Ron Boise (1931-1966). American sculptor who worked primarily with sheet metal, often from junked cars, to create nude figures, large abstract pieces, and fanciful musical instruments. He first came to prominence when, in 1964, the San Francisco police seized his series of male and female figures engaged in sexual unions described in the Kama Sutra.1 In the ensuing highly publicized trial, a jury rejected the prosecution’s claim that the works were obscene. Not long after, a large musical instrument—The Thunder Machine—sculpted by Boise and painted in swirling psychedelic abstractions by Joseph Lysowski, was displayed, strummed and drummed at the San Francisco Trips Festival, at the Rolling Stones’ ill-fated Altamont Free Concert, and occasionally at the Acid Tests conductbed by Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters. Boise's early death, at 34, came before his reputation was firmly established.

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Ron & Holly
Photo above: ©1964 Leland Auslender

A Note on Images: Clicking on an image will display a full screen view. Images should display correcrtly on most uptodate browsers; some, however, may not maintain the correct image alignment. Adjusting the width of the browser window may help.


A Note on Titles: Wherever possible I have used the titles Ron gave his pieces; however, for those Kama Sutra pieces where he used Sanksrit titles, I have used English translations. Some of his sculptures are either untitled, or I am unable to establish their correct titles. These I have bracketed [ ] and used brief descriptions.

The Obscenity Trial

In March 1964, the Vorpal Gallery in San Francisco's North Beach held a show of 26 Boise sculptures. Included were a number of life-size female nudes, some busts and torsos, several musical instruments, and 12 small pieces (about 18 inches high) depicting sexual unions described in the Kama Sutra.1


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Mouth Congress
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Splitting of Bamboo Tree (rt)
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Touch of Leaf of Blue Lotus
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Climbing a Tree
click to see Embrace of the Jaghana click to see Milk andWater Embrace click to see Mixture Sesamun Seed with
Grain of Rice
click to see Sound of the Broken Cloud click to see
Embrace of the Breasts
click to see Union of the Kusha
Ashes with Drop of Oil
click to see Flowers of the Kadamba Tree

Photographs above: ©1964 Lars Speyer

Shortly after the opening, the San Francisco Police seized 11 Kama Sutra sculptures, arrested the gallery owner for possessing obscene objects and charged a gallery salesman with offering lewd objects for sale.2 In the event of conviction, the sculptures were to be destroyed. The trial is believed to be the first in the US in which police sought to suppress statuary as pornographic. It began June 23 and concluded on July 2, 1964. Experts from the University of California-Berkeley, Mills College, the San Francisco Museum of Art, and the San Francisco Art Institute, along with the well know scholar and philosopher of Eastern religion, Alan Watts, testified—often with illustrations—to the long history of erotic art in western culture3—from the Etruscans to the Greeks, the Romans, into the Renaissance and Baroque eras and on to moderns like Gauguin, Rodin, Schiele, Klimt, Picasso—and they attested to a similar traditions in Indian, Japanese, African, and Eskimo art. Examples of all were to be found in prestigious museums throughout the world, and easily available to the public in art books for sale at bookstores and museums, including those in San Francisco.

In response, the prosecution called the Director of the de Young Museum, who acknowledged that the sculptures, though not “great art,” were art, but were unsuitable for exhibit in a museum, like his, which attracted families with children. Only the Director of the Palace of Legion of Honor condemned them as “obscene” and “outside the limits of candor.” When asked about Rodin’s “The Kiss,” showing a naked couple in intimate embrace, a version of which was on permanent display at his museum, he explained that it brings to mind “affection rather than sex.” When pressed, he admitted, “I know nothing about modern art. I am an expert in Baroque style.”

Boise—as was his way—did not mince words. He explained that after devoting his attention to single figures, he moved on to two figures but, with two, there is not a lot of choice: “They can fight each other, ignore each other, or embrace. What you see here is an ancient Buick I bought for $25. But I fell in love. So I sculpted people in love. It felt right. It was a gift to my beloved.”4

After deliberating for 6 hours, the jury of 7 men and 5 women found that the sculptures were not obscene and acquitted the Gallery owner and his salesperson. The sculptures were returned to the Gallery.

Unfortunately, the erotic sensationalism and general furor stirred up by the Kama Sutra episode has resulted, over the years, in neglect of Boise's other—to my mind—more significant work.

