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Renaissance Man

The Director of Aviation Facilities for Howard Hughes, was a mobbed-up Italian Count and CIA Central Africa frontman who piloted the 1960's counter-culture land art movement for famous artists, including Michael Heizer and Walter de Maria.

By Jonathan WarrenPublished 3 months ago Updated 3 months ago 41 min read
"City" by Michael Heizer with airplane | photo: Gianfranco Gorgoni

FORWARD by Jonathan Warren

In Las Vegas for over 50 years, I often heard of Count Deiro. We happened to meet and became quite close friends in 2011, a story recounted in the article "The Final Portrait."

Count Guido Roberto Deiro was was a larger-than-life Nevada native, and the life of every party. His business exploits were known, as were his philanthropy and his passions. A world traveler, CIA frontman, USA Fencing referee, Air Safety Inspector, master pilot, meteorite collector, private investigator, Chairman of the Grand Jury, published author, custodian of an ancient title tied to a rural Italian county where he rebuilt the historic town church, and so much more, Deiro was a true renaissance man.

When the Count passed away in August of 2020, I was devastated. I've lost closer friends whom I miss less than Count Deiro. He was that kind of personality.

We all expected to hear the plan for an amazing sendoff by his widow, Countess Joan. But Bob Deiro, not without the envious detractor or two, had other plans. I am sure he expected some sneering adversaries - some close, some not - would accuse even his funeral of being another over-the-top event like so many others he had hosted while living. But he would shock us all in the end.

Count Deiro left strict instructions with the Countess. There was to be no funeral, no celebration of life, no gathering whatsoever, no grave. He would leave each person with the memory only of how they lived their relationship with the man, not how they performed it at his exit.

Having imagined the speech I would give at his funeral a hundred times, I was shocked and saddened. But then I realized the genius of his plan. There would be no opportunity for grandstanding by any hangers on, or dubious relatives. No fake sentiment or artificial endearment by opportunists, no politicians, no unexpected heir to the life story proclaiming their closeness, no historian taking the opportunity to cast doubt on his past without Bob there to reply, none of those awkward happenings that typically plague gathered remembrances of people of note. Count Deiro had been to many funerals. In the end, I am thankful for the memory I have, and the fact that he left no opportunity for anyone to steal his thunder, on exit.

A few weeks after Bob died, I remembered he had sent me an email, with an attachment he said was for whenever I get to it, for me to do with as I saw fit. It was a 30 page memoir of the salient points of his life, and his passions. Most prominent in this memoir of my late friend is his astoundingly important role in, and excitement for the late 1960's counter-culture land art movement. It's something we spoke of on several occasions, but never did he tell all the memoir divulged.

I think he knew what I would do.

Here, in its entirety is the memoir of one of the most fascinating Las Vegans, in his own words. I have added the photos from my own collection. I've included herewith an interactive map to provide depth and scope of the works, and with it a great guide for anyone looking to visit them.

"Art is forever and immutable. Life is temporary and transient."

~Count Guido Roberto Deiro, 1938 - 2020

Interactive map including sites, photos, travel information and contacts


By Guido Roberto Deiro, aka G. Robert Deiro, Count Deiro

I am the only child of Count Guido Pietro Deiro (1886-1950) a northern Italian composer, recording artist and Vaudeville headliner. He was entertainer Mae West’s husband for three years (1913-16), and the man who named and popularized the piano-accordion in 1910. His illustrated life story is on the web at www.guidodeiro.org He was a Count by birth into rural Italian nobility.

Count G. Robert Deiro | Consulate of Monaco Collection

My mother was Yvonne Teresa Le Baron de Forrest (1920-1983) daughter of the Nebraska born San Francisco cabaret singer “Helen Cole” and granddaughter to a member of Huguenot nobility that had fled the country to settle in French owned America near St.Louis. My father was 51 years old and retired from the stage. Yvonne was a precocious 17.

I was born in Reno, Nevada, February 18th, 1938, during a period when my father was establishing music studios in California, Nevada and Oregon after his lengthy career in vaudeville. He had a vacation home on 4th Street.

When I was six months old, my parents returned to their principal residence on Columbus Avenue in San Francisco’s North Beach.

Yvonne divorced my father when I was two years old. My attractive young mother then moved to Hollywood in 1940. She became the Paris Hilton of her day and frequented the famous night clubs and restaurants in vogue in Hollywood at the time. Ciro’s, Mogambo, The Trocadero, Coconut Grove, The Brown Derby and Casa d’Amore were her night time haunts. Her friends included movie celebrities and members of the underworld. I remember when I was six years old drinking “Shirley Temples” and watching the floor shows at Hollywood hot spots, while siting between my beautiful mother and her latest sponsor.

On weekends, my mother took me to the race tracks at Santa Anita and Tijuana instead of the zoo, or carnivals and circuses like other children. It was exciting for an eight year old especially, when the mob guys asked me to pick what horse I liked to win a race.

