In December 1985, Kaziah Hancock stood on the steps of the courthouse in Salt Lake City and yelled, for everyone to hear, “Thank you God, I’m free!” She had no concept of freedom. Born into polygamy 34 years earlier and raised in what she describes as mental chains, it would be another 15 years before she could slough off the shackles off the prison in her mind and begin her journey toward freedom and success.
Today she is a successful artist and author, currently working with a California agent hoping to get a movie script based on her book, Prisons of the Mind. The year 2000 looks like the year of “Kaziah the Goat Woman,” as she is known in central Utah. The nickname is attributed to Kaziah’s love of goats, which she raises on her Sweetwater Goat Ranch. It is the signature trademark she exhibits in the bottom right hand corner of her artwork.
In truth the goats are much more significant, an ethereal reminder of her earthly vulnerability. Her journey through life, and her present success, she says, has been long and arduous. “At times it has been more degrading than being dipped in a barrel of pus and maggots,” she exclaims. “Many times along the way I have asked myself and God, “Is it worth it?” Kaziah even pondered suicide, but cowardly she is not; it didn’t seemed to her like a brave thing to do. She found other ways to protect herself when life became just too much.
“Yes, it has all been worth it,” she says. “I’m finally free and will be forever free.”
In December 1999, Kaziah won the coveted “Directors Award” from the Springville Art Museum during the Spiritual Religion Exhibition. Her painting hung alongside a work by Gregg Olsen, the notable and much admired artist. Vern Swensen, director of the museum, noted that “Olsen’s painting was impeccable, smooth and beautiful, maybe even his best. (The painting depicted Christ at the end of the Last Supper.)
Kaziah’s paintings are certainly different. Bold and vibrant, she creates them with a palette knife, keeping her brushes only for light refinement of the subject matter. “I haven’t led a prissy life and I don’t relate to prissy subject matter. I paint people I can relate to and the wildlife and countryside I love.”
Swensen describes Kaziah as “a woman of indomitable spirit … pushing the envelope [of art] in Utah.”
“She is young in art,” he explains. “When she first showed me her paintings some years ago they were awful. I would not have believed she could develop this far in such a short time. Her technique captures and is captivating, it gets right in your face and you can’t ignore it.
Her painting “Circle of Friends” elbowed its way into being noticed, Swensen explained. “It was one of the most muscular and formidable paintings we have ever seen. It was a volcanic painting full of interest and emotion.”
“Go down” is no longer in Kaziah’s vocabulary. She’s been there. The future, she says confidently, is all “going up.”
Born in the glow of a kerosene lantern in a tent on the northern Arizona desert, just 30 miles from Short Creek (now called Colorado City), Kaziah was helped into the world by her brother Rod, then 9 years old, and a passel of younger sisters. Her father, Joseph Heber Hancock, had died several days before, and lay unburied and awaiting resurrection as taught by his religious leader, polygamist Joseph White Musser. Her mother, Edith Kaziah Soderburg Hancock, had barely enough strength to pick the maggots off his dead body as she prepared for the delivery of her baby.
There had been little water for either the family or the animals during Hancock’s illness, and his wife had no milk for the baby when it arrived. Rod mustered enough milk from the goats to keep the baby alive, and wrapped her in canvas in an ammunition box.
They had little communication with the outside world. A traveling sheepherder investigated the stench from Hancock’s body and came upon the little family. Kaziah was two days old. She owed her life to the goats. The sheepherder took word to Short Creek about the family’s predicament. Eventually, a pickup arrived to bring them in from the desert.
Edith was Hancock’s second wife. Suffering severe bouts of epilepsy, his first wife was hospitalized in American Fork and unwilling to risk passing on her disease to any offspring. She had readily given consent for Hancock to take a second wife. Late in his illness, Kaziah had told Edith of acreage he owned in Murray. He had encouraged her to return there, reasoning that once he was dead, federal authorities would not harass her about her religious beliefs. In Murray, Edith would be safe among others who shared her religious beliefs. Because he was a veteran of World War II, the young family would have a check every month.
Edith and the children prayed over Hancock’s grave, and cried as they released their goats and chickens to the Arizona wilderness. Still praying for the protection of everything they left behind, the family climbed into the pickup for the long drive to Salt Lake Valley.
For a while, the unspoiled Murray countryside of 1948 allowed Kaziah to blossom with the flowers she loved to sketch. Unfettered by religious control or male domination, she grew wild and free—but not for long. The absence of an adult male in their own small family precipitated interference from the elders in other families within their religious group. Soon, they found themselves being ferried from one meeting to the next, receiving instruction and absorbing the doctrines of the priesthood. One by one, the Hancock girls were married into the polygamist culture.
But Rod and Kaziah stood apart. Kaziah was unsure of what she wanted from the future, and her free spirit rode the waves at the edge of the polygamist culture she was part of. Rod was openly rebellious around the elders. He smoked and drank beer and was defiant of the priesthood teachings, Kaziah recalls. “He was kind and gentle and good with his hands. He wanted a different kind of life from what the priesthood taught us. He was young, and the elders won. I loved him.”