Other Works

Boise's primary medium was sheet metal, usually obtained from junked vehicles, which he cut, bent, hammered and welded to create his sculptures.

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Ron and Emilia at a Wreaking Yard

Large Outdoor Pieces

Ron also worked with copper, usually for large outdoor pieces:

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Fountain: El Rotic
(Hanged Man in background)
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Mankind: Atop Anchor Steam Brewery
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Runic: For the Hip Pocket

Photographs above: ©1964 Lars Speyer

Female Figures

His primary subject was the female nude, and his principal model during his most productive years was the woman with whom, as he told the jury, he fell in love--Emilia Hazelip.5 She was his muse, model, and manager:

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E No. 3
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Fountain #4
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The Girl
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The Girl (detail)
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[Woman's Body]
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[Seated Girl]
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Figure #1
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[Sitting Figure]
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Lying E. No. 6
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[Woman with Cross]
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[Sitting No. 2]


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[Woman Sitting]

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[Seated Figure #1]
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[Black Female]
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[Torso #2]
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[Torso #3]
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[Torso #2 (mounted)]
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The Woman
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The Slut
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I Found Her Dead
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Copper Stabile
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Party Girl

Photographs above: ©1964 Lars Speyer

Other Figures

Apart from the female nudes, there were a variety of other figurative sculptures:

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Hanged Man (White Liberal)
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Male Figure No. 1
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Mrs. Truman
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[Three Faces]
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[Bike Rider]

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French Come On
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Head No. 2

Photographs above: ©1964 Lars Speyer

Musical Instruments

Ron also produced a number of fanciful musical instruments: a free standing copper horn; sheet metal flowers with long, jangling wire stamen; stringed fingerboards set within reverberating metal forms, some painted in swirling psychedelic colors by his friend, Joe Lysowski:

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Musical Instrument #1
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Copper Musical Instrument
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[Musical Instrument]

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Copper Horn

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Flower No. 2
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Machine that Talks Back

Photographs above: ©1964 Lars Speyer

Thunder Machine

Their best-known collaboration was a large “Thunder Machine”—big enough to enter, and covered in swirling psychedelic color—which produced a cacophony of tone and echo from the pounding, drumming, mumbling and shouting of those within and without. It was a favorite at the San Francisco Trips Festival and occasionally at Ken Kesey's Acid Trips—popular enough to require repeated repainting and re-welding:6

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Thunder Machine

Photograph above: ©1964 Lars Speyer

Critical Evalution

The effects that Boise was able to achieve have much to do with the medium—sheet metal—with which he primarily worked. Unlike clay or marble, it is a two dimensional surface, which he modeled to confine and define space. He was, as Alan Watts pointed out, able to indicate “extreme solidity and vitality with the merest of surfaces.”7

The limbs and torsos of his nudes, for example, are often incomplete, leaving the eye to shape and complete the empty space. A cubist kind of experience.

Sheet metal has two other characteristics—it is angular and it is sharp. By using it in rendering his female nudes—classically sculpted as smooth and curving—Boise creates tension between our expectation and his execution, a tension which lends his figures the “vitality” of which Watts speaks.

Photographer Lee Auslender, has praised Boise’s ability to capture the moods of his models and protray powerful feelings with a simplicity of design. In testimony during the obscenity trial, Prof. Walter Horn of UC Berkeley described the sculptures as “Gentle and warm and done with great sympathy and tenderness.”


Boise was self-reliant, a maverick; he kept his own counsel and moved at his own pace. On meeting him, one had the impression of someone who had “been around” but remained open and receptive—deeply involved in his work, but ever poised to move on to a new project, a new adventure, another place. His relationships with women were intense and, at times, troubled; a wife, children, and lovers were left behind as he moved on.

Boise was born, Ronald Lee Bosse, on December 22, 1931, in Brush, Colorado. Growing up there, he probably learned to weld while working in his father’s gas station. In the 1949 he joined the Navy, spending most of his time as a welder on Guam. He hated the service and was discharged in 1953. He moved to Southern California, living and working odd jobs in San Pedro (where, for a time, he managed the Exodus Gallery) and at Venice Beach just as the LA Art scene was emerging—the Ferus Gallery, Barney's Beanery, La Cienega, Ed Kienholz, Ed Ruscha, and the like. Though not a member of that circle, he came to know, respect and enjoy the company of Ed Kienholz. Inspired perhaps by Kienholz’s romance with wrecked cars, he began to fashion his own metal sculptures—at first working with car frames, bumpers and other scrap metal, but eventually settling on used auto body sheet metal. During this period his work was shown in several galleries and at museum annuals.