After the sudden demise of an Italian fellow she was engaged to, she began going with a Hollywood bookmaker and Las Vegas casino owner, named Sam “Baby Shoes” Prezant. In the early 40’s, she and he, moved to Las Vegas. I continued to attend military and sectarian boarding schools in Southern California.

I developed behavior problems in school even though the Catholic sisters and headmasters didn’t spare the rod. I was brought to Las Vegas during summer vacations and would live with my mother and Sam, in the Townhouse of the El Cortez Hotel.

”Baby Shoes” and the Jewish outfit, including Moe Sedway, Davy and “Chickie” Berman, “Bowser” Rosenberg, Isadore “Ice Pick Willie” Alderman, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel and his bodyguard “Irish” Green all had a piece of the El Cortez, as well as the Westerner and Las Vegas Club, sawdust joints on Fremont Street and eventually, the Flamingo Hotel on what was to become the “Strip”.

In 1949, after getting expelled for about the third time and at the suggestion of a cop who later became the Sheriff in Las Vegas, Ralph Lamb, I was sent to a remote town of about 100 Mormon souls called Alamo, in Pahranagat Valley, Nevada 110 miles north of Las Vegas.

I lived on this working cattle ranch, owned and operated by one of Nevada’s pioneer families, the Lambs. The seven Lamb brothers and their sister, at one time or another, served as a Nevada State Senator, Clark and Lincoln County Commissioners, a Director of the State Highway Department and the Clark County Sheriff. Between them they were involved in two homicides and one went to the pen. Real tough people. They made the Jewish and Italian mobsters look like Boy Scouts.

The Buckhorn Ranch is now the Pahranagat National Wildlife Preserve. I rode a horse to school. We didn’t have electricity. During the two years I spent rounding up and driving cattle, I became familiar with the remote uninhabited valleys and mountain ranges of Central Nevada. I came to love “the sage and the pine”.

The geographical knowledge I acquired in 1950 at twelve years of age would one day become invaluable to Michael Heizer and Walter De Maria, and one could arguably say, the establishment of Land Art in Nevada.

Heizer’s Complex One and The City would be located through my efforts in Garden Valley, 65 miles north of Alamo. His signature earthwork, Double Negative was also located on land I had seen in my youth. De Maria’s Vegas Piece, Mile Square and Line Drawings would be located on sites I had reconnoitered as a young cowboy twenty years before their inception.

In 1951, I began high school. Again, I had problems and ended up spending about a year each at Hollywood, Burbank, Downey and Las Vegas High Schools. I refused assignments and instead tried to ace tests. I argued with my teachers and was labeled a “know it all” by my fellow students. After school hazing was the norm. I believe I was graduated because the school officials were afraid I’d return.

Much later, and too late to help, professional testing revealed that I had a demonstrated IQ in the 99 percentile and that this, coupled with my inherent personality traits, formed the basis of my inability to tolerate a normal academic environment. In the ’80’s I joined Mensa to participate in the special interest groups and made some friends.

One week after my 1955 graduation from Las Vegas High School and without the funds, or the grades, to be accepted by a college, I enlisted in the Regular Army at Fort Ord, California. I had lied about my age and had already enlisted in the 40th. Division of the California Army National Guard two years earlier, but the regulars didn’t find out till later.

Army basic training and testing were easy because of my years in military schools, ROTC and the Guard. I was told that I was officer material, but that I couldn’t enter Officer Candidate School until I was of age. I couldn’t wait that long. I served (if you could call it that, considering it was the peace time army) in the 3rd. Armored Division at Fort Knox, Kentucky for six months and then took an Honorable Discharge.

I had spent those six months in the base library consuming every book I could get my hands on that dealt with world history, science and the arts. I figured this would equal a liberal arts degree. I didn’t have a clue about what I was going to do with my life.

I returned to Las Vegas in late 1956, and because I was still underage, I worked as a kennel man for Blue Cross Animal Hospital, sold ladies shoes for C.H. Baker’s on Fremont street, was a Mercy ambulance attendant and did TV antenna installs. TV broadcasting was new. The weak transmissions required roof top antennas to be received.

I parked cars in the five story Fremont Hotel garage across from the Horseshoe Casino on Fremont Street and drove and acted as a body guard for Pietro Silvagni the owner of the Apache hotel and the land the S.S. Rex and later the Horseshoe Casinos would be located. I was the lifeguard at the original El Rancho Hotel on the Strip and the Bali Hai Hotel on Desert Inn Road. I managed the Globe Health Studio at 10th and Charleston.

Deiro lifeguarding ath the El Rancho Las Vegas, circa 1956 | Consulate of Monaco collection

In early 1958, I met the love of my life at El Rancho Hotel pool. She was the back office secretary for Moe Dalitz’ and the Cleveland’s Mayfield Road mob who controlled the Desert Inn Hotel and Casino across the street. Her name was Joan Marlene Calhoun. She’s a dead ringer for Elizabeth Taylor; it took ten years and a divorce each for us to finally marry in 1968. As of this writing, Joan and I have been together nearly fifty years.

