Beyond the Pleasuredome: Shonberg’s psychedelic art shines at the Buckland Museum

From Brooklyn, New York to Old Brooklyn, Ohio, a perfect convergence of spiritual discovery and art is on display at the Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magick. Walking through the inauspicious doors of the museum in the Old Brooklyn neighborhood, an unexpected journey awaits those with an open mind to embark upon it.

Guests to the museum are greeted by its director, Steven Intermill, who shares stories of Raymond Buckland, the man responsible for bringing Wicca religion and its history to America in the 1950s and 1960s. 

Beyond The Pleasure Dome: The Lost Occult World of Burt Shonberg exhibitBuckland’s private collection, first displayed out of the basement of his own home in Long Island, New York, makes up the majority of the Old Brooklyn museum, along with other spiritualist figures and private donations. 

Upon finishing their new education in magic, acolytes are free to wander and explore the museum’s unique open—yet distinctly organized—space, containing artifacts, relics, tools, and, of course, art, where rotating exhibitions at the Buckland are included with every tour.

Through Sunday, Nov. 14, the rotating exhibit is “Beyond the Pleasuredome: The Lost Occult Works of Burt Shonberg.” Produced by Stephen Romano of the Stephen Romano Gallery in Brooklyn, New York, the exhibit features the unique works of visionary artist Shonberg, who is considered to be the Grandfather of Psychedelic Art. 

Shonberg participated in research projects requiring him to work under the influence of LSD in the 1960s, among other mind-altering experiences. Though his art was commissioned by filmmaker Roger Corman and can be found in murals and coffee houses throughout Los Angeles, he remained largely unrecognized by the art world.
Romano, who has collaborated with Intermill many times, says the Buckland is the perfect backdrop for “Beyond the Pleasuredome,” referring to the museum as a “national treasure” and saying, “It’s not a white cube, it’s an ecosystem unto itself.” 

Buckland Museum of Witchcraft & Magick founder Raymond Buckland (1934-2017)Shonberg meant his art to be experienced, not hidden away in obscure collections. Yet some of his most powerful works served a more personal purpose and therefore evaded the public eye.

This exhibit offers Clevelanders a rare glimpse into Shonberg’s world, which often focuses on occult imagery and themes. 

Recently acquired by Romano, the exhibition is the first of its kind in over 50 years, and only the fourth to feature the artist. While this collection would have been at home in any renowned gallery, Intermill and Romano agree that Shonberg’s art blends seamlessly with the Buckland Museum’s unique ecosystem.

Intermill says that part of what attracted him to Shonberg’s works are the parallels he sees in its occult subjects to Wicca and Witchcraft. “I saw hermeticism...mysticism...alchemy,” he says. “I saw an interest in peering into other realms of existence. In a lot of ways, that's what witches do.” 

Backed by a darkly painted museum wall, Shonberg’s art greets the viewer with surprising light and color, despite its occult theme. ‘Lucifer in the Garden,’ the show’s focal piece, is like looking through a window to a beautiful and vibrant scene. On one recent tour, Intermill shows guests how the colors appear to shift depending on how the piece is viewed.

Shonberg used the sphinx, an occult symbol of ancient knowledge and mysticism, as the focus of many of his works, Intermill explains, citing a work depicting a kaleidoscope-colored sphinx emerging from a dream world. But the artist's works were eclectic and varied in many of styles. In other paintings, Shonberg’s art is more abstract, perhaps revealing a shattered consciousness. 

Shonberg's unique process and history gives Clevelanders a chance, for the first time in 50 years, to experience a one-of-a-kind exhibition In a Brooklyn that’s much closer to home.

Beyond the Pleasuredome: The Lost Occult Works of Burt Shonberg is on display through Sunday, Nov. 15 at the Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magick, 2155 Broadview Road, in Cleveland’s Old Brooklyn neighborhood.

Read more articles by Brittney Hooper.

Brittney Hooper is a lifelong Clevelander who resides in Old Brooklyn with her husband, two young sons, and a house full of animals (she thinks living near the zoo equates to needing a zoo yourself). A passionate environmentalist, Hooper works by day as a research associate at a biotech company and in her free time writes, colors, explores, cooks, and otherwise enjoys the many jewels her city has to offer.