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Ron with Self-portrait
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Large Construction in Venice
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Another Large Construction
in Venice

Photographs above: ©1962 Leland Auslander

After spending some time in Mexico, he returned to Southern California. In 1963 he moved to Northern California living—mostly outdoors, usually in the converted bread truck where he kept his welding equipment—first in Tiburon and then in the areas around Santa Cruz and Big Sur. He had several shows in the Bay Area and one in Los Angeles. The notoriety surrounding his 1964 obscenity trial led to further shows and exhibits. In Santa Cruz he got to know several members of the group around Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters. After spending most of 1965 in France, he returned to the United States and moved to La Honda for a time, long enough to take charge of sneaking Kesey into Mexico in his attempt to avoid jail on a marijuana conviction.8

In an unpublished manuscript describing the escape, Kesey had this to say: “He’s right. Boise almost always is. Even to the point of being certain. . . .[I]t’s the mixture of this high, flat sound of old-hand consistency combined with the lecherous etched face and the demonic glitter staring from between thin-lipped eyes and a grin that puts Boise in a tiny knot of what might be Perfect Pranksters.”—for Kesey, the ultimate compliment.


Boise became ill while preparing for a show in Dallas in May, 1966. The doctor he saw was not entirely sure of the diagnosis, but thought it might be rheumatic fever. Boise’s mother later confirmed that he had had rheumatic fever as a child. He was flown back to Santa Cruz where he died a few days later, on May 26, 1966, from heart failure, probably related to infection exacerbated by a recurrence of rheumatic fever.9 He was 34.

Ron was buried by his parents at the Pacific Crest Cemetery in Redondo Beach, California.

Solo Shows and Exhibitions

Long Beach Museum Long Beach, CA July 1961
Quay Gallery Tiburon, CA September 1963
Vorpal Gallery San Francisco, CA October 1963; March & April 1964
Selection Gallery San Francisco, CA November 1963
Big Sur Hot Springs Big Sur, CA January 1964
Huysman Gallery Los Angeles, CA February 1964
Mission Gallery Taos, NM July 1964
Sticky Wicket Coffeehouse Santa Cruz, CA August 1964
California State Fair Sacramento, CA September 1964
Cabrillo Music Festival Aptos, CA August 1964; August 1966
Hip Pocket Bookstore Santa Cruz, CA September 1964; March & April 1966
Hack-Light Gallery Scottsdale, AZ Late 1964
Galerie des Merveilles St. Paul de Vence, France 1965(?)
Fine Arts Gallery Dallas, TX November 1965
Anchor Steam Brewery San Francisco, CA April & May 1966
Contemporary Gallery Dallas, TX May 1966
San Francisco State College San Francisco, CA October 1966


1See: Kama Sutra Article

2At the time California Penal Code § 311 provided: "’Obscene matter’ means matter, taken as a whole, that to the average person, applying contemporary statewide standards, appeals to the prurient interest, that, taken as a whole, depicts or describes sexual conduct in a patently offensive way, and that, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value." And, should the "mattter" be found obscene, California Penal Code § 312 provided for its destruction.

3See Wikipedia article: History of Erotic Depictions.

4This and above quotations are from Margolin, Ephraim: "The Obscene Sculpture Trial in San Francisco," The Champion Magazine (National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers), Sept. 2008, p. 46.

5See Wikipedia entry: Emilia Hazelip.

6An examination of the small, looseleaf binder in which Ron (and Emilia) recorded, on separate 3 x 5 cards, most of his works, together with small photographs or drawings, varying amounts of information about when they were created, where they were shown, their prices, and their buyers indicates, not one, but three "Thunder Machines." The first, done in January and February l964, is entitled, "The Polydelic or Thunder Machine." The second, in April 1964, is entitled, "The Thunderbird Machine" and was sold to Ken Kesey. The third, depicted above, is entitled, "Thunder Machine" is probably the one which appeared at the Trips Festival and at the Stone's Altamont Concert. The history of the Thunder Machine(s) is further complicated by the fact that Prankster Page Browning created a Thunder Machine of his own for use at some--or possibly all--of the Acid Tests.

7Remarks by Alan Watts at Big Sur Hot Springs in January l964, as printed in the Evergreen Review No. 36, June 1965, p 64, with photographs by Lars Speyer.