I have always had more than one job at a time. Some times as many as four. I was adept at juggling the full and part time requirements of each and enjoyed dovetailing the different activities. There didn’t seem to be much I couldn’t do reasonably well. Versatility was my long suite.

In 1958, at age 20, my stepfather “Baby Shoes” taught me the ins and outs of the gambling business, and for a couple of years I dealt 21, craps and roulette at the Nevada Club, and the New Frontier Hotel. I also dealt illegally at small saloons and roadhouses outside Las Vegas. I gained a reputation as a “bust out” man and was given the street name “Bobbie Blue Eyes”.

"Bobby Blue Eyes" dealing at the Nevada Club | Consulate of Monaco collection

In late 1959 I won some money gambling at the Sahara Hotel, and depressed from the broken engagement with Joan, I bought into an olive ranch in Corning, California with my mother. We went bust in one season; wise guys named Guido from Las Vegas make lousy farmers. I explored the San Francisco Bay area looking for other opportunities.

I took some classes and certification exams and became a licensed private investigator in California and Seattle, Washington. I specialized in insurance scams, divorces and using pretext contacts to locate missing young women who had gotten caught up in the Haight/Ashbury, “tune in and drop out” scene of San Francisco. Within 18 months I was too easily recognized to keep from getting burned the minute I set up surveillance, or made a contact, so I knew I had to find something else interesting.

Flying aircraft was challenging and it offered prospects for my own business, so I attended flying schools while still working as a private detective and learned to fly airplanes, seaplanes and helicopters commercially.

I married my secretary, Lois Jean Davis, and gave up the investigations business and relocated to Las Vegas. I went back into the gaming business. We had a son, Guy Robert, and got a divorce 19 months later. Her parents had disowned her for marrying a mobbed up Italian.

Interestingly, in light of her family’s prejudices, Lois was taken under the protection of ‘Irish” Green, “Bugsy” Siegel’s former bodyguard, and my stepfather, “Baby Shoes” Prezant. They saw to it that Lois and the boy had money and got safely back to California.

By the early 60’s I had put myself through advanced flight training while working in the casino for mob boss Momo Giancana at the Sands, as a floor man and pit boss for Jackie Gaughan at the El Cortez and Pete Amanti at the Showboat in Las Vegas.

While at the Sands, I had a first name association with Frank, Dean, Sammy, Peter, Joey which was mentioned in “Sinatra-The Life”” by Anthony Summers 2006 and resulted in my appearance in the BBC Series “Dark Star” 2005.

I quit the gaming business and opened my own flight school and air charter operation, Desert Air Services.

I flew on call charter and Grand Canyon tours, mountain fire patrol, prisoner transport, instructed, towed banners and gliders, hauled sky divers and did functional test flights on repaired military aircraft and helicopters.

I had a “Q” security clearance and flew personnel and high priority equipment in and out of the AEC Test Site and “Midnight Special” to remote bordellos in the desert North of Las Vegas. Anything to make a buck.

At the same time I was the North Las Vegas Air Terminal manager and director of marketing for a pal, Ralph Engelstad, who went on to be the sole owner of the Imperial Palace Hotel Casino and one of Nevada’s wealthiest and most influential men.

In 1965, I obtained a contract to fly the Governor and Lieutenant Governor and their guests around Nevada. I also served as Chairman of the Nevada Aviation Safety Committee and commanded the USAF-CAP Search and Rescue Squadron.

I earned my Airline Transport Pilot’s rating and became Howard Hughes’s employee when he bought the North Las Vegas Air Terminal in early 1967 along with my flying business and contracts.

I was still single and lived in a room at the airport’s Sky Rider’s Inn, with a red phone connected to the Desert Inn so as to be at Hughes’ beck and call. Howard Hughes behaved normally in those days. He was reclusive in order to duck process services and paparazzi.

Initially, I was Howard’s administrative assistant and worked on site locating his planned supersonic air terminal. Hughes wanted to make Las Vegas the hub of intercontinental supersonic travel. My knowledge of the mountains, mesas and valleys of Nevada was extremely helpful in accomplishing this work.

I flew hundreds of hours throughout the western states photographing potential SST sites and amassing experience and knowledge that would aid me later in finding locations for artists Michael Heizer, Walter De Maria and Charles Ross’ earthworks.

In 1968 Hughes appointed me Director of Aviation Facilities for the Hughes Tool Company. I met many celebrities and politicians in the process of doing Hughes’ bidding. A great deal of what I did for Mr. Hughes had nothing to do with aviation. Much of what I was involved in is posted on web sites that can be Googled using a Hughes/Deiro combined name search and in two books authored by ex-FBI Special Agent, Gary Magnesen. The Investigation and Stolen Justice.

It was while working for Hughes at our McCarran Field operation in 1968 that I had occasion to overhear a conversation at the air charter desk that mentioned art works. The customer wanted to search for a sculpture incised in the surface of a dry lake. Our customer service representative was in the process of explaining that company aircraft could not land off airport for liability reasons.

