Modern Artist Dick Seeger Pioneered Scottsdale; Now He Turns to His Own Backyard
The home of 81-year-old artist Dick Seeger doesn't have a lot of curb appeal.
Located in a quiet, upscale neighborhood of North Scottsdale, it certainly doesn't look like it's the location of anything particularly remarkable. Half-hidden by scraggly creosote bushes, its unpaved circular driveway is littered with fallout from trees that surround the dun-colored house. It's the least-groomed place in a neighborhood of typical North Scottsdale adoboid compounds dear to the hearts of Midwestern newcomers enthused about the Southwest. Its lack of distinction is exactly what compelled the octagenarian artist to purchase it.
That makes sense when you eventually see what's inside.
New Times cover story
Take a tour: of Dick Seeger's home in this slide show.
However, you get a clue that this isn't your ordinary household in Cookie Cutter Big House territory from the 30-foot-high dirt pyramid surrounded by the meandering moat Seeger built completely by hand in the spacious backyard. And, of course, it's hard to ignore that 110-foot reclining Mother Spiritual Earth dirt sculpture — complete with perky boobs pointing skyward and welcoming womb — leading to the pyramid, which rises from three feet below lot grade. Not exactly your typical suburban backyard landscape treatment.
Welcome to The Magical Mystery Spiritual Experience. That's what Dick Seeger has dubbed the constantly transmuting, living-art environment he's created, and continually reconfigures, in basically every square inch of what looks to be your average upper-middle-class home, on land that once sheltered horses and stables.
Dave Hampton, an expert on Midcentury Modern art and design in the Southwest who has researched and written about Seeger and his place in the art history of the region in the 1950s and '60s, recalls the first time he met the artist and saw his jaw-dropping residence.
"It was amazing," says Hampton. "He lived alone in a great big Scottsdale — I hate to say it — McMansion, which just made the contents of the place, including its artist-in-residence, that much more unlikely. The whole place was a constantly changing display of his collections and his own art that became a surreal art experience."
A critical, yet strangely under-appreciated member of the early modern Scottsdale art scene, the still-spry Seeger — artist, gallerist, designer, collector and philosopher — is quietly hoping someone with deep pockets will make his dream of turning his artwork and vast collection of ethnic artifacts into a tangible museum, which he conceptualizes as a huge complex of — what else? — pyramids.
Whether there's a bucks-up kindred spirit out there sufficiently enthralled with his singular, pyramidal vision is anyone's guess.
Open the front doors to Dick Seeger's home/personal museum — a 5,000-square-foot residence with soaring ceilings — and you feel as though you've been sucked into a time capsule and dumped somewhere between 19th-century colonial Africa and swinging '60s America, in all its psychedelic and Age of Aquarius glory. Bespectacled Seeger greets his visitors, who have included local museum groups and looky-loos, dressed in his unchanging uniform of unadorned T-shirt, jeans, and bare feet. Though he's 81, he doesn't look a day over 65, moving from display to display like a well-trained museum docent, explaining the provenance of a particular item — if he happens to know anything about it.
"I don't know which culture this one or that one is from — I couldn't care less; these are African," says Seeger, pointing to a group of carved wooden sculptures on the floor. Though he generally knows the continent or country of origin, "[that's] as close as I want to get. I get them when I figure they would fit into a category within the museum I have planned," which he envisions as "humongous."
To the left of the foyer is what Seeger calls his ethnic room. It's a veritable rain forest of Indian necklaces strung together and dangled from the ceiling, mirrored embroideries from Gujarat, India, and Seeger-created beaded constructions, including an endless variety of African trade and other beads, both antique and new. The room has been stuffed with masks and artifacts from every conceivable culture and historical period. A gigantic bronze Buddha appearing to originate from Southeast Asia — Thailand, perhaps — anchors the crazy collection of tribal ritual sculptures, masks, and textiles Seeger has amassed from Africa, Nepal, Tibet, India, New Guinea, and Mexico.
Not content with one or two examples of a particular object, the artist/collector, who labels himself an "arranger," sucks up as many as he can. There seems to be no category limitation or quota for how many he can collect, such as antique metal bracelets once used as currency, old leather-wrapped bracelets, African beaded bracelets, and costume jewelry rings from a cache of a thousand pounds of jewelry Seeger bought and sorted through years ago. He's stacked them onto long poles, reminiscent of totemic sculpture from Africa.
