Mary Graubarger became an important influence for Larry Harvey. She was a local sculptor and stone worker, and a friend of Jan Lohrs.
Mary had come to the Bay Area in the 60s attracted by the Berkeley free speech movement. She began to work as a sculptor, selling pieces out of her car She met Jan Lohr in the mid-70s and by the late 70s, after assisting with setting up Unity Fairs, she began a series of spontaneous art-party happening down on San Francisco’s Baker Beach.
Baker Beach is a beach frequented by nudists, and noted for its seclusion, pinched of at both sides by cliffs, and nearly under the Golden Gate bridge. Mary noted that Baker Beach "was “just a bunch of nude freaks going down to the beach to hang out. I was a sculptor and I’d get bored sitting around the studio, so I’d pick up stuff washed up on shore and build sculptures. We’d stay ‘till the evening and cook, and then it seemed natural to torch the sculptures. It was a personal thing, for fun.” “I liked everything to disappear quickly. It’s more beautiful to have people experience it and then it’s gone.” (See also the Auto Destruct Art Movement)
Mary had also been involved in the Suicide Club, founded by Gary Warne, and of which John Law was a member. However, Law had no interaction with Mary, only learning of her involvement when she mentioned it to him in 1988.
She would often do her art gatherings on the summer solstice, but not always. She stopped in the mid-80s. She doesn’t seem to care that her projects sparked Burning Man. “The difference between me and Larry, is that Larry needs to be famous and feel that he has moved society in some way. I don’t need that at all. … I admire Larry because he got what he wanted. Most people would have dropped out when Burning Man must seemed like a piddling daydream. But he was sure of it, and he was right. People seem to need it, and they come from all over the world. But I know it’s hard on Larry’s health and I have no desire for it. Women can have children — fame is like a man’s own child.”
Note: Some have commented upon Mary being only minimally mentioned anywhere in official Burning Man publications or on their website. Mary remained on good terms with the Burning Man founders, and was well respected by Larry. She and Jerry James remain in touch and periodically get together. She considers herself a private person and avoids publicity. We speculate that out of respect for her, she remains out of the spotlight. We similarly have chosen not to include any photographs of her nor other updates on her life, but admire her contribution to the history of Burning Man.