Rod was committed to a mental hospital near Provo. In her book, Prisons of the Mind, Kaziah writes, “I thought a lot about Rod being put in the Provo Mental Hospital. Walt, mom, Lisa and I would go and visit Rod. Sometimes they would not let us see him because they said he was violent and they had to lock him in a non-visiting area. I sat there looking at all those people with their strange actions. … Even the nurses seemed a little strange. … On my way home after one such visit, I said to myself, ‘How horrible it would be to have to stay there. That’s what happens when a person gets really angry. They lock ‘em up.’” Rod remained in the mental hospital until he died several years ago.
When Rod was taken away, Kaziah was left to her own devices. She experimented with makeup and bleaching her hair. She tried smoking and swearing and even drank a beer from time to time. She really liked to draw, and sketched whatever and whenever she could. She spent lazy summer days swinging in a hammock, and one particularly snowy winter she built an igloo and daydreamed of the day she would be a famous artist.
Once in a while she read LDS religious teachings, like the Journal of Discourses or the Doctrine of Covenants. And she was receiving more and more pressure to become married. At 14 it was not something she wanted, and shrugged it off with barely concealed resentment. Here carefree days were numbered, however. She was promised in marriage to Bart Kanderhosh, a member of the polygamist group. In eighth grade she was forced to quit school and childhood and was soon immersed in the sordid existence that would eventually lead her to 3rd District Court in 1982.
In the years after 1982, Kaziah worked sporadically on Prisons of the Mind (published by Desert Blossom Publishing, 1997) and tried to establish herself as an artist. Her early attempts were dogged by a frailty of spirit. Kaziah had not escaped the horrors of 18 years of living hell without some scars. Night after night, she would wake screaming, bathed in sweat so deep you could almost swim in it. “I felt as if my past would never leave me. I dreaded the need to sleep. Every night the same dream and the same ending, the same evil face that had haunted me night and day for 18 years persecuted me in freedom.”
Finally driven nearly to suicide, she reached out to God. “Take this burden from me,” she pleaded. The date was April 6, 1992. The following day Kaziah heard that the man in her nightmares, the man who had abused her body and soul for so long, was dead.
Kaziah’s sustenance during those years was love. In the prologue of her book, she wrote, “I look forward to married life with someone I truly love with joy and contemplation of children.” She had met and married Doug Jordan, who taught art at the University of Utah. Formally trained, he encouraged Kaziah to explore the total world of art. He taught her about the warm and cool sides of colors and critiqued her work unmercifully. She spent hours, days even, studying the techniques of recognized artists.
“After analyzing Alvin Gittens’ paintings, I knew I would never be the same again,” she said. She confesses also to being influenced by Nicolae Fechin and J.C. Lynedecker. “I was particularly taken with Lynedecker’s building of his composition,” she explained, “particularly the breaking up of space and the arrangement of his subject matter.
“They all spoke to me,” she said. “I’m a little bit of all of them, and not like any of them.”
Along with her love of art, Kaziah has continuously cherished goats. Through her years of anguish with Bart Kanderhosh, she turned to them for love and companionship. They didn’t stop her talking when she poured out her heart, and they didn’t beat her if she expressed an opinion. During her marriage to Jordan, Kaziah continued to tend her goats. They endured; Jordan did not. On her Sweetwater Goat Ranch outside Manti, she paints all day. For relaxation and rejuvenation, she tends the goats and chickens she loves. They are the children she never had and a continual inspiration in her life.
When she is “on a roll” with no time to eat, she grabs goat milk from the fridge. “Heck, I wouldn’t be here at all if it wasn’t for goat milk,” she grins, referring to her days immediately after birth in the Arizona desert.
Kaziah paints with a palette knife, saving the brush for fine finishing. The subject matter of the painting determines how much brushwork she uses. Her studio is small and without clutter. In one corner of the room sits a giant easel, her paints and palette. The other side of the room is dominated by a comfortable-looking rope bed. Pillows sit atop a beautiful hand-pieced quilt. “My second husband’s second wife made it for me,” she said with a laugh. “The quilt I can live with, the wife I could not.”
It is from this bed that Kaziah brainstorms her paintings. Staring at a blank canvas on the easel, she brings up images in her mind and projects them onto it. “While I’m brainstorming, I’m constantly bringing up new images. I analyze each one and throw them into a filing system in my mind,” she says. Hours later when she has run through all of her options, she selects the one she believes is superior. Sometimes her painting is an amalgamation of images from several different options. This is the point where Kaziah really begins to fly. “I just take all of that knowledge I’ve filed and my painting is born,” she says.
As she approaches a new painting, she is as agile as a cat. Crouched like a cougar about to spring, she wields an old yardstick with a magic marker taped to it. Deftly she commits the first line of a painting to canvas. With positive swipes she places some basic lines and makes a series of spontaneous decisions. A painting is born.
