This exhibition, When We Paint Our Masterpiece: The Art of the Grateful Dead Community, was originally installed in Dead Central in February 2020.
Any reference to the Grateful Dead, perhaps the world’s most iconic improvisational band, can easily conjure images in one’s mind of psychedelic tie-dyed clothes, dancing bears, and rose-garlanded skeletons. But just as they defied expectations with their music, the band also inspired in their listeners a diverse visual landscape in response to their songs.
The creative works presented here, drawn from the Grateful Dead Archive, reveal a richly envisioned and varied world of design practices, international traditions, visual icons, and art forms. Sent to the band from around the world, these works document the blossoming of a transnational community of Dead Heads even in countries where the band never toured, like Japan.
This artwork also reveals the deep affection that the band and its staff—who curated the collection piece by piece—had for Dead Heads’ unique and broadly conceived notions of what Grateful Dead-related art could and should be. Pencil sketches, abstract works, portraits, and screenprints share space with sculptures in paper and metal. Repurposed found objects as well as comic art and drawings inspired by the English Arts & Crafts movement a century ago all have a place here. The Grateful Dead’s universe made space for all of these patterns and images.
These works, considered collectively, offer a powerful example of the possibilities of fan culture. Collaboratively created, expanded, and improvised for over half a century, the art of the Grateful Dead fan community remains vibrant today. Dead Head artists like Miki Saito and others continue to make new art, and as stewards of the Grateful Dead Archive, we “hang it up and see what tomorrow brings,” as Robert Hunter counseled so long ago.
Exhibit curated by Wyatt Young, Jessica Pigza, and Alix Norton.
Virtual tour created by Queenie Don, Kristy Golubiewski-Davis, and Alix Norton.
Special thanks to the Garcia Family, the Furthur Foundation, Eileen Law, Miki Saito, Drew and Yui Richardson, and Ryan Dzialo and Marcus Thayer in Library Operations. The University Library thanks the Scott Brittingham Family Foundation for its generous support of this exhibition, as well as the many supporters of the Grateful Dead Archive.
These collections are available from the UCSC Library's Special Collections & Archives and the digital copies of the work are intended to support research, teaching and private study. All items may be protected by the U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.). Use of this work beyond that allowed by fair use requires written permission of the copyright holder(s). Responsibility for obtaining permission, and for any use or distribution of this work, rests exclusively with the user and not the UC Santa Cruz Library. Requests for permission to publish must be directed to the rights holder.
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Click and drag on the 360° image to pan the camera. Click on the icons to explore content from videos, music, photographs, and articles about the Grateful Dead.
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