Elwood Decker Biography

Elwood Decker




Elwood Decker was born April 8, 1903 in Fresno, California. He attended High School in Oakland and later the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco. In 1931, after a tour of duty with the U.S. Army, Elwood came to live in the sand dunes of Oceano, California as an artist. He became part of an eclectic group of artists, writers, poets and other free-thinkers living in the dunes who were known as the "Dunites." Elwood left the dunes in 1935 to work as an artist for the Civilian Conservation Corps. His assignment was to portray the reconstruction of the buildings at historic Fort Churchill (near Reno, Nevada), including brick making, scaffolding, tools and equipment, and the men themselves. Over forty of his sketches were sent to Washington, and a set of his drawings were left with the State of Nevada.

By the end of 1935 Elwood was back in the dunes of Oceano again, living as a hermit and mystic. He was able to maintain himself in the dunes as an artist as he had done before, and remained there until 1946. In June, 1946 Elwood married Ann Carpenter (who he met in the dunes) and they moved to Hollywood, California. By the following year he had almost completely abandoned representational art and became an abstract painter.

During the late summer of 1947 Elwood became interested in photography as a medium. He obtained a movie camera and made his first black and white abstract film, "Light Modulators" by using double exposure techniques and mirror imaging. It was a ten minute silent film and was first shown in 1948 at U.S.C., during the first Annual Festival of Contemporary Art. That same year Elwood also made "Color Fragments," an abstract film in color. In 1952 Elwood enrolled at Santa Monica City College to learn more about photography and film. In August of that year he began using macro-photography to make another abstract color film, "Crystals," showing real crystals growing in brilliant color. During February, 1955, Elwood exhibited 14 of his abstract color photographs (which were called "Photograms") at Pasadena Art Institute. He also exhibited photograms at the International Exhibit of Photography at Leverkusen, Germany and received a bronze medal for third place in the color division.

In 1956 Elwood became a follower of Sri Sri Anandamayee Ma, regarded by many as an earthly incarnation of the Mother of the Universe. Elwood began inserting the words "Jai Ma" into many of his compositions at this time, which means "Victory to the Universal Mother." In 1965 Elwood and Ann moved from West Hollywood to Thousand Oaks. Elwood completely abandoned working with film at this time and went back to painting. Eight years later the Deckers moved to Oklahoma City, then in 1979 they moved back to the central coast of California.

On January 8, 1992, Elwood was killed by a freight train while walking along the tracks bordering the sand dunes of Oceano. His wife had died several years earlier and, in keeping with his wishes, both of their ashes were scattered together in a remote section of the dunes where they had first met over 40 years earlier. The a capella group "The Bobs" wrote a song titled "Elwood Decker Got Run Over by a Train"

Biography by Norman Hamond for the Dune Spirits Foundation.