A cardboard sign at the foot of a carved wooden figure in the room solemnly declares, "Life is full of diversions keeping man from learning what it's all about." Seeger's ethnic room falls squarely into the category of one of those mesmerizing distractions, not to mention the rest of the house, which has, in large part, been transformed into purely aesthetic, completely non-functional art installations.
Take, for example, the living room bar sink that's filled to the brim with white, cream-colored, and iridescent glass beads or the never-used master bathtub lorded over by an antique Ethiopian Coptic cross mounted on the leg of an old-time diner stool amid a suspended shower of crystal drops hung from the bathroom ceiling on clear monofilament. Another tub/shower area in the house has been walled in with see-through boxes, each filled with an odd collection of items, including used hearing-aid batteries, dice, Mardi Gras throws, and watch parts, while from the top of that bathroom's mirror droop hundreds of metal chains.
In the grand room, the indefatigable Seeger has amassed a number of Tibetan singing bowls next to an old temple gong and a yak bell hung from a decorative woven strap; he eagerly demonstrates their deep tones by tapping on them. Exquisite multiharmonic vibrations fill the room.
"This is my playpen," he says with a satisfied smile.
No less attention-diverting is his dining room. It's been transformed into a gallery of sun faces he's personally made or collected, its center sitting area staged as an intimate, nest-like space surrounded by a floor-to-ceiling curtain of trade beads carefully hand-strung by the ever-active artist.
An entire room toward the back of the house recalls Pippi Longstocking's pirate treasure chests. The room is dedicated to antique wooden thread cabinets, each drawer of which is filled with items that fall into Seeger's mental categories — hearts, coins, old bone buttons, amulets, Mexican milagros, tiny masks from a variety of cultures and time periods, medals and badges, even mash-ups of wooden bases onto which the artist has appended some unusual bibelot, be it a watch gear, seashells, or a bit of unidentifiable detritus.
Throughout the residence, Seeger has strategically planted his own artwork — paintings, photographs, assemblages, and three-dimensional constructions. Forget storage — even closets have been commandeered for display purposes. One is almost entirely inhabited by antique toys and vintage ethnic jewelry.
Dick Seeger actually lives in only a small area of the master bedroom where he's placed his bed, a desk that seconds as his dining table, and a computer; he uses only the shower in the master bath. The rest of the space is devoted to his collection and wall montage of personal photos documenting his many activities and achievements through the past six decades; it's watched over by a huge shelf of what he calls "finials," turned wood pieces to which he's conjoined strange little heads of sundry origin, and large sculptures he's cobbled together from saw horses and ethnic masks, woodcarvings and jewelry. With the artist being an unshakable devotee of Coke and Cheetos, it's a very safe bet that extensive cooking has never taken place in his kitchen.
The quality, not to mention the quantity, of the objects Seeger has collected for more than 60 years is impressive, and he seems to value everything equally, despite source or cost. Pre-Columbian pieces rub shoulders with goofy Route 66 tourist "kachinas" and Mexican folk art; 19th-century Qing Dynasty figures consort with contemporary plastic figurines from The Wizard of Oz. Seeger doesn't exalt one culture or era over another — there's room and respect for everyone here at The Magical Mystery Spiritual Experience. A Beatle would feel right at home.
Though Dick Seeger has been seriously infected by the ethnic-art-collecting bug for a number of decades, his beginnings are anything but exotic or primitive. Born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 1929, Seeger was an only child raised in Father Knows Best fashion by parents who came from large broods.
According to the artist, he was "flooded out of a house as a fetus," sang in a church choir, was his grade school principal's helper, and earned the title of a "super-duper turkey coop pooper scooper" in his youth. Despite his studious beanpole appearance, he was also an Iowa Junior State Champion in archery and finished first in obstacle courses in high school, college, and the Army, into which he was drafted. He served in both the U.S. Navy and Army and was stationed for a time on a naval destroyer. A scrupulously clean liver, Seeger's adamant that he's never smoked a cigarette or taken illicit drugs of any kind, ever.