The mention of an artwork on a dry lake really captured my interest. I stepped in and introduced myself to the customer. He was Geoffrey Gates, a stock broker and admirer of Michael Heizer’s work, from New York.

Standing there in New York 60’s counter culture gear he explained who Michael Heizer was and that he had made a series of earthworks entitled Nine Nevada Depressions.

I was fascinated. I had to see this. I thought I knew where the earthwork he was seeking might be. So off we went; in one of Howard’s Hughes’ airplanes.

I flew straight to Jean Dry Lake about thirty miles south of Las Vegas as if the sculpture had a homing beacon.

From altitude, I could see it at least ten miles away. It was the piece called Rift. An angularity dug in the ground by hand. Reminiscent of a lightning bolt. We landed on the dry lake next to the piece. Gates was elated.

Everything about this earthwork said something to me. The closer we got the louder it shouted out to be inspected, deciphered...touched.

As I listened to Gates speak of minimalist, conceptual, avant garde art and it’s young proponents, describing Smithson’s Spiral Jetty and Heizer’s Isolated Mass Circumflex, my mind raced making associations between land, space, concepts, implementations, competitions, rejections and acceptances. It was an awakening. Seeing Heizer’s Rift was my epiphany.

At the time I had no formal, or even casual, association with contemporary art. My art education had stopped with French Impressionism. Gates went back to New York and told the artists and others that he had m

et a guy with some resources and contacts that wanted to get involved. This led to Michael Heizer flying out to Las Vegas for our first meeting. I believe it was still 1968. It marked the start of our forty year association. I was on the same page as Michael from the get go.

My employment with Hughes gave me access to aircraft, vehicles, photographic equipment and free time to work with Heizer. And we made use of it. Initially, I donated my time and expenses as Michael and Walter had little money. This made me ponder the practicality of earth sculpture.

My businessman’s mind told me how it could be made, but posed questions on how do you own it, or make money from it. Heizer and DeMaria needed an experienced facilitator who understood what they were trying to do and could handle the things they hadn’t learned about yet. An inspired enabler.

Michael wanted to find locations for his future works. I was to fly him to places I thought fit in with his line of thinking. Spaces that I had seen before in my travels and occupations as a youth and now in aviation.

Guido Robert Deiro circa 1970, Photo by Gianfranco Gorgoni. Nevada Museum of Art, Center for Art + Environment Archive Collections. The Deiro Collection, Gift of G. Robert and Joan Deiro.

I agreed with his views that art should have no limits and understood his rejection of the gallery scene and the ubiquitous rectangle. This had an effect on where I looked for locations.

He spent hours elaborating on the various ways he was using his art to communicate new ideas to the adjudicators of art. The critics, writers, dealers, collectors, curators and casual observers.

We would meet at the Stardust Hotel coffee shop, where we had taken a cheap room for visits and he would sketch on napkins and paper placemats his concepts. Works such as Circular Planar Displacement and Complex One were examples that came out of doodles on paper napkins.

Later, after I had been introduced by Michael to De Maria, Walter would do the same thing. De Maria’s Lightning Field was first sketched on a paper napkin in front of me. Walter asked me to do a location search and a materials selection. I suggested a cost analysis. He agreed. A small version was constructed. Years later a full scale sculpture was installed in New Mexico. I wasn’t in on that.

Walter described the piece Munich Mountain to me and then asked me to do a site location matching the aborted one in Germany and a cost analysis. I accomplished that, finding and securing an option on land in Arizona near where the film Oklahoma had been shot. That piece was not realized.

De Maria’s Munich Mountain earth sculpture was to have been formed from a rubble hill at the 1968 Munich Olympics site but was rejected when the Germans realized that the mound that Walter was going to put a shaft down and cap with a bronze and glass oculus was made from the remains of the bombed out city. Horrified they had taken a pass.

I was drawn more to Heizer as a friend than Walter; who remained more remote and visited Nevada less often. I became aware that there was an ongoing competition between artists making statements with their work.

I knew instinctively that I had to influence Walter to give up Nevada to Heizer. I took De Maria on several land excursions into Northern and Central Nevada using a new Dodge Power Wagon he had purchased. He soon found that Nevada was too remote and difficult to operate in. He left the truck for me to use to assist Heizer and occasionally himself.

In October of 1968 I married the love of my life Joan Marlene Calhoun and I prevailed on Hughes to get me a job helping establish Golden West Airlines in California, as Joan objected to the motel deal.

We were relocated to Calabasas, California and then Newport Beach. Michael and Walter would fly out from New York and stay with us when they needed to stage an exploratory trip.

As an airline vice president and director of administration I had even more freedom of action and availability of aircraft. The higher you climb the corporate ladder the less work and supervision you have.

My role with the artists remained clear. I was the connection between their imagination and the physical realization of their earthworks. To create what they wanted they had to have land, regulatory compliance, engineering, materials, heavy equipment, manpower..and money.

