The Art Of Mount Shasta

January 16 - May 2, 2010



Wall panel text from the exhibition

V. Interpretive panels
[Introduction panel]
Explorers, Spies, Cartoonists, and Visionaries
From tiny sketches in pocket notebooks to paintings of epic scale, art inspired by Mount Shasta abounds. Since the 1840s, this solitary peak has attracted hundreds of prominent artists, most working in European-derived traditions. Before them were the native artists of the Wintu, Shasta, Achumawi/Atsugewi (Pit River), Karok, Klamath, and Modoc tribes, and their ancestors.
In 1841, a young, highly trained botanical artist, who was part of the four-year scientific and military expedition led by Charles Wilkes, made the first sketch that would reveal Mount Shasta's appearance to a wide public-Alfred Thomas Agate's Shasty Peak.
The next wave of artists in the 1850s and 1860s also sketched for military reconnaissance or economic fact-finding missions. By the 1870s, the country's finest artists were exulting over Mount Shasta, in spite of the fact that logging and mining were in full swing. Ironically, the wealth derived from these kinds of commerce supported many artists' lives.
Popular magazines published views of Mount Shasta in everything from political cartoons to engravings copied from large paintings. Some of these highly romanticized views set the stage for later visionaries' paintings in which Mount Shasta's solitary grandeur fairly sings.
[Panel image 1] Jervie Eastman, In Ferncave, Lava Beds Nat'l Monument, 1942, 5 x 7 inches (12.5 x 17.5 cm), Eastman's Originals Collection, Group 42 B-1920, Special Collections, University of California Library, Davis
[Panel image 2] James Dwight Dana, original sketch of Shasta in a notebook called Oregon, October 3, 1841, graphite on paper, 6 x 3-3/4 inches, Dana Family Papers, Manuscripts & Archives, Yale University Library.
[Panel image 3] Titian Ramsay Peale, Plan of Capt. Sutter's House, 19 October 1841, watercolor and graphite on paper, collection of the American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia
[Panel image 4] Rodney Birkett, Guardian of Mt. Shasta, circa 1980s, oil on canvas, 24 x 36 inches (60 x 90 cm), courtesy of the artist
[Becoming California panel]
California Drawn and Made Real
Today we rarely question the idea of California as a land of orange groves and Hollywood, redwoods and crashing waves, the Golden Gate and Death Valley. But at the time of the Gold Rush, California had not yet "decided" what it wanted to be, how it would portray itself, or even what its borders were.
Artists had a major role in creating a sense of what California was, both for those who lived here and those who didn't. Easterners were endlessly curious about the west and read long illustrated articles in magazines such as Harper's Weekly or Scribner's. In this way, Mount Shasta became widely known to the American public before Yosemite had been explored.
[Panel image 1] George Gibbs, The Shasté Butte and Valley, October 27, 1851, graphite on paper, courtesy of Smithsonian Institution Libraries, Washington, DC
[Panel image 2] Charles Küchel, Mount Shasta, ca. 1855, wood engraving, 3 x 4 inches (7.6 x 10.2 cm), Mount Shasta Collection, College of the Siskyous Library, Weed, California
[Panel image 3] Thomas Moran, Mount Shasta and Mud Creek Canyon from the East, Scribner's Monthly Magazine, volume 6, number 4 (August 1873), engraving, 3-1/8 x 5-1/8 inches (7.9 x 13 cm)
[Panel on scientific expeditions]
Islands in the Sky
Mountains like Mount Shasta, which are isolated from other peaks and soar far above the surrounding land, can become small ecosystems where flora and fauna found nowhere else can thrive. Such places are of great interest to scientists, and it was scientists who came with the first artists to northern California.
The 1840s Wilkes Expedition John Charles Frémont's 1843 journey Scottish botanist John Jeffrey's ascent of the mountain in 1852 artist and scientist Clarence King's 1862 and 1863 surveys C. Hart Merriam's "life zone" theory tested on Mount Shasta in 1898 the list of thoughtful and curious explorers to seek out Mount Shasta goes on and on.
[Panel image 1] Carleton Watkins, Eastern Slopes of Mount Shasta in California, 1870, albumen print on paper, 8 x 12-1/4 inches (20 x 30.6 cm), image courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey. This view is from almost due south, from atop what is called Grey Butte looking up into the old ski bowl in the center right of the picture; technically, the eastern slopes of the mountain appear in the right background.