After being discharged from military service, Seeger got married to his first wife, Helen, earned a degree in art from Cedar Rapids' Coe College, and garnered experience as a photographer. But, like the Beats of that generation, he was a ramblin' kind of guy, curious about the world around him. In the 1950s, after Helen tragically lost twin sons at birth, artist and wife, in a classic Jack Kerouac, On the Road-type of move, decided to drive from Iowa to Oaxaca, in southern Mexico, in their old car.
"I had a Spanish professor in college having a sabbatical in Oaxaca," he recalls. While in the Abastos Market in Oaxaca City, Seeger's billfold was stolen, and the duo ended up driving north to Mexico City sans identification documents and con very little money. While at a Mexico City bullfight, the couple's car was stolen.
"We finally got hold of a guy there at the bullfights who said you have to go down to the secret service in downtown Mexico City and report it. On the way in a taxi, I saw my car sitting right there on the side of the road, all stripped — battery, alternator, tires, everything."
Per Seeger, the worst part of it all was the theft of a bag of pre-Columbian shards and parts of Mixtec clay figures he had collected while walking in cornfields adjacent to the archeological ruins of Monte Alban. This obviously was years before taking such artifacts was considered seriously illegal theft of national Mexican patrimony.
Penniless and paperless, Dick and Helen somehow managed to call Seeger's father in Iowa, who, with the help of U.S. Senator Bourke B. Hickenlooper, arranged for the stranded duo to make it to the border, where they were greeted by money from Dad and legal identification documents. Not in the least dispirited by their rotten luck, Seeger says, at the border they had "to decide, well, are we going to go back home with our tails between our legs or hightail it to California?"
They chose the latter route, eventually ending up in Carmel, with which they instantly fell in love. Fortuitously, they walked into the office of a realtor, who hooked them up with a wealthy homeowner whose house overlooked Pebble Beach Golf Course on 17 Mile Drive. For a month, the Seegers played housekeeper and groundsman of the woman's estate while she traveled, even though she didn't know the couple from Adam.
But it would be Scottsdale that ended up being irresistible to artist and wife.
After returning to Iowa from their Carmel adventure, the Seegers took a second trip out West; they worked their way up the California coast, hitting every well-known artist's colony along the way, including La Jolla and Laguna Beach. Passing through Arizona on their way back to Cedar Rapids, they eventually stopped in Scottsdale in 1956 and were invited to dinner by Italian émigré Paolo Soleri and his wife, Colly, with whom they would eventually become good friends.
To Seeger, there was something exceptionally exciting about Scottsdale and its burgeoning arts community. During college, he had made his mark on the design world by carving and wholesaling "herds," sleek, abstracted animal forms from wood, especially walnut, and other one-of-a-kind biomorphic, modernist sculptures on commission. He was also well-known by professional designers for his "windwood" sculptures; both were wholesaled through the Chicago Merchandise Mart. Seeger made his wind-carved pieces from weathered red cedar tree limbs he collected during 10 trips to Colorado.
"Soleri just had the original underground house, [was building] one structure at a time at Cosanti on Doubletree Road. I was saying to myself, well, he's here . . . When there are only 6,000 people, there has to be a reason. I figured if the town was good enough for Soleri, it was good enough for me," says Seeger.
In 1957, he and his wife moved into an un-air-conditioned wooden shack behind the original White Hogan, a workshop and retail store on Main Street in old Scottsdale started by Indian trader Johnny Bonnell. The store launched the careers of legendary contemporary Navajo silversmiths like Kenneth Begay and Allan Kee, and seriously dug into Scottsdale's alluring mid-century modern desert lifestyle.
Despite officially adopting the title of "The West's Most Western Town" in 1951, Scottsdale was anything but a podunk, cowboys-and-Indians backwater when Dick Seeger landed there in the latter part of the 1950s.
Since the '20s, the small desert town had lured artists, sculptors, writers, architects, and other creative types to its desiccated terrain. It also drew well-heeled vacationers looking for relaxation in the area's often tony resorts and dude ranches, health seekers searching for unpolluted, non-allergenic fresh air, and celebrities of all stripes searching for some respite from public view.