Michael and Walter had been drawing on dry lakes and making small works in land owned by the Federal Government. In order to get funding I explained we would have to obtain title to the land. The pieces could then be sold, or donated. The Fee Simple Title being the ownership of the piece. The pieces could be sold. They both financed much of their exploratory work in the deserts by selling their smaller gallery sized works.

I did manage to obtain from the Bureau of Land Management a $50.00 a year exclusive right for the Heizer to use Jean Dry Lake to drawn on. Which he did; using a motorcycle and the assistance of photographer Gianfranco Gorgoni. Gorgoni and I were to collaborate for years on aerial photography art works.. Me flying…he shooting film. Gianfranco shared his skills with me and I began to shoot film while working with Heizer and De Maria to aid in locating sites and document work in progress.

I enabled De Maria to realize Line Drawing on Roach Dry Lake. It’s on the cover of the book Art Povera. I introduced him to a football chalk line machine and a surveyor’s sextant. I drew it. Gianfranco Gorgoni photographed it.

I eventually acquired Real Estate and Property Management licenses in Nevada and Utah so I could legally represent the artists in real estate transactions. So far all my work for them and the use of my employer’s aircraft and equipment had been pro bono. I loved it. It was the Age of Aquarius. The people were rejecting the establishment.

The music was leading the generations to a new freedom. Non-conforming thought was encouraged. Modern Art was part of the dialogue.

On occasion I thought I could do this. If these artists can start conversations through graphic creations so could I. Then I would pause to reflect and then understand. I wasn’t real. I would be a fraud. Better I did what I was doing. Therein was my contribution. Enjoy it.

Following my business suggestions, Heizer founded CIVA Corporation, an organization to build his art. As Vice President and General Manager of CIVA I could now buy and sell property and make contracts for purchasing equipment and manage personnel legally and with greatly reduced personal liability.

While living in Calabasas, California, working for Golden West Airlines and covertly, for the government, I flew to Vegas and set about to site locate and later negotiate the purchase of approximately 20 acres of trash land on which Heizer created Double Negative. The price was only $17.50 per acre. Virginia Dwan of Dwan Gallery initially funded the work that now is in the permanent collection of MOCA in Los Angeles. I bought the land from my late friend, Abe Fox, who owned Foxie’s Delicatessen on the Strip. Fox had been selling it sight unseen to gullible East Coast buyers.

Heizer first saw this remote almost vertical parcel of scrap land on Mormon Mesa and then envisioned the piece.

If I still held any ideas about my making cutting edge art, Double Negative made me realize that you have to be a genius to make this kind of statement. Heizer succinctly and brilliantly stated, using a language anyone with two eyes and a brain could understand, that Art has no limits.

We obtained the assistance of a Mormon alfalfa farmer in the nearby town of Overton to cut and blast the piece into existence. It was constructed without any plans, or engineering. Just the old Mark Two eyeball. Using this initial introduction to the locals, we would later purchase from them the used heavy equipment we would need to build Complex One of the City.

A book of my photography and Gorgoni’s of Double Negative was published by MOCA. As I said, I had learned this skill from Gianfranco. It pleased me that I made something that might also inspire thought in observers. Maybe there was a little artist in me after all.

In 1969, as Vice President of Administration for Golden West airlines, my main responsibility was to get surplus pilots, mechanics and dissimilar transport aircraft off the books. Mr. C. Arnholdt Smith, my billionaire boss, had bought five smaller airlines with dissimilar equipment to make up one large airline.

The only way to do this efficiently was to put together start up packages for new third level air carriers to serve remote areas that were without airline service. I leased our surplus aircraft and other equipment to embryonic airlines like Air Alaska, Air Michigan, Aztec Airlines (Mexico), Air Indies (Caribbean) and Trans New Guinea.

Joan and I had babies. Between hers, mine and ours we were to have five children. I continued my extracurricular art activity fitting it in seamlessly with my other responsibilities. I was on the road so much nobody kept track of my coming and going at my day jobs. When I was away working, mostly with Heizer, it was like a mini vacation.

My former employment with Howard Hughes, and my success in starting up these feeder airlines for Golden West, came to attention of the CIA and I was recruited by their company front, Omni International, based in Washington, DC.

After a trip with Joan to Virginia for interviews and tests and vetting for security clearances, I worked on overseas aviation related assignments for the United States and its clients, while continuing my employment at Golden West as a cover. I still had time to work with Heizer and De Maria.

Mainly, I set up civilian airline fronts to surreptitiously fly arms and ammunition, food, medical supplies and operational types into areas of interest in Central Africa from neutral countries. On the return trips the airline transported prisoners, the wounded, and rotating ops people, pigs, chickens and locals on the way in and out. I was directing and could delegate other personnel and use sat/com to reduce the need for me to spend time in country. We worked to contribute to the defeat of a foreign backed insurgency.

My activities took me through New York often.