In the 1990s, her second husband bought into Jim Harmston’s polygamist group based in Manti. “I knew if I didn’t go with him I’d lose him,” Kaziah reflects. She lost him anyway, along with all her worldly goods. “When I finally started to stand up for myself it was too late,” she said. “The difference between Mormonism and Jim’s group is that Mormons don’t necessarily live the Doctrine of Covenants [specifically D&C Section 132, which calls for polygamy]. They put it aside. With [polygamy] groups, if you believe it, you’re forced to act. You live the beliefs.”
When Jordan brought home Rose Le Barron (widow of the late polygamist Ervil Le Barron) to be his second wife, Kaziah refused to give her permission for them to wed. “When a guy takes more than one wife, it’s flattering to his ego. But to the woman, hell they are raped mentally and spiritually,” she explained. “I’ve been crucified by brothers and sacrificed by lovers. One minute I’m being washed and anointed in the Temple [of Jim Harmston’s polygamy group, built in a Manti barn] and being told ‘the spirit of the Lord is upon you. You are the wife of Christ in Earth.’ And just as suddenly, I’m the daughter of perdition.”
Through all of this, Kaziah continued to work on her book and paint out her heart on canvas. Prisons of the Mind was an instant best seller in Utah—for two whole weeks. Representatives from the LDS church approached her. “They told me if I would change a few things they would promote it,” she said. “I didn’t want to change it. It was my life and I knew how I had lived it. I remembered how the writer Paul H. Dunn had been caught fabricating stories. I refused to change it.”
Exit the reps from the LDS church. Kaziah placed an expensive ad with Gordon Book Distributors that was to appear in their annual catalog, distributed to some 6,000 stores. She had been distributing them herself locally. “But suddenly bookstores began not to want the books they had ordered,” she said. Worse still, Gordon Book Distributors suddenly decided they did not want to carry Prisons of the Mind, and returned Kaziah’s ad money. “I still have all the correspondence,” she says. “There I was with mountains of books to sell and not a bookstore would sell them.” (The book is available over the Internet and by mail order, or directly from the author.)
She didn’t give up.
Why does she stay in Manti, where she has accumulated so many bad memories? “Heck I love it here. Not bullet holes in my house nor facing Jim Harmston on Main Street will drive me away. The worse they can do is blow me away.”
As a concession to all her friends and advisors who see the bullet holes in her house as a serious threat, she keeps a shotgun ready. “Being cowardly is more disgusting to me than death,” she says. “And it is surprising how one person with a spine can stand up to dozens without a backbone.”
Kaziah says she has finally wised up and recognized that she has a brain. “All of my adult life, going to the Celestial Kingdom has been the golden carrot that motivated me. I actually felt internal pressure to carry on the tradition of polygamy. Fear holds you. In cult living the very moment you reject any revelation, you go to the devil.”
This is her final rejection of polygamy, she says quietly. “Polygamy is a stench in my nostrils. At last I have the strength not to succumb to the things I don’t believe in—greed, lusting, adultery and how to break all 10 commandments and still stay righteous in the eyes of God.
“I have never lost my faith in God, or his power to take care of me,” she says. “I don’t hate, and I believe that God believes women are precious and have dignity.”
Having put aside her old way of life, Kaziah can finally devote herself to art. Her book is being promoted for film adaptation by her agent, Kathleen Dolan. “This will be a true presentation of my life,” Kaziah says with tenacity painted across her face.
Her paintings are sold before they are finished. Her portraits are evocative, and the subjects either love them or hate them. But she refuses to commercialize her work. “I paint what I see and feel.” This makes portrait painting a risk, she says, because there is always the presence of art versus opinion. “I tell my subjects, ‘If you don’t like it, don’t buy it, but this is how I see you.’”
Kaziah’s subject matter is as varied as the colors in the spectrum. She uses paints from both warm and cool colors. “But I never cross over,” she says. “Many colors from the warm side can be mixed to make cool,” she explains, “so I concentrate on the value of color to make light and dark.”
She studies life to mix the hues of her palette, and constantly incorporates the law of opposites. “Everything I paint, I paint with respect. I use the laws of curves and blended shapes. I’m influenced by grace and sensitivity and by mood and feeling.”
At the beginning of August, Kaziah hung paintings at the Utah Artist’s Guild exhibition in the Provo Towne Centre Mall. They ranged from portraits to landscapes, as well as paintings of the chickens and goats she loves. Her landscape titled, “Facing New Horizons with Conviction” was sold even before it went on display. It took second place in the show.
Her portrait of artist Debbie Woodberry was striking, and took a second place and ribbon of merit. Kaziah loved the painting, but Debbie was not particularly enthusiastic. Artist Anita Kim Robbins was one of the mediators of the Provo Exhibition, and is also the subject of one of Kaziah’s portraits. It was created at the mall to Robin’s delight. “I could see that it was a good likeness and that people approved of it, by their expressions as they passed by,” Robbins said. “I loved it when I eventually got to see it. My husband did too, and he bought it.”
Robbins acknowledges the incredible amount of time Kaziah spent learning about classical painting, pointing out that her technique today is quite different from when she started out. “From her classical beginnings, Kaziah has evolved into something unique—Kaziah is unique, her paintings are unique. Her work demonstrates boldness and skill. It is exciting, one of a kind, and Kaziah, I am sure, is headed for an incredible future.”