By the time Seeger arrived, Scottsdale was a well-advertised tourist mecca, garnering a glowing eight-page spread in the March 12, 1956, issue of Life, which described the blinding glitziness of "the gold-plated town."
The story explained the "life steeped in luxury" of "transplanted inhabitants" who "buy $1,000 antiques and $10 cocktail lanterns" and "shop in stores where gift wrapping is as much as $50 extra." In addition to touting Scottsdale's high-end resorts and health spas, the article effusively described its downtown art and fashion scene.
In 1958, Time breathlessly recounted every facet of First Lady Mamie Eisenhower's sojourn at Elizabeth Arden's over-the-top Maine Chance health spa, then located on property that would, in time, become The Phoenician resort.
Small enclaves of ongoing art-related activity were already spread throughout Scottsdale when Seeger and his wife scouted out artist colonies. In the 1930s, untrained architect/engineer George Ellis and his wife, Rachael, began what would develop into an artist colony of working studios and cozy homes in an area off McDonald Drive that used to be an old cattle track. Surrealist painter Phillip Curtis was just one of a number of prominent artists who called Cattletrack Complex home.
According to Scottsdale historian Joan Fudala, in early 1946, local businessman Tom Darlington opened Arizona Craftsmen Center in a former grocery store at Brown Avenue and Main Street in downtown Scottsdale. There, local artists and designers demonstrated their particular crafts for curious tourists, with the obvious end of having those tourists snap up their wares.
Included in the group were groundbreaking leather and clothing fashion designer Lloyd Kiva New, a front-running supporter of the Native American crafts movement heating up nationwide. Also working in the center's display studios were woodcarver Raymond Phillips Sanderson, silversmith Wes Segner, painter Lew Davis, ceramic artist Mathilde Schaeffer Davis, and calligrapher-photographer Leonard Yuschik.
When the demo studios burned to the ground in 1950, Lloyd Kiva and Wes Segner spearheaded a drive, with financial underwriting from Anne and Fowler McCormick, to build a new Craftsmen Center on empty land north of downtown Scottsdale. Completed in 1955, the complex of studios and high-end shops centered on a breezy open patio and featured the distinctly Southwestern designs of local designers, craftsmen, and artists who were attaining international recognition. It was christened Fifth Avenue Craft Center, after New York's highly fashionable Fifth Avenue, and later renamed Kiva Crafts Center.
In addition, Frank Lloyd Wright had established Taliesin West as his winter residence and architectural school in the then-untouched hinterlands of North Scottsdale. Soleri, who had apprenticed with Wright, had completed several eco-architectural structures at Cosanti on Doubletree Road and was producing iconic pottery and sand-cast bells that spoke of the desert landscape. It was art that Dick Seeger would begin selling in his first Scottsdale studio gallery, along with his own windwood sculptures, abstracted woodcarvings, and ethnic objets d'art that crossed his path.
Dick Seeger was into plastics long before a bewildered Dustin Hoffman was taken aside in 1967's The Graduate by a smarmy businessman and memorably told: "I just want to say one word to you — just one word — 'plastics.'"
In Cedar Rapids, Seeger had begun experimenting with fusing liquid polyester resin onto acrylic sheets and carving it after his first summer in Scottsdale forced him and his wife to return to Iowa until the desert's notoriously oppressive heat let up.
"We stayed at her family's house," the artist recalls. "I took over the garage and started experimenting. I was a woodworker and found out those same tools would work on acrylic. Adding the polyester added another dimension to it. You could add color dyes to it."
Taking a dozen or so samples of textures and designs in this revolutionary new medium to the Chicago Merchandise Mart, the artist ended up in the Dunbar showroom. "It was like out of a movie — when I would show them my samples, all the receptionists would immediately get me right in to their manager."
The manager at Dunbar made a phone call, then gave Seeger an address, telling him to get a cab and go there immediately, which he did. At his destination, designer after designer was called into the large reception area to see his work. After some back and forth between Scottsdale and Chicago, Seeger landed his first plastics commission — designing and making 29 decorative bulkhead dividers for Boeing 720 jets owned by United Airlines. Every one of the panels was handcrafted by Seeger in an outside closet of that sweltering wooden shack behind the White Hogan.