The New York layovers on the way to and fro gave me the opportunity to meet with Heizer and De Maria and other artists, collectors, gallery owners, dealers, and museum curators. Michael’s dealers, supporters, friends, and family at this time included his wife, Barbara, Virginia Dwan, Heiner Friedrich, Caselli, Xavier Fourcade, Knoedler,

Doug Christmas, Sam Wagstaff, Robert Scull and Stella, Serra, Flavin, Ross and other artists.

The art critic and author, Robert Hughes, visited Joan and me and had dinner at our house in Newport Beach.

Many of these players generously spent their time educating me. I was taken to museums, gallery openings and shows. They gave me books and subscriptions to art publications.

I met and had conversations with artists such as Andre, Morris, Stella, Serra, Flavin, Cristo and Ross. I hung out in Max’s Kansas City while in the New York.

Joan and I made over a dozen trips to Great Britain, the Continent, North Africa and the Far East and when we did, we visited the world’s great museum collections. In Paris, I prevailed on the Musee d’Ville to dig out of the basement Heizer’s drawing Five Conical Depressions so I could take it out onto the sidewalk and photograph it.

Count Deiro at Lake Cuomo, Italy | Consulate of Monaco collection

I made it a point to study and visit ancient earthworks in America, England, Africa, Mexico, Australia, Taiwan and Mainland China.

Through the ‘70’s and into the ‘80’s I continued my work with Michael, but less often with Walter. Eventually, Walter didn’t show a further interest in Nevada. Michael had prevailed.

Occasionally, I would help Michael realize smaller works. For instance, as part of his bullet/violence series (Destruction of the Skowegan Medal, Ike Dollar, Bullet Drawing, JFK 6.5 etc.) he asked me to provide some Kennedy silver half dollars to use in the metal sculpture JFK 6.5. He also had me locate a Mannlicher/Carcano Italian carbine of that caliber and some rounds of ammunition. We took those and Michael repeatedly fired bullets through the coins and a metal plate so that the bullets went through Kennedy’s head on the silver half dollar coin and aligned with one of three bullet holes in the steel plate set a distance equal to the height of the deceased President; which was eerily six feet and a half inches.

The piece was too macabre for Michael and he gave me both examples. I sold one to Doug Christmas at Ace Galleries and the other I donated to the permanent collection of what is now the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno.

When Michael was working on the City and envisioning larger elements, I would fly or drive up to see him and he would spend time describing the proposed continuations.

Heizer and his companions Mary and Jennifer, all were genuinely fond of my wife, Joan, and they always enjoyed it when I brought her, and occasionally the children, to show them the art and the sheep, horses and cattle Michael and the ladies were husbanding.

Mary, who later married Heizer, had her own exhibition in Las Vegas at the town’s only contemporary gallery owned by Steve Molasky which we all attended. Steve’s father, Irwin Molasky, was an acquaintance of my step-father and I and an early developer of Las Vegas.

Michael’s father, Professor Robert Heizer, a renowned author and on faculty at the University of California at Berkeley, would visit Michael in Coal Valley. I had wonderfully illuminating trips into the desert with him. He had written the definitive book on Great Basin Indians and encouraged Joan and I to search for early man artifacts and send our finds to him at the University, which we did for several years. It was this experience that ultimately led to my interest in collecting meteorites; the desert playas being the best places to discover them.

That Heizer’s father was a creative influence on him is unarguable. Michael told me how his trips with Professor Heizer to massive ancient structures in foreign lands had inspired him. We talked of Karnak and Chichen Itza. Michael and I would fly over the rock removal Native American installations along the Colorado River and I photographed them. He continually studied the history and images portraying early man’s manipulation of their natural surroundings.

He saw to it that I was given copies of his father’s books. It was about this time, when his father was alive, but terminally ill, that Michael began to envision and create his giant scale Early American Indian tools and charms pieces. I particularly appreciated his Perforated Object series, one of which decorates the lawn of the Court House in Reno with a companion steel piece behind the building. Another, Charm Stone, is at the entrance to the De Menil Museum.

Joan and I attended the dedication of Perforated Object in Reno with Michael. I didn’t like installation in such a confined space and the way the piece was oriented, and said so to Michael. To me it was an example of what he had always objected to; Art structured and sized to fit. He explained that it was done on purpose because a casual observer would certainly make the comparison, and one attuned to concepts would see the inference from previous statements. Here he had created an expansion of the natural object and put it where it stood out. It says something to me every time I pass it.

The liquidation of surplus aircraft and personnel was winding down and I could see I was working myself out of my position at Golden West Airlines. Also, the Company wanted me to be gone for six months to Africa and not be able to tell Joan where I was. With five children, one still in diapers, she wasn’t going for that. I submitted my resignation to Omni International and soon after, Golden West; which was to go bankrupt within a year.

By the early ’70’s we had returned to Las Vegas to help John Siebold expand his new Scenic Airlines utilizing surplus airliners left over from Golden West and the CIA deal. Within a few months I became Vice President and General Manager, but bridled at the long hours and resigned. Soon after I left, Scenic became the largest air tour operator in the United States.