8For additional information on Ron's relationship to the Kesey scene, see Lee Quarnstrom's memoir, When I was a Dynamiter, pp. 110, 123, 153-4, 167-8, 200-201, Tom Wolf's Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, and Charles Perry's The Haight-Asbury: a History, page referencs for the later two are collected together at Ron Boise Material.

9An alternative possible cause of death was the heredity rheumatoid disease hemochromatosis which afflicted one of his offspring. See: Legendary Kama Sutra Sculptures.


Auslender, Leland, "The Sculpture of Ron Boise," with soundtrack consisting of recordings of Boise musical instruments with Boise himself playing homemade and native flutes, Canyon Cinema, San Francisco CA. 1966. 16mm, 10 min. 3 minute Excerpt available on YouTube. Full Film available for purchase at Canyon Cinema.

Auslender, Leland, "Venice Beach in the Sixties—A Celebration of Creativity," Canyon Cinema, San Francisco CA. 2008. 16mm, 15 min. Can be found on You Tube. The final segment is devoted to Boise and examines his life in Venice. Full Film available for purchase at Canyon Cinema.

Bright, Kimberly, "Sexy and Scandalous Scrap Metal: Ron Boise's Legendary Kama Sutra Sculptures." Legendary Kama Sutra Sculptures

Caldwell, Katherine, Mills College lecturer on Oriental art, Her memories of the trial at p. 249.

Elder, Muldoon, Founder Vorpal Gallery: "Kama Sutra: Ron Boise—Busted" (2004), with photographs by Lars Speyer:

Margolin, Ephraim: "The Obscene Sculpture Trial in San Francisco," The Champion Magazine (National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers), Sept. 2008, p. 46. Margolin was one of the defense attorneys. His is the most interesting account of the trial.

Quarnstrom, Lee (2014), When I Was a Dynamiter Or, How a Nice Catholic Boy Became a Merry Prankster, a Pornographer, and a Bridegroom Seven Times. Punk Hostage Pess, ISBN: 978-1-940213-98-9, pp. 110, 123, 153-4, 167-8, 200-201.

Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Art. "Ronald Lee Boise papers, 1964-1966." Miscellaneous correspondence, drawings, exhibition announcements, Kama Sutra Calendar for 1966, clippings, program from Boise's funeral service.

Watts, Alan, "Introduction, The Confiscated Ron Boise Kama Sutra Statues" with photographs by Stephen Northup, Notes From Underground I, San Francisco CA. 1964, cover & p. 31.

Watts, Alan, "Ron Boise and Alan Watts/Sculpture: The Kama Sutra Theme," Evergreen Review, Vol. 9, No. 36, New York City, NY, June 1965, p 64, with photographs by Lars Speyer.

Daily accounts of the obscenity trial are to be found in the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Francisco Examiner and, to a lesser extent, the San Francisco Call Bulletin. See: S.F. Chronicle: 4/8/54 p. 8; 6/18/64; 6/24/64, p.5; 6/25/64, p.2; 6/26/64, p.9; 6/27/64, p.2; 6/30/64, p.2; 7/1/64, p.5; 7/3/64, p.1. S.F. Examiner: 4/8/64; 6/24/64, p.3; 6/25/64, p.25; 6/30/64, p.3; 7/1/64, p. 25; 7/2/64, p.8; 7/3/64, p.3. S.F. Call-Bulletin: 4/8/64, p. 8; 6/23/64, p.4; 6/24/64, p. 3; 7/3/64, p. 3.

Thanks To . . .

Leland Auslender, a filmmaker and longtime friend of Ron who provided me with photographs, film, and memories of Ron’s career; Ron’s son, Will Boise, who supplied additional material and help; my friend, Joe Lysowski, the painter who collaborated with Ron on many of his musical instruments and shared his memories with me; Lorraine Capparell, the widow of photographer Lars Speyer—a good and close friend of Ron, whose fine photographs constitute the bulk of the images above; and Dewayne Hendricks at Warp Speed Imagineering for hosting the site.

This site contains much, but not all, of Ron’s work. I especially regret that I had no color photographs of the colorful musical instruments Ron and Joe created. My description of Ron’s life is brief and sketchy—by no means intended as a full biography.

Should you have comments, corrections, or additional material for possible inclusion, you can e-mail me at

  —Jim Wolpman