And who commissioned them? None other than Raymond Loewy, the history-making father of industrial design, who's been variously crowned "the man who designed America" by Life and, most recently by Vanity Fair, the re-inventor of mid-century American consumer culture. Thanks to fashion illustrator-turned-industrial designer Loewy and an army of associates, the world was given, among other instantly recognizable bits of classic Americana, the Lucky Strike cigarette package, the new, more svelte Coca-Cola bottle, the John F. Kennedy memorial postage stamp, the Schick electric razor, the Pepsodent toothbrush, the Sears Coldspot refrigerator, several models of Studebaker, a line of Frigidaire kitchen appliances, the Greyhound bus and logo, and the logos of Shell, Exxon, the U.S. Postal Service, and Nabisco, not to mention the interior living spaces of Saturn I, Saturn V, and Skylab Space Station.
Not bad for an inaugural commission — and there would be many more in the 1960s and '70s from not only prominent local architects, but also nationally acclaimed ones like L.A.-based Welton Beckett, the architect responsible for the Capitol Records Building in Hollywood, UCLA Medical Center, the Beverly Hilton Hotel, Los Angeles Music Center, and Century City, among other L.A. landmarks. In the early '70s, Beckett would also design downtown Phoenix's looming Chase Tower (originally Valley Bank Center), still Arizona's tallest building.
That first commission from Loewy was hefty enough that Seeger, wife, and growing family (he eventually had three children) could comfortably move to 28 West First Avenue, where they occupied living quarters, a workshop area, and his first gallery, the adjoining Seeger's Showroom of Contemporary Crafts.
Out of this showroom, he sold his own wood sculptures and art in plastic, Soleri's early hanging bells, organic pottery, and wind chimes, as well as sculpture and pottery by artist friends like Hawaiian-born Ben Goo and Maurice Grossman. The four of them, along with Lloyd Kiva and Charles Loloma, would be founding members of the Arizona Designer Craftsmen, a group started in June 1959 that still exists today.
Seeger remembers that his gallery always seemed to have sculptures from all over the world for sale, folk carvings, and Mexican stone metates: "I'm proud of that and I don't know how it evolved," he says. He does recall that, in the '60s, a dealer got a load of pre-Columbian artifacts from Mexico through U.S. customs as "decorative items" that Seeger eventually sold in his gallery.
At the invitation of Lloyd Kiva, in 1962, Seeger moved kit and caboodle to Kiva's well-known Fifth Avenue Craft Center, the vortex of Scottsdale art activity at that time. Be they room dividers, free-standing partitions, furniture, illuminated panels, dangling curtains or screens for commercial or residential use, his colorful, carved plastic constructions were in huge demand.
"Nobody ever did that kind of stuff," Seeger says. "I did a lot of that," actually forging a lucrative career as an artist, a remarkable feat at the time.
Here in the Valley, he created decorative pieces for hotels and restaurants, Elizabeth Arden's Maine Chance, the downtown Goldwater's fur salon, and the Pepsi-Cola Business Management Institute building, as well as and modular murals for businesses, including American Republic Insurance Company.
One of his first local projects was the window decorations at Phoenix's newly opened Green Acres Mortuary and Cemetery. Eventually, he would also create work for homebuilding giant Kaufman and Broad, the latter of which is Eli Broad, the famous art collector, patron, and founding chairman of L.A.'s Museum of Contemporary Art.
Seeger is still amazed by the constant stream of famous politicians, dignitaries, and celebrities who flowed through his place. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, then a practicing attorney, was a Saturday regular, and Barry Goldwater was known to come in. At various times, Seeger met and chatted with Indira Gandhi, Rock Hudson, Maurice Chevalier, Dinah Shore, Liberace, Dick Van Dyke, Vincent Price, and Reggie Jackson. And who could ever forget meeting Ava Gardner?
The Dick Seeger Design Gallery revved into overdrive, showing not only Seeger's latest work, like decorative mobiles, coasters, trivets, and candleholders, but that of an expanding stable of artists from the Southwest. The artist had his own designs in a slew of upper-end American department stores, including New York's Bloomingdales, Dallas' Neiman Marcus, Bullocks stores in California, Chicago's Marshall Field, and Saks Fifth Avenue stores around the country.