By 1972 I hadn’t given up my day jobs, but was devoting much more time to Heizer and De Maria and now asked for a monthly paycheck. Walter paid me a $1,000 a month. He knew I was working for Heizer and that Michael never paid me anything but expenses.

I never billed Michael for my time throughout our long collaboration. Michael had become a friend and my association with him was enrichening my life.

Walter had furnished a new four wheel drive Dodge Power Wagon for our use in the field. I drove 56,000 miles over the next five years looking for locations for both artists and supporting Michael’s work at The City.

Heizer and I, and less frequently De Maria, made numerous exploratory trips throughout Nevada, Southern California and states as far away as Montana. Usually driving in Walter’s four wheel drive truck and then renting aircraft for aerial site location.

My method for locating land that was suitable for use and available for sale, was to conduct aerial surveys and then drive to the county recorder’s office to research the title to the land in question. There were no satellite maps, so I used topographical studies. The Internet hadn’t been invented yet. If a parcel showed promise for a work that the artists envisioned, I would fly them over it and then take them in on the ground. If a parcel was nominated, I would then contact the owners and negotiate a purchase, or a lease.

After scouting the location by air, I guided Michael on horseback into the Montana wilderness to inspect a massive granite outcrop for his planned Displaced Replaced Mass in the Anaconda Range of Montana. We took rock samples and photography, but the area was just too impossible to access with what he would need to accomplish the piece. Also, it presented danger from large carnivores and the climate. I had already flown to Florida to negotiate and obtain a lease from a Mr. O’Neil owner of the Mt. Haggin land and cattle company that owned the mountain. After being apprised of the proposed use and the importance to Art, he generously offered the use of the land pro bono.

Michael had a lot of cowboy in him. He always wore western garb and a trademark flat rim beige Stetson. We were both Nevada men and gifted each other through the years with horses, tack, guns, knives, hats and vests. I gave him a large restored eagle crested cast iron heater from my ranch in Utah for his studio. Some of the similar items he gifted me are in the Deiro Collection at NMA. We never thought of our relationship as being anything but a collaboration in accomplishing the art. With Michael the artist.

We quickly became close friends enjoying each other’s company and amusing ourselves socializing in the mining camps and rural towns we often found ourselves in. Both Michael and I smoked and drank whiskey at the time. We loaded our own ammunition and had fast draw and shooting contests duly recorded by Gianfranco Gorgoni.

I had guided De Maria into the valleys of Nevada and Arizona looking for a location for his piece, Munich Mountain and what was to become his major earthwork, Lightning Field.

I successfully negotiated for a parcel of land, but the piece was never realized. I had suggested that he give up Nevada as I knew Michael was laying a claim to it. Walter had been hot to accomplish “The Lightning Field.”

I mentioned Arizona did not have the lightning activity that was needed for the possible success of the piece and had suggested New Mexico, as my investigations had shown it had the highest incident of clouds to ground lightning discharges. He apparently acted on that advice, as his most notable piece is situated successfully there.

The almost three sections of land in Garden Valley that is the location of The City and Heizer’s ranch house, studio, fabricating shops and air strip were acquired initially with the monetary help of Virginia Dwan.

I negotiated this land acquisition for $32.00 an acre from the original Mormon pioneer’s descendants and their attorneys in Reno. By obtaining it, and later for Dia Foundation whom I understand became the major sponsors of The City some other properties in the foothills of the Grant Range, Dia and Heizer control an area the size of a dozen Manhattans. It’s just them and the surrounding federally owned land.

The location of The City is surreal in its isolation. Originally, sixty five miles of primitive track to the nearest pavement and the small village of Alamo. Almost two hundred miles from Las Vegas. There was no means of communicating. Satellites and cell phones were in the future. There was no water, power, food, fuel, shelter, or medical aid.

We traveled in Heizer’s four wheel drive Dodge truck to Reno and picked up a 40’ office trailer from Earl Casazza, a construction company operator who had provided the heavy equipment to relocate the large granite masses Heizer had taken out of the high Sierra and placed at Silver Springs.

His first iteration of Displaced Replaced Mass.

He later moved the granite masses to Garden Valley.

After a difficult several hundred mile transit on a winter night defying the black ice and snow covered roads we managed to get the trailer to the site. We bundled up and paced back and forth in the uninsulated aluminum shell till sun up to keep from freezing

I remember with humour, how a few years later and while riding around in the desert we came upon one of the emplaced boulders that Michael had relocated from Silver Springs to Garden Valley and I had, without thinking, drew my six gun and bounced a round off it. Michael was furious.

Initially, I would fly from Las Vegas up to Garden Valley where Michael was working (about an hour)at dawn and drop notes in film canisters with fluorescent ribbons attached for ease of locating. Heizer would scratch numbered answers in the dirt directing me to attempt a landing, or do this, or that.