[Panel image 2] John Muir, sketch of the summit of Mount Shasta, 1875, graphite on paper, 4-1/2 x 6-5/8 inches (11.4 x 16.9 cm), John Muir Papers, Holt-Atherton Special Collections, University of the Pacific Library; copyright 1984 Muir-Hanna Trust
[Panel image 3] John Muir, sketch of Mount Shasta from the north showing glaciers, 1874, graphite on paper, 4 x 6 inches (10.2 x 15.2 cm), John Muir Papers, Holt-Atherton Special Collections, University of the Pacific Library; copyright 1984 Muir-Hanna Trust
[Panel on Shasta art's golden age]
An Artists' "Gold Rush"
California was fast-tracked to statehood in 1850 in the wake of the Gold Rush, and the new state's population exploded. California burst upon the American scene and faced both an Eastern and local population eager for information and proud of California's riches. It was up to artists to convey to this hungry public the look of the land, whether they had seen it for themselves or not.
Academies of art hadn't gotten their start yet, but talented and professionally trained painters made their way to 1850s California. They were challenged to create a new art for a new place. They did it not by inventing new styles, but by seizing upon the unique subject matter of the region: indigenous peoples and dramatic views of the land. Dazzling places like Mount Shasta assumed immense importance.
In their quest to understand the unknowns of their continent, Americans demanded an uplifting realism. Artists adapted imported styles in the highly nationalist mid-nineteenth-century to forge a new national art, which was American in subject matter only.
[Panel image 1] Albert Bierstadt, Mt. Shasta, California, ca. 1863, oil on paper mounted on board, 14 x19 inches (35.6 x 48.3 cm), courtesy of Spanierman Gallery, LLC
[Panel image 2] Peter Baumgras, Three Artists Sketching (Juan B. Wandesforde, Thomas Hill, and William Marple), 1873, graphite on paper, 8-1/2 x 10-3/4 inches (21.6 x 27.3 cm), California Historical Society, FN-31729
[Panel image 3] William Keith, Shasta, All in Snow, late 1890s, oil on canvas, 30 x 40 inches (75 x 100 cm), collection of the Hearst Art Gallery, St. Mary's College of California
[Panel on changing fortunes]
From Art Boom to Hard Times
Railroad barons, silver barons, timber barons all of them bought art, especially art of California scenes by California artists. Landscape painters in northern California, in particular, enjoyed high times in the 1870s. But, it didn't last long. By the 1880s, the American economy had gone into decline, and the art market went with it. This happened for many reasons: the collapse of the Nevada silver market in 1878, a shift to different methods of gold mining, and California's continuing adjustment to U.S. statehoodthese and other factors all came to a head in the 1880s.
Artists in California began to struggle in another way as well. European influences caused an overwhelming change both in the artistic taste of San Francisco society and the country's art-buying public as a whole. Instead of favoring homegrown talent and views of nearby locales, patrons wanted art reflecting the styles and subject matter of Europe. By the turn of the twentieth century, no one wanted wall-sized canvases of a chilly, lonely mountain anymore.
[Panel image 1] Raymond Dabb Yelland (1848-1900, born England), Mt. Shasta, ca. 1880, oil on canvas, private collection
[Panel image 2] William Weaver Armstrong, Mount Shasta, 1890, oil on canvas, 30 x 51 inches (76.2 x 129.5 cm), collection of Edward Boseker
[Mountain as icon panel]
A Timeless Symbol
By the late nineteenth century, Mount Shasta had become well established among the signature images for the state of California. Apart from the redwoods, it remained the only icon located in the northernmost part of the state.
For many artists and thinkers, visiting the mountain and recording their experiences either in words or images was to partake of something mystical, a suspension of common experience.
"Suddenly the forest stopped, and we found ourselves on the crest of a great ridge: and sheer before us stood the great cone of Shasta, cold and gray and silent, floating on a sea of darkness from which even the highest tree crowns did not emerge. Scarcely had we spoken in the miles of our ascent, and now words would be sacrilege. Almost automatically we dismounted, letting the reins fall over the horses' necks, and removed our hats. The horses stood, and dropped their heads. Uncovered, we sat ourselves on the dry leaves and waited. It was the morning of creation."
