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May Pole, Short Mountain Sanctuary, Liberty, Tennessee, from the series "Sweet Earth: Experimental Utopias in America"

A work made of chromogenic print.

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  • A work made of chromogenic print.


May 2005


Joel Sternfeld
American, born 1944

About this artwork


Currently Off View


Photography and Media


Joel Sternfeld


May Pole, Short Mountain Sanctuary, Liberty, Tennessee, from the series "Sweet Earth: Experimental Utopias in America"


United States (Artist's nationality:)

Date  Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.

Made 2005


Chromogenic print


No markings recto or verso Short Mountain is a two hundred-acre faerie sanctuary/safe queer space in central Tennessee, fifty miles southeast of Nashville. The tall hill upon which the sanctuary sits is named Short Mountain. About sixteen permanent residents live there, off the grid, with drinking water from a mountain spring and bathhouse water from a cistern. Solar panels produce a limited amount of electricity. The community grows much of its own food, and goats supply milk. The faeries’ deeply sacrosanct and wildly celebratory sense of the earth particularly manifests itself at their May Day gathering, which they refer to as “Beltane” (a tradition of the Druids). The festival can last ten days and draw five hundred guests of all genders and orientations. Short Mountain Sanctuary got its start in 1981 when Milo, the sole remaining member of the Tick Creek Community, announced a need for new members at the Southeast USA Conference of Lesbians and Gay Men. The sanctuary became the first and longest-running Radical Faerie commune in America. A dozen others exist throughout the country, and more can be found in Canada, Europe and Australia. The Radical Faeries were formed in response to what Harry Hay viewed as an increasing tendency toward heteroconformity in the homosexual community. The choice of the word “faerie” reclaims a term used to denigrate gay and transgender men; “radical” infers an emphasis on radical politics. As a non-hierarchical organization, the Radical Faeries have no leader and no set definition of what it means to be one. Of the group, the late Bradley Rose wrote, “There are visions we share and celebrate…a belief in the sacredness of nature and the earth; honoring the interconnectedness of spirit, sex, politics and culture; understanding that each one of us has our own path (paths)...” Since its inception, three new gay-oriented intentional communities have formed nearby—Ida, Sun Valley and Pumpkin Hollow. In the Communities Directory, Short Mountain states its policy: “We are a sanctuary and welcome visitors anytime.” From the portfolio, Sweet Earth: Experimental Utopias in America, 1982–2005


Image: 26.5 × 33.2 cm (10 7/16 × 13 1/8 in.); Paper: 27.9 × 35.5 cm (11 × 14 in.)

Credit Line

Gift of Ralph and Nancy Segall

Reference Number


Extended information about this artwork

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