In 1968, Monsanto magazine did a cover feature on his work in an issue also spotlighting stewardesses in white go-go boots and flip hairdos. In it, Seeger's "Accents" — custom-created, translucent plastic shapes in eye-popping colors strung together with nylon filament — and his other carved plastic objects were hailed as creating a serious new art medium; of course, the chemical giant happened to be the source of critical components used in making polyester resins.
Monsanto noted that free-spirited Seeger wasn't cowed by clients: "His clients . . . know that Seeger will take no dictation from them. He does not even show preliminary sketches, insisting that if the client doesn't like the finished job, he'd rather do it over. So far, he has never had to." At this point, the artist was also writing down "thoughts," pithy sayings or profound observations that would pop into his head on a regular basis, transforming them into paintings displayed on the gallery walls.
Those unending thoughts mutated into another entire line of artwork — hand-lettered or painted text capturing his philosophical musings.
Long before computer graphics allowed artists to crank out Photoshopped text with a few strokes on a keyboard, Seeger was laboriously painting and lettering his "thoughts" in a bewildering array of typefaces.
In 1974, Arizona Highways devoted three pages to Seeger's "thought capsules," as they described the work, noting that a variety of his art pieces in different media were on permanent display at the new Elaine Horwitch Gallery, 42 Marshall Way. His "Book of Thoughts" about art, love, and architecture was available as three suites of 90 cards each, and later in book form as Sightwithinsight (1974) and I've been thinking (1976).
Everything old is inevitably new again — and that applies to interest in Dick Seeger's mid-20th-century work, resurrected by the recent mania for retro vintage and Midcentury Modern design and décor.
In 2008, Seeger became the subject of The Seeger Studio 1957-1962: Desert Modern in Scottsdale, Arizona, a book authored by Dave Hampton, in which the Scottsdale artist is elevated to the status of an American modernist master who pioneered the use of plastic in art. Hampton discovered Seeger during his search for information about the work of the late Jack Boyd, a highly regarded San Diego sculptor and jeweler working in the '50s and '60s.
Hampton, also the curator of "San Diego's Craft Revolution From Post-War Modern to California Design," which soon will open at the Mingei International Museum in San Diego on October 16, is unequivocal in his assessment of Seeger's role in Midcentury Modern design.
"For me, Dick Seeger is the trifecta," says Hampton. "He knew all these other artists, carried and sold their work in his gallery, and he's obviously a completely mad collector. He's right there in the middle of things; at the same time, he never got the museum-style or national recognition that, say, Freda Koblick of San Francisco, who also worked in plastic, did.
"Regionally, he carried so many artists — he knew everybody in New Mexico, Arizona, and California — and he was in a lot of regional shows . . . I don't think he cared that much about trying to submit his work for museum shows or invitational showings. He didn't push his work that way because he kind of had it all sewn up. He was such a big deal, the way people remember his gallery; he was the only place in town to combine these really major talents and to put his own work there."
Seeger's small but vocal cult following mentions him frequently in blogs, and hefty price tags are attached to the now-collectible pieces of Seeger sculpture and furniture that pop up online.
Perhaps even more telling is the recirculation of Seeger "thoughts," quoted by a new, metaphysically ravenous generation of truth-seekers. Utterings like "To be average scares the hell out of me" and "His search for answers was so involved, his mind turned into a question mark" are quoted on Facebook and personal blogs, a testament to Seeger's philosophical staying power.
Ever the restless mind, in the '80s, Dick Seeger came up with a lucrative concept that made him enough money to buy the large Scottsdale house that today seconds as his personal museum.
In 1982, he patented SeegerPeople, an idea for three-dimensional photo sculptures featuring photographs mounted on stiff backing that were then carefully cut out by hand with a band saw — another tool in Seeger's arsenal of woodworking implements.
Pushed as a fun photo experience, Seeger's wacky cut-out photo constructions were inspired by a person or family's personality and hobbies, or a life event that just had to be commemorated, like pregnancy (before and after photos were often set side by side), birthdays, marriage and other experiences people felt compelled to memorialize. The artist was both photographic director, getting otherwise sensible people to do goofy things, and designer of the finished constructions, which often used completely fabricated or painted landscapes as backdrops.