--Liberty Hyde Bailey, 1905
[Panel image 1] From a painting by Maurice Logan, Shasta Route, 1933, letterprint poster, 22-3/4 x 15-11/16 inches (57.9 x 39.9 cm), courtesy Poster Connection, Inc., location of original painting unknown.
[Panel image 2] William Seltzer Rice, Sunset Glow ­ Mt. Shasta, 1928, color woodcut, 9 x 12 inches (image) (22.5 x 30 cm), © Roberta Rice Treseder, from the Rice family collection
[Panel image 3] William Howell Bull, Shasta Route Resorts, Sunset Printing, San Francisco, ca. 1899, offset lithograph, 7 x 7 inches (17.5 x 17.5 cm), private collection
[Spiritual history panel]
"Thy Titan-fashioned front"
Poet Joaquin Miller's words ascribing the creation of Mount Shasta to divine forces reflects the response of many peoples over many generations upon encountering this extraordinary place.
Around the world, unusual mountains and solitary rocky spires have acquired spiritual significance. Just think of Japan's Mount Fuji, the Matterhorn in the Alps, Kailas in Tibet, Kilimanjaro in Kenya, Cotopaxi in Ecuador, or Mount Olympus in Greece. Mount Shasta is among these revered peaks. It has been a site sacred to the Native Wintu, Pit River, and other tribes, as well as to spiritualists from the late nineteenth century to the present.
"When my uncle died, I went to Mount Shasta with the bundle of my hair that I had
cut off as a sign of mourning. Mount Shasta is the last place on earth the spirit visits
before traveling to the above world. The cutting of the hair is a sign of grievance and
--Nomtipom Wintu artist Frank LaPena
[Panel image 1] Frank LaPena, Mt. Shasta, The World Is a Gift portfolio, 1987, wood block print on paper, 9-7/8 x 8 inches (image) (25.1 x 20.3 cm), collection of Turtle Bay Exploration Park, Redding, California (1987.71.2B)
[Panel image 2] Charles Dorman Robinson, Storm Clouds over an Extensive Landscape, 1903, oil on canvas, 29 x 34 inches (73.7 x 86.4 cm), present location unknown
[Panel image 3] Henri Joseph Breuer, Mount Shasta, n.d. oil on canvas, 5-1/2 x 7-1/2 inches (14 x 19 cm), present location unknown
[Sidebar on this panel]
By Joaquin Miller
To lord all Godland! lift the brow
Familiar to the moon, to top
The universal world, to prop
The hollow heavens up, to vow
Stern constancy with stars, to keep
Eternal watch while eons sleep;
To tower proudly up and touch
God's purple garment-hems that sweep
The cold blue north! Oh, this were much!
Where storm-born shadows hide and hunt
I knew thee, in thy glorious youth,
And loved thy vast face, white as truth;
I stood where thunderbolts were wont
To smite thy Titan-fashioned front,
And heard dark mountains rock and roll;
I saw the lightning's gleaming rod
Reach forth and write on heaven's scroll
The awful autograph of God!
[Continuing challenge panel]
Ladder to the Sky
Mount Shasta's arresting visual character contributed to the status it gained and continues to enjoy as a place of inspiration and wonder: spiritual wonder, philosophical reflection, aesthetic inspiration. It is one of the few places were one can experience the sense of a "ladder to the sky," the rising terrain, soaring icefields, and spaces open wide to the sky. Whether spiritual seeker or scientific explorer, one gets this effect on Shasta in a way that differs from anywhere else in the Sierra Nevada or the Cascades.
The tug of Mount Shasta on artists and others continues into the present. This location holds a symbolic and spiritual import that has been a constant for more than 160 years and, through the Native American presence, many generations beyond that. It is a source of renewal-metaphorically and literally-and a symbol of purity.
[Panel image 1] C. R. Miller, photograph of Swami Ram and others on the summit of Mount Shasta, August 1903, courtesy of Perry Sims and the Siskiyou County Museum
[Panel image 2] Percy Gray, Mt. Shasta, 1925, watercolor on paper, 10 x 14 inches (25.4 x 35.6 cm), private collection

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