated realm Kurt’s Dionysian self so enjoyed. Kurt’s friend Paula Reinking knitted a special “sock” to protect The Tooth, emblazoned with a depiction of an Amanita Muscaria mushroom, of course!
Kurt was so intrigued with the imaginary number “i” symbolized by this expression he had a T-shirt made. Kurt had all sorts of T-shirts in his wardrobe—ranging from declarative to contemplative—yet another dimension of his expressive personality. The same was true of hats, and for that matter, socks, shirts, pants, belts and so forth. Not the type to just throw on anything, Kurt thought about how he dressed, and had the closet of a clothes horse.
This article from March 4, 1967 covers Kurt von Meier’s “dismissal” from UCLA, an event that would change the course of Kurt’s teaching career. Reporter Art Seidenbaum notes, “To the study of painting and sculpture von Meier brought added attractions; underground movies, avant-garde poetry, visiting Pop painters and—most lively of all in a curriculum already emblazoned with living color—throbbing rock 'n' roll musicians.”
Kurt was an avid collector, particularly fond of textiles and blankets. Having traveled to the southwest to visit the Hopi, he acquired a large number of antique Navajo blankets of extraordinary beauty and significance. He discussed their use and meaning in his lectures, and on chilly nights at the Diamond Sufi Ranch he'd sleep warmly beneath them. Read more to see some examples from his collection (images courtesy of Ishi von Meier, Kurt's grandson).
Kurt was a collector. He'd find objects and relics, then place them in containers and boxes which he'd squirrel away in closets, cabinets and hiding places known only to him. From time to time he'd pull one out and talk about each item so contained. Some treasure boxes were filled with Native American artifacts, others with bones and ivory. Every item had a story. This box held horns, mostly. For a closer look at the contents, read more.
Kurt was Ken Magri's Masters Degree advisor in the late 1970s at Sacramento State University. Ken went on to enjoy a career of art, photography, teaching, writing and commentary. When Kurt was selected as the head of the Art Department in 1988, he received this postcard from Ken. (Ken has recently contributed his recollection of Kurt).
Want to spend a while hanging out at the Diamond Sufi Ranch in the early-seventies? Here's a recording that allows you to do it; Kurt often put a reel in his Nagra, set it to record and let it run.
Begin the audio, lie down on the floor with a comfortable pillow behind your head, close your eyes and join the ranch family and guests as they hang out on the deck in the grove of timber bamboo, smoke, eat, laugh and play music. Visting the ranch, Harish, an Indian musician and singer, serenades the group while the ranch flute, as Kurt says, "finds" a player. Drums get played, fruits get eaten, pipes get smoked. Just another day in paradise.
Audio runs about 30 minutes.
By 1966 Kurt had already gained recognition as an up-and-coming voice in the art historian community. His regular contributions to Art International magazine along with the attention he gained at UCLA for his unconventional teaching approach helped Kurt establish relationships with others with aspirations in his chosen field. Among them was the young Roberta Bernstein, who felt great affection for Kurt; Roberta did indeed fulfill her aspirations and today is a recognized leader in the field art history. This charming 1966 letter about her visit with Andy Warhol has its place in the history of both Roberta and Kurt.
Kurt's class lectures on Rock & Roll got the attention of Doug Weston, owner of the famous West Los Angeles club Troubadour. Dubbed in the local newspaper "The Professor of Rock," Kurt was invited by Weston in January of 1967 to join him at a club performance.
The photos and thoughts expressed on this website about Kurt's Diamond Sufi Ranch of the 1970s prompted Kurt's dear friend Joseph Duane to pen his own memories of that magical place (with some additional notes from ranch family member Cliff Barney). For example, about the bamboo, Joe writes, "'Harvested stalks were put to innumerable uses around the ranch, and Kurt’s friend Super Dave crafted lovely shakuhachi style flutes from root ended culms. The bamboo inescapably lent an 'oriental' air to the surroundings, and Kurt and his companions were naturals for the roles of the Taoist “Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove'."
Since its launch in August of 2017, KurtvonMeier.com has attracted visitors globally. This map shows the countries where visitors are located. Of these, the vast majority are located within the United States (in black); the lightest gray indicates zero visitors. Other countries with significant numbers include Canada, Thailand, The United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, Australia, Italy, France and New Zealand, but through searches, Facebook and emails, knowledge of the site is spreading every day. The website is well-indexed by Google, and public searches about specific artists or subjects are returning links to Kurt's articles. Who knows where this will lead, but the goal of making Kurt's thoughts and the story of his life available to the world is being accomplished.