Nick Connell (Hermit of Torrey Pines), East of Echo
About the Artist/Site
David Westley Connell was born into a prominent family in Hudson, New Hampshire; his father was a selectman and his uncle was the chief of police. But while his brother became a highway engineer, David—who preferred “Nick” or “Wes”—dropped out of school, and, by his count, worked at over 40 jobs, including vaudevillian, railroader, auxiliary policeman, trapeze artist, elephant handler, and, in his final round of employment, stone-cutter. He married four times. A competitive weightlifter, Connell was Mr. New Hampshire in 1946. Well into his seventies, he was still studying karate with a 5th-degree black belt instructor in New Hampshire, where he spent his summers.
Connell traveled to California each winter, traveling by senior bus pass and camping out in various locations. In 1971, while he was climbing in the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, a 1,000-acre area set aside for environmental protection as the home of the rarest native pine tree in the United States, he fell into a small gully and discovered a cave. He later said he dreamed a white-haired man had invited him to carve inside the sandstone cliff.
Using a pickax, Bowie knife, and a screwdriver, Connell carved the cave by day. At night, guided by candlelight, he painted his bas-relief figures of mythical and religious characters, angels, and animals with coats of colorful latex paint, later turning to all-good pigment. He named his cave East of Echo.
Although he would later be known as the “Hermit of Torrey Pines,” Connell was very gregarious, regularly welcoming visitors. He left out index cards so he could receive comments when he was away.
Rangers discovered East of Echo in 1988, seventeen years after Connell had begun carving; they agreed to leave it, as long as Connell promised not carve any more or to encourage visitors to the environmentally protected region. But the artist only heeded the caution about carving. By 1991, the cave was drawing such crowds, the park supervisor believed the area’s fragile habit was threatened; he evicted Connell. After this the artist removed seven carved panels and then pumped cement into the cave, entombing the remaining works.
Carved sandstone cliff interior, decorated with latex paint. Additional painted cement panels.
SPACES Archives Holdings
1 folder: clippings
Map & Site Information
N Torrey Pines Rd
San Diego, California, 92121 us
Latitude/Longitude: 32.9055808 / -117.2435997
Relocated (incl. Museums)
N Torrey Pines Rd, San Diego, California, 92121, United States
c. 1971 – early 1991
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