James’s death in 1984 cut his vision for the project short. But while he didn’t complete every structure he’d set out to build, he’d already achieved his goal to erect his own Eden. “I have seen such beauty as one man has seldom seen; therefore will I be grateful to die in this little room, surrounded by the forests, the great green gloom of trees my only gloom—and the sound, the sound of green,” he wrote.
Since then, James’s parrots have flown off into the jungle, and his ponchos have been laid to rest. James’s eccentric and generous spirit, however, lives on in the towering structures that make up his Surrealist Xanadu, perhaps his greatest act of patronage. It’s not only a site of artistic pilgrimage for some 80,000 visitors a year, but a well of inspiration for many, too.
“They make the vivid come to life,” once mused James of the Surrealists. “In the way that dreams can sometimes be more vivid than actuality.” The same could be said of James and his open-air oasis.