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Some of the seminal designs by artists like Robert Crumb are worth thousands today. Popular blotter designs included geometric patterns, variations on rock poster art, and especially cartoon imagery. In the '70s, Felix the Cat, Goofy, and Mickey Mouse adorned sheets. During the '80s and '90s, Bart Simpson, Beavis and Butt-Head, and South Park characters were common.
When he started his collection, Mark McCloud, a San Francisco art professor, considered blotter a uniquely American folk-op art form and started exhibiting his collection in the late 1980s. He would have to expose the pieces to ultraviolet light to negate their mind-bending properties but soon found ways to get hold of the stuff on its way from the printer to the chemist, who would add the actual acid.
Lyttle began his own blotter collection. "People would see these things and think, 'Wow -- this is exactly what I bought illegally and ate! I never thought I'd see such a thing mounted and framed legitimately!'" relates Lyttle. Emboldened by the popularity and appeal of blotter art, Lyttle decided to take it a step further.
"I had an idea that might make the art even more collectible," he says. "And at the same time do something to help promote legitimate research."
His suggestion was to take some of this undipped blotter to get autographed by some of the most famous psychedelic figureheads. So he sent sheets to Albert Hoffman in Switzerland, then to poet Allen Ginsberg and author Ken Kesey. He hit up dolphin (and flotation tank) expert John Lilly, as well as Laura Huxley, wife of psychedelic guru Aldous Huxley. Sasha Shulgin, the California synthetic chemist who developed MDMA, got into the game too. Most of the time, Lyttle would present them with 200 sheets, get them autographed, then split them up -- and the profits from reselling them.
Lyttle knew that surrealist H.R. Giger, who won an Oscar for his design of the monster in the film Alien, had an interest in the connection between surrealism and psychedelics, so he contacted him through his manager. Giger agreed to reproduce and perforate Illuminatus, a painting that featured caricatures of Leary and fantasy writers H.P. Lovecraft and Robert Anton Wilson.
"Giger signed 200 of them, just for collecting purposes," Lyttle recalls. "One hundred went to the Giger Museum in Switzerland, and the other 100 I ended up selling."
Lyttle was detained at the Canadian border two years ago when Customs officers wanted to know what he was doing with 50 sheets of what looked like acid.
"They asked me a lot of questions," Lyttle says, "but I travel with a huge media kit full of magazine articles, and after going through all that, they realized it was a controversial and radical -- but legitimate -- art form. It isn't illegal to collect this kind of art, but it's one step away from something that is illegal."
At an art conference in Hawaii a few years ago, he met Annie Sprinkle, an outspoken ex-porn star now best-known for forays into sex therapy and outlandish performance art. Knowing she was interested in the sexual-therapeutic effects of psychedelics, Lyttle and Wollman asked her to collaborate on an extremely limited-edition set of "tit prints." Sprinkle dipped her breasts in colorful ink, then pressed them onto perforated sheets of paper atop a swirly fractal image, highlighted them with glittery nail polish, and signed each one.
"It was great fun," says Sprinkle, now a Ph.D. candidate in sexology. "I loved our collaboration."
Autographed blotter, Lyttle says, turned out to be a profitable idea, though the original intent was simply to stockpile all-too-ephemeral art that was generally consumed before it had time to accumulate much dust. Now, when he gingerly pulls out some sheets from a glassine envelope, he treats them like ancient manuscripts from a bygone era.
Lyttle donated some of his signed sheets to the MAPS organization, who raised more than $10,000 by auctioning them off. "Thom has done us a tremendous amount of good with blotter art," Doblin says. "Our operating budget last year was over a million dollars, and that really helps."
The sheets that Lyttle sent to Hoffman to be signed now sell on eBay and to serious art collectors for $3,000 or more; pieces signed by the late Timothy Leary command similar prices.
Just before Leary's death in 1996, Lyttle and Demarest visited his Hollywood Hills home. Even the weekend prior to his passing, they recall, Leary was autographing acid. "Ram Dass was sitting right next to us as he signed the last sheet," Lyttle recalls. Leary said that autographing blotter art made him feel like "the pope signing communion wafers."
Special Agent Joe Kilmer of the Miami Field Division of the DEA is happy to confirm that acid is virtually unheard of in this part of the country.
"Certainly not like California," he notes. It doesn't even rate. You'll find a few tabs at some of these raves, but it's mostly Ecstasy and ketamine. We see next to no LSD arrests in South Florida."
In fact, the last time Kilmer did see a lot of acid was right before he led its owner away in handcuffs. In February 1992, as part of an undercover sting operation, he helped bring down nine men who were part of a nationwide LSD distribution network. Kilmer arranged to buy 10,000 hits of acid by meeting a man named David Cutlip in a Fort Lauderdale motel room. "He was a relaxed, typically nonthreatening Deadhead," Kilmer recalls. "Just one more guy in a series of middlemen."