Through the '80s, it was almost a rite of passage in the Valley to have a sitting at SeegerPeople, which the artist franchised worldwide until 1995. At one point, SeegerPeople thrived in Maui and Lausanne, Switzerland, and the opening of Newport Beach's Fashion Island franchise was big news in the L.A. Times in 1988. Several SeegerPeople studios are still going strong, one in the St. Louis area and one in Michigan.
The 1980s also brought the end of Seeger's 31-year marriage to Helen, but not before Seeger was subjected to what he calls "an unrequested attempted exorcism" by his wife's minister, who "tried to get the devil out of him." Spiritual, but not religious, Seeger found his wife's beliefs too much to handle — "apparently they didn't get the devil out of me; I still have it" — and divorce followed.
It wasn't long before he met Betty Helman, a much younger artist who worked at SeegerPeople and became his second spouse when she was 32, the same age as one of her new stepchildren. Though that marriage ended, Betty still regularly works for Seeger as an artist and they remain good friends to this day.
Leap to the current millennium. You'll find Dick Seeger has "retired," at least from any commercial enterprise. He bought and moved into his current house in a matter of two days in 2004 using six trucks and 13 moving men. Over an 18-month period, he built that 30-foot-high dirt pyramid with a front door opening onto more dirt, using a small tractor, a hand shovel and several strong backs ("I dig dirt," he quips), not to mention the 110-foot-long Mother Spiritual Earth dirt sculpture, surrounding moat and adjacent conversation area he says will hold 25 people.
On any given day — since he seems to move everything around, both inside and out, on a daily basis — there might be a life-size antique Indian brass horse standing guard over the pyramid amid a group of giant yucca stems stuck in the ground, or a replica Egyptian mummy case.
Or a reproduction terra cotta Xi'an warrior crafted after one of the 8,000 figures excavated from the burial site of a Chinese emperor dating to the third century B.C.
Seeger still is voraciously making his own art and collecting the art of world cultures during his world travels. He says his collecting ethnic art began full-bore when he was ushered into a Glendale warehouse stuffed with African artifacts.
"Something happened to me there," he says. "Sometimes, when I'm walking around this house, and I do walk around this house a lot, an ethnic object will feel like energy is coming from it."
Sometimes, his travels in search of things to collect are not without incident. One of those occurred when he and Betty were in Kashmir, India, on September 11, 2001.
"A friend of mine locally had family in Kashmir, and we were a guest in the family compound. It happened that the day before 9/11, their chauffeur killed the neighbor's son accidentally. The neighbor was of a different tribe and so my host said, 'You've got to get out of here right now,'" Seeger recalls.
That's how he and Betty found themselves spirited onto a flight to Bangkok, unable to get back into the United States because all air traffic had been suspended. But that didn't stop him from bringing home a huge load of Indian art he's now ensconced in his Magical Mystery Spiritual Experience.
When asked directly, Dick Seeger admits that he is obsessive compulsive, which explains his unending rearranging, unstoppable creating and collecting, and eternal striving for perfection.
"I can't stand chaos," he says with a shrug. "If it were not correct, then my head would not be correct."
As for the idea for his museum, which can perhaps best be described as humanitarian Pyramid Power meets the New Age metaphysics, the artist shows visitors an architectural maquette composed of four different-size pyramids.
"It's a conceptual idea — it doesn't necessarily mean it's going to be in pyramids like this — these are just what I had to work with. It'll be four structures — this is like the ethnic room in there, with all kinds of stuff hanging and filling up the room," notes Seeger, pointing to one of the pyramids.
"The others are body, mind, spirit, larger than any complex in the world. The main thing is here," says the artist of the largest pyramid. "There are a thousand white plates on the ground in a circle. Visualize a thousand people standing on each one, holding hands, and in the middle, hydraulically, one person is lifted up, centered; a focus of light hits that person and everybody has positive thoughts about that person and the power of the pyramid. All these things working together to maybe solve your hip problem, maybe to cure your cancer, maybe to levitate. Who knows when you get all that energy focused on one person?"
Seeger is convinced that there is someone in the world who will intuitively know how important the Magical Mystery Spiritual Experience is and will want to buy and preserve it: "I'm of the opinion that if there is one person in this whole world, he will see all this and want to do something with it."
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