Using turbocharged single engine bush planes fitted with oversized tires and able to carry six people, or a ton of cargo, I landed on any flat desert I could till I could scratch out a 3000’dirt strip. I flew in canned food, tools building supplies, equipment and manpower. I would haul visitors up and back taking them over Double Negative on the way up and giving a running commentary of what they were seeing of Nevada.

In an attempt to improve communications in the early 80’s, I took the test obtaining a Ham Radio License (KA7PWE). I began experimenting with high frequency voice radio. Even with 100’ antennas and 2000 watt bilinear amplifiers that interfered with Las Vegas television stations, the distant and unique geographical location thwarted our efforts. Later, we purchased radio telephones and mountain top repeaters. Now, Heizer has satellite phones and internet access and the road to the City is maintained by the County.

Initially, diesel powered generators supplied Heizer’s energy needs. Over the years he has developed considerable expertise in applying solar energy and power management schemes to manage his power supply.

Real dangers presented themselves in four wheeling in and out, especially in the winter when temperatures range to twenty five degrees below zero. The altitude at City is approximately 5600’. Perfect for snow, sleet and black ice in winter and temperatures over 100F degrees in summer.

Travel after 9AM in winter wasn’t possible because of the mud from the melting ice made the primitive dirt track impassible. We had to dig 4 wheel drive trucks out many times and were in physical danger from the cold and bad driving conditions,

Flying was hazardous in any weather due to high density altitude and lack of weather reporting stations. I would take off from Las Vegas before dawn and fly north not knowing what the weather would be like upon my arrival over the piece. On several occasions I had to hold airborne outside Garden Valley and wait for thunderstorms over The City to subside.

In the summer if you had a breakdown in a vehicle, or a forced landing, on the way in, or out, it could be a thirty mile hike to a habitation with water. We traveled in pairs and took elaborate precautions to keep track of each other and carried supplies of water, food and signaling equipment.

Later, we had an unauthorized well drilled and cased using a small diesel generator to run the pumps.

Over the next three years, at Michael’s direction, I ran the operational side of CIVA and physically helped support, construct and photograph earthworks. I bought equipment, hired men, transported dealers, curators, the art media, investors and family members by land and air.

In 1975, Complex One of the City was completed.

Complex One has a series of huge cantilevered elements that required massive amounts of reinforcing steel and very high break strength concrete. Heizer’s Berkeley, California engineers, Goplin and Yokoyama, said it wasn’t possible to build these elements outside of an industrial, or urban center. But, we prevailed. Michael was indomitable.

We bought our own diesel front end loader and cement mixer truck from local ranchers and produced high test concrete, on site, using well water and thousands of bags of Portland cement brought directly from the factory and delivered by my coercing diesel truck drivers to risk the desert by getting them drunk and partaking of the whores at the cat houses on the highway south of us.

We mixed the cement with the area’s pristine natural occurring sand and gravel.

I would fly concrete core samples from our batch plant to Las Vegas regularly for testing. Our cores consistently exceeded the required breaking strength of 5000 pounds per inch. Very high quality material.

After flying in iron workers for weeks to install the hundreds of feet of heavy reinforcing bars making up the back bone of the elevated elements we began the cement pours.

Michael ran the Hydro Crane lifting the 2 1/2 yard bucket to the top of the elements where I was perched on the forms to dump cement and settle it a gasoline powered vibrator. We put in long hard days because each the four major elements forming the rectangle of Complex One of The City took several hundred cubic yards of material that had to be poured in one cohesive batch. For years I had numbness in my wrists and hands from that vibrator.

One of our workers was severely burned and had to be evacuated when he attempted to dispose of empty cement bags with gasoline. Making art on this scale can be hazardous.

Art might not have limits, but man does.

The construction of The City continues. Millions of dollars have been spent on this one mile long work composed of gigantic mestabas, stele and contoured mounds. Tens of thousands of cubic yards of earth have been realigned into shapes that provoke introspection.

I continue to fly Gorgoni up to the site to take aerial photos.

The City could have easily been brought up short. Shortage of water was one concern, but what we tried so hard to avoid by finding this location could have happened.

The Federal Government, after Heizer had started The City, first identified Coal and Garden Valleys as a locations for intercontinental ballistic missiles, and after that idea was shelved, the government then mapped a rail route through the area to transport spent nuclear fuel to the Yucca Mountain Repository south of Beatty.

The proposed railroad was to run right across the northern end of Garden Valley within sight of The City. Michael’s comments were unprintable and he threatened to stop the work. I went to work pulling every political string I could to defer the proposals.

I managed an appointment to the Nevada Nuclear Waste Study Committee in hopes I could influence the government’s decision makers. The whole process of handling waste had been politicized. With my friend, Harry Reid, heading up the Senate, there’s a good chance the repository will be scrapped and that Garden Valley will be protected.

Continue to part 2

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About the Creator

Jonathan Warren

Honorary Consul of Monaco, Chairman of the Liberace Foundation for the Performing and Creative Arts, 50 years in Vegas, Citizen of the world.


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