The Century-Old Art That Inspired a Grateful Dead Classic

L-R: 'A Skeleton Amid Roses,' 'Skull and Roses'
Photo Credit
Edmund J. Sullivan/Courtesy of the Collection of Jacaeber Kastor; Grateful Dead

A New York art show recently displayed a rare, early 20th century artwork that would inspire one of the Grateful Dead's most recognizable designs.

The Outsider Art Fair, which ran last weekend (March 3-6) in New York City and will head to Paris in September, included among its "Field Trip: Psychedelic Solution, 1986-1995" collection an original ink on board created by Edmund J. Sullivan in 1900. Its title, A Skeleton Amid Roses, should clue you in that the Dead took their own famous design - first seen on the cover of their 1971 live album (officially untitled, but known as Skull and Roses by most fans).

READ MORE: Grateful Dead's 'Skull & Roses' Gets Expanded for 50th Anniversary

Originally published in a book of poetry by Persian writer Omar Kayyam, the image was discovered by artists Stanley Mouse and Alton Kelley in the San Francisco Public Library. "This says Grateful Dead all over it - we have to use this," Mouse told Rolling Stone of the inspiration. But when the book was unable to be checked out because of its age and value, the duo sliced the page out of the book and snuck it into their studio to create the cover art we now know.

Decades later, a Bay Area-born art collector, Jacaeber Kaster, found Sullivan's original creation at an auction, adding it to his own archive for a cool $11,000. ("These people were stone-cold Victorian illustration guys," he told Rolling Stone. "Nobody there understood the reference.") It is courtesy of Kaster that the art now lives in the "Field Trip" exhibit, alongside originals by Joni Mitchell, Robert Crumb and H.R. Giger.

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