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The Outlaw Picasso – Tommy Hessler of Amaranth Farms


Tommy and Karen Hessler run Amaranth Farms, a legal cannabis business, with their son, Nya. They now have three farms in Southern Humboldt County, along the Lost Coast, located in the infamous Emerald Triangle. They have lived here since 1971, and have been growing vegetables and weed since 1972. Locals know them as the original outlaw growers and among the founders of the weed industry in California. They were the O.G.’s who were the originators of the culture, and championed the plant when the whole world was against them. Planting and growing enough to get by and raising their family in the outlaw culture that epitomizes those who grew up in Southern Humboldt.

But besides growing cannabis, Tommy is also a super talented artist that is known as the “Outlaw Picasso”. With his wife as his biggest supporter, Tommy is a man of many talents that built his farm up with Karen, from nothing. His rustic looking house is a beauty that sits in a forest of Douglas Fir that are surrounded by mountainous landscapes. The perfect outlaw grower hideaway that the couple homesteaded. Living in a tepee to start with and chainsawing the trees that would become the foundation of their mountain retreat. Cannabis Cactus visited the Humboldt County’s OG’s to find out why they turned on, tuned in, and dropped out.

When did you start growing and get interested in art?

Tommy Hessler: I worked in a nursery when I was 15 years old. My friends came down from Brown University and brought some seeds. It was all seeded weed in those days, so we split out the seeds and I started planting weed all around the bridges. They used to call me Mr. Pot Seed for planting cannabis all over Long Island.

My interest in art also started young and I was producing art with whatever material I could find. I did paintings on plywood and newspapers. I studied art in high school, then briefly at the Art Students League in New York City. I lived on Chambers, by Church, and I worked at the Museum of Modern Art. I had a studio in what is now called Soho district, but back then it was an industrial area, with cheese factories, and meat packing plants.

Karen Hessler: He was an artist. I know art, and I recognized that he was so talented. He had a studio on Grand and Mulberry with Marietta Warner-Siegel. She is a famous sculptress and he helped her create life size lucite sculptures. She was probably the top woman artist in America at the time. Her husband, Roy Siegel, was Tommy’s high school art teacher. They always loved Tommy’s art and together they encouraged us to find a place where Tommy could paint and develop his own style. I have noticed that the more artistic a person is, the more they appreciate his art.

Tommy Hessler: I used to have this Jamaican friend and co-worker and he would have the best weed you could fucking imagine. It would come rolled in a newspaper to his mailbox, right? We’d sit on top of the Museum of Modern Art smoking that stuff. It was like, one or two hits and holy smoke. That stuff was amazing. That’s why I knew you could grow really good weed. That’s when it started kicking in. You can grow better weed than this crap we get in the city. At the museum, I helped plant trees and shrubs in the sculpture garden. I think some of them are still there.

Why did you first move out to Northern California, into the mountains?

Tommy Hessler: The 60’s were hard on us. That was the drug era. If you were involved, you were really involved. I had already had my life-in-prison term, that they reduced all the way down to 90 days. I saw how the system worked, and fuck them, man. I was happy to get out of it and stay out. When I went to trial for the first time, there was a lady there for selling half a million dollars of morphine, and the judge gave her a fine. I had one joint! And he started with life imprisonment with me, and I just about shit in my pants. I thought he was going to give me a fine too.

No, it didn’t work that way. I saw what money did, and from there I just never turned back. My desire was to get the hell out of the system. The Vietnam war was on and I became a conscientious objector and refused to go to war. I went before the board of the state of New York. There were only a few of us, conscientious objectors. Muhammed Ali, me, and about 5 other people. I just refused to go. I was accepted to the University De Las Americas, to study art. And then Timothy Leary came along, and that was his kind of tone. Turn on, tune in, and drop out.

We went to Mexico. Went to Guadalajara. We were going to live there, and I would study art, but we both got really sick, and headed back to California. We brought weed seeds with us. We landed in Ukiah. When we first moved there, they never saw a person with long hair and a beard. It was pretty strange. Karen and I were on the front line with just about everything that came down. Karen worked in a hospital with a man called Paul Frey, and he is one of the world-renowned psychiatrists, and he worked with Leary in the LSD experiments. He taught us a lot about life, nature, and growing. He planted the first organic vineyard in California, when people thought this could not be done.

It took us four or five years to even find a piece of land that we liked. We were before the “back to landers”. Kept driving around and around until we found something that I knew I could grow on, because I know how to grow. I know how to grow just about anything. Looked and looked at every piece of land you could imagine around here, until we found something that had springs on it. And from that water, we developed everything.

Karen Hessler: We felt necessary. We were providing vegetables to people. Then we had the cannabis too, but, during all the time, he was doing his artwork whenever he could. But, we were building the house too. So for years, he could only do it a little bit at a time when we were not really busy. We built our house by hand, mostly by ourselves with occasional help from friends. We got poles from the trees, and then we had friends that had mills and we milled up the wood that we had on our property. We also salvaged wood from old buildings in the area.

When did you start creating artwork?

Tommy Hessler: I’ve done it ever since I can remember. Probably really started enjoying art when I was about 10 years old and I have been doing it ever since. I’ve worked with some of the finest artists in the world, in my era, in my time in the city. I really enjoy it. I just almost have to do it. It’s my therapy. I’ve done it my whole life. Karen’s got thousands of them. Maybe one day we will start selling them. That’s my artwork. I’ll create with whatever I have to. I’ve got lots of clay works, wood work, and paintings. It’s all over the place.

Karen Hessler: Tommy is the greatest living artist. He’s really incredible; he can make art out of anything. He does oil painting on canvas right now, but he is great at watercolors, and he can make clay figures, and wood sculptures he carves with a chainsaw. He also does waxworks, and little wire sculptures; there isn’t any kind of art that he doesn’t do. He is so talented and skilled, I think at some point my focus is to have the world know how great he is.

How does your artistic nature go into the cannabis that you create?

Tom Hessler: I think my art is spiritual. When I create my weed it’s a spiritual thing too, because I believe cannabis is a spiritual herb. It’s a sacred herb. More people should key into that, not into the barroom aspects of it, and just getting high. They should get more spiritual with it, because it’ll definitely get you there if you are looking. If you aren’t, you ain’t going to see it. It ain’t past your nose, that’s the way I put it. And tell the people, “Don’t let the weed use you, use it.” That’s good advice to anybody who smokes weed.

Karen Hessler: Our original plan was that getting the business off the ground was going to take one year. Our daughter, Elan, set us up with the compliance requirements, and I have been doing paperwork ever since, for years. I had planned to go full steam ahead on trying to get him into a gallery because I know there is appreciation for good art out there. But, we are still developing our business and creating our brand.

More info on Tommy and Karen and Amaranth Farms – Tom Hessler Art | Instagram




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