By Margaret Magnus
Meher Mount continually welcomes many first-time visitors who know nothing of Avatar Meher Baba and not very much about Meher Mount. They often ask: “What is this place?” and “Who is Meher Baba?”
Followers of Meher Baba often are curious about the history of Meher Mount and how it came to be. Some ask for more details about Meher Baba’s 1956 visit.
All of these questions are part of the Meher Mount story — Avatar Meher Baba, His 1956 visit to Meher Mount, Agnes Baron and the founding of Meher Mount in 1946, and the purpose and role of Meher Mount.
Over the years, there have been various displays, photos and quotes at Meher Mount to help answer these questions.
“The Essence of Ojai” Provides the First Orientation
In 2003, the Ojai Valley Museum approached Meher Mount about being included in “The Essence of Ojai” exhibit at the museum which featured five spiritual groups in the area.
Then caretakers Ray Johnston and Elizabeth Arnold – with input from the Meher Mount board – pulled together photographs and wrote descriptions of Meher Baba, Meher Mount, and Agnes Baron for the exhibit.
“The Essence of Ojai” opened on July 19, 2003, and included the Chumash Indians, the Krotona Institute of Theosophy, the Ojai Foundation, the Krishnamurti Foundation of America, and Meher Mount.
After the museum exhibit closed, the eight-foot exhibition panels were given to Meher Mount and put on display in the meeting room of the Visitor Center.
Later, due to space concerns, the photographs and information boards were deconstructed and hung on the walls in the reception foyer and meeting room at Meher Mount.
In the early 2010s, as these boards and photographs faded and became difficult to read, caretakers Leslie and Samantha Bridger replaced them with framed photos and quotes from Meher Baba.
An Empty Visitor Center Creates An Opportunity
After the 2017 Thomas Fire with no one in residence in the Visitor Center/Caretaker Quarters, there was the opportunity to take a fresh look at the possibilities for visitor orientation.
Visitors first stop at the reception area at Meher Mount before exploring the property and going to Baba’s Tree.
Here they sign in, ask questions, pick up information pamphlets and cards about Meher Baba and Meher Mount, and wait to be directed to the next step.
Sometimes they pause and look at the Meher Baba quotes and photos on the wall. A few ask specific questions. Others look puzzled, not sure what to ask. Some are just curious, even wondering how they ended up at Meher Mount.
Creating a more comprehensive display — similar to the long-gone museum exhibit — to tell the Meher Mount story is always on the “to do” list. And, there always seem to stumbling blocks. Where to start? How to best use the limited wall space? How to naturally guide visitors through the information? What to include?
Coincidentally, the Thomas Fire recovery and renewal efforts provided an opportunity to revisit these discussions and make progress in fashioning the space to tell the Meher Mount story.
A Natural Flow for Visitors
Conceptually, the Meher Mount wall exhibit could start in the reception area and continue to the meeting room.
Thus, a first step in developing the narrative was to create a more natural flow from the reception foyer to the larger meeting room.
Once in the meeting room, visitors could discover more of the Meher Mount story. Logically, they would also be going toward the door leading outside to Baba’s Fireplace and courtyard area.
The fireplace is one of the last remaining artifacts of Meher Baba’s 1956 visit to Meher Mount. Since the Thomas Fire, Baba’s Fireplace has become a more integral part of the visitor experience. (See related story, “Opening the Door to Baba’s Fireplace.”)
Designer/architect friends of Meher Mount, Byron and Nancy Pinckert, suggested removing a non-supporting pilaster that stood between the foyer and the meeting room.
In removing this pilaster, visitors no longer had to “peak around the corner” to see what was on the other side. There was an open view into the meeting room and an unspoken invitation to explore further.
Wall Space for the Meher Mount Story
With this barrier gone, there was now the possibility to create a wall exhibit that started in the foyer and naturally guided visitors around the corner.
The next step was to create more wall space around the corner for this narrative.
In the meeting room, there is one long wall that can be used for display and information. However, in the middle of the wall was a door to the private caretaker quarters which broke up that potential display space.
The Pinckerts suggested closing off the door to create a continuous exhibition wall space. In checking with different previous caretakers, it was discovered that they had kept the door locked and never used it. Since this door would not be missed, it was decided to close it off.
As a bonus, the immediate space behind the door — which leads into a hallway — could be turned into a closet for more storage.
By closing off the door and creating one continuous wall, caretaker privacy is insured, there is more space that can be used for orientation and display, and the additional storage closet is a plus for all.
Telling the Meher Mount Story
The physical space for telling the Meher Mount and Meher Baba story has been created. Now begins the process of designing and using that space. There are elements to identify and collect, a narrative to be written, photographs and artwork to prepare, and components to build.
An added bonus will be creating any shelves, tables, donation boxes, and other items from the salvaged wood from the fallen limbs of Baba’s Tree. (See related story, “Baba’s Tree — Saving the Fallen Wood.”)
As part of the six-month exhibit, “The Essence of Ojai,” at the Ojai Valley Museum, there were four evening programs focused on Meher Mount. Board President Sam Ervin, Manager/Caretaker Ray Johnston, and previous Manager/Caretaker Billy Goodrum spoke at these programs: August 7; August 14 – “Introduction to Avatar Meher Baba”; August 21 – “Meher Baba’s 1956 Visit to Meher Mount; and August 28 – “Essence of Meher Mount Past and Present”.