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Tattoos and Mysteries of the Mountain at Sisson Museum

03/25/2018 11:00AM ● By Tim Holt

Myst Ink

April 2018
By Tim Holt

IN ITS CURRENT EXHIBIT, “Tattooed And Tenacious,” Mount Shasta’s Sisson Museum explores the colorful history of tattooing in our state. We learn from the exhibit that women played a big role in promoting the inked art, beginning with its adoption by fashionable upper-class women in the 19th century (their tattoos included family crests and portraits of lovers), its display by tattooed circus ladies, and its more modern adoption by an emerging feminist movement. And there was Janis Joplin and her tattoos, too.

Much of the tattooed artwork on display is from a traveling exhibit making its way through California, but there will also be examples of tattoo art from local shops.  You’ll find “old school” stuff—remember the rose with “Mom” alongside it, or the good old American eagle and flag?—as well as the newer, customized artwork that’s popular with younger people.

It’s a bid, say museum organizers, to bring in a younger demographic to the museum, which was founded in 1983. 

When you visit the museum this spring you’ll find more than tattoos on display. The museum has added new features to its ongoing exhibit on the physical features of Mount Shasta. A new video, shot from a helicopter, features a complete circumnavigation of the mountain. There’s a touch screen display that allows visitors to learn more about the physical features of the mountain, from volcanoes to hydrology. And, for the kids, there’s a replica of the mountain’s lava tubes to crawl through.

There’s also a thought-provoking exploration of Mount Shasta’s role as a destination for spiritual seekers, something that goes back to the late 19th century writings of Yreka resident Frederick Spenser Oliver. He wrote about a mystical brotherhood of the mountain and their secret city within the mountain. 

In more recent times folks began using the mountain as a jumping-off point for astral travel to distant galaxies. Tourists come from all over the world seeking the mysterious underground city of Telos, said to be buried deep inside the mountain and populated by refugees from the lost continent of Lemuria.

Mount Shasta historian Bill Miesse contributed to the museum’s explorations of the spiritual side of the mountain. He points out that the spiritual power attributed to Mount Shasta stems in large part from its physical qualities, starting with its majestic presence and dominance of the surrounding landscape. Then there’s the ethereal, often-changing colors that radiate from its upper reaches, and not least of all the saucer-shaped lenticular clouds that often wrap themselves around the mountain (and that are the subject of a separate photo display at the museum).

Spiritual seekers, from indigenous Native Americans to modern-day spiritual tourists, have sought and found god-like qualities in the serenity and majesty of the mountain. It seems to come down to simple faith: If you believe in the mountain’s spiritual power, you’ll find it there in some form.

Or, as Sisson Museum Executive Director Jean Nels puts it, “All of these interpretations of the mountain are inside our heads.”

You'll also be able to read narratives and see photos from a variety of people sharing their experiences of the mountain.  Works by local artists give their interpretations of the mountain’s spiritual aspects. Featured works include Finley Fryer’s six-foot metal sculpture, “Stealth Angel, “ and his stained-glass “Illuminated Head.”

“Tattooed and Tenacious: Inked Women in California’s History” and “Mount Shasta: Mystery And Magic—Elevating The Human Spirit” open March 31 at the Sisson Museum. •

Sisson Museum • 1 North Old Stage Road (take the central Mount Shasta exit and head west; the museum is just past the intersection with Old Stage Road) 

Friday-Sunday, 10 am to 4 pm • Admission: $1 suggested donation

(530) 926-5508 •