Brian J. Zahn, 68, visionary artist, publisher

Posted: October 23, 2012

IT WAS 1967. The fabulous '60s were in full swing. Alternative art, long hair, hippies, the Beatles, Vietnam, the burning of draft cards and bras.

And Brian Zahn was in an apartment in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury neighborhood looking at the wild and borderline-obscene drawings of a cartoonist named R. Crumb.

Zahn, a visionary artist himself, was passionate about an underground newspaper he wanted to start in his native Philadelphia. He would call it Yarrowstalks, after the sticks used in working the I Ching, the ancient Chinese divination text.

The first issue was published that May and featured a display of Crumb's iconoclastic drawings, pretty much launching his artistic career.

The publication also featured an interview with Timothy Leary, the Harvard professor who championed the use of LSD and other psychedelic drugs.

Brian J. Zahn, who later published Yarrowstalks in London and Copenhagen and who also was a metal sculptor, writer, editor, publisher and art promoter, died Saturday of complications of melanoma. He was 68 and lived in Wyncote.

"The world could use more people like Brian J. Zahn," said his son Daniel. "He lived to help others and provide for his family. This was not a job or a task, but instead the way he approached each day.

"His hobby and passion was people. Getting to know new, interesting, and different people and to engage them deeply and understand their passions."

"As a great friend and father, he sturdily held the bonds of family and friends close to his heart," said his other son, Andrew.

Brian Zahn traveled the world to seek out great art. He visited India, where he lived for a time; the Himalayas; England, where he lived in London; and other European destinations.

He was "always searching for the new, beautiful and extraordinary," Andrew said.

Brian's brother Spencer, for whose design company Brian worked in his later years, said Brian "worked until his very last days to make sure he left us a better world."

Brian was a founder of Friends of the Arts in Philadelphia, which promotes art, production and publishing, and sponsors cultural and educational programs, public-service events and the production of films and concerts.

He edited and published the book The Constitution of a Man, by Stuart Feldman; co-authored a film script for "The Hands of God," about the life of sculptor Auguste Rodin, and wrote Romance of the Red Rose about the life of American artist Violet Oakley.

Brian was born in Philadelphia to Herbert and Nora Zahn. He graduated from Central High School. He received bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Pennsylvania.

He studied with Frank Gasparro, former chief engraver for the U.S. Mint, and with Brazilian composer Walter Burle Marx at the Settlement Music School. He studied metal work in Denmark with Borge Jorgensen.

Trying to explain the phenomenon of the '60s, Zahn once told an Inquirer reporter, "You've got to understand the context. We had the Vietnam Sword of Damocles dangling over our heads. We were throttled by political assassinations, racism and the values of our parents, and we were searching for a way out of this.

"It was a wonderful, tumultuous, wild ride. It didn't last long, thank goodness, but it was fun while it lasted."

He also is survived by another brother, Bob, and his significant other, Sabina Wister.

Services: Will be private.

Donations may be made to the Brian Zahn Visionary Fund, 1121 Glenview Ave., Wyncote, Pa. 19095.

Contact John F. Morrison at or 215-854-5573.

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