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Mount Shasta as a Visual Resource

Oliver, A Visionary Artist: 1886

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Mount Shasta has been a source of spiritual upliftment for many people. The Indians certainly found it so- even today the educated and articulate members of the Wintun tribes consider the mountain to be the place to which the soul goes before it leaves the earth.175 White men, beginning with the writings of James Mason Hutchings in 1857, have also recognized the inspiration gained by visiting the snowy peak. Hutchings wrote:

One almost wishes to kneel in worship as he gazes at the magnificent, snow covered head and pine girdled base of this 'monarch of mountains;....176

Phylos the Tibetan from A Dweller on Two Planets, 1929.  Courtesy College of the Siskiyous Library Mount Shasta Collection. Artists who have experienced insights and in some cases 'visions', while on Mount Shasta or anywhere in the world, and who try to convey their interdimensional experience through art have come in recent times to be called visionary artists. The earliest of these visionary artists in the Mount Shasta area seems to have been Frederick Oliver. He most likely was the artist who painted the unsigned watercolor of Mount Shasta and the portrait of his interdimensional teacher, the Tibetian Yol Gorro; these pictures appeared in his book, A Dweller on Two Planets, which was written in Yreka in the mid-1880s and published in 1899. In the decades that followed more art in the visionary tradition was created under the inspiration of Mount Shasta. In the 1930s artists associated with the Saint Germain Foundation created paintings of Mount Shasta and of their spiritual teachers. In the second half of the 20th century scores of people have painted and drawn in this tradition; some of them, for example one time Mount Shasta resident artist Gilbert Williams, have become respected and highly successful visionary artists.

Although a historical tradition of visionary art does not in itself validate the truthfulness of the events which lead to the production of a visionary work of art, it is nonetheless true that the visionary tradition itself exists and deserves to be documented from its beginnings.

Frederick S. Oliver (1866-1899)

Frederick Oliver was born in Washington D.C. in 1866 and came to California with his parents two years later. He was living in Yreka, just north of Mount Shasta, in 1883-84, when he began to write his book. He says:

It will have added interest to many who love, or have become interested in California, to know that within full view of Shasta, one of her loftiest mountain peaks, this book was begun and almost finished under the inspiration of that spirit of nature which speaks ever to those who, listening, understand.177

The book's watercolor painting of Mount Shasta accompanys a chapter titled 'Seven Shasta Scenes: Interludes'. He wrote the following passage one morning in 1884, before sunrise as he climbed the Siskiyou pass to Oregon:

Ah! what is that? Away in the south is a huge, dim mass, dull gray below, but, where its peak holds aloft the sky, 'tis rosy, glowing pink. As the youth gazes, spellbound, Old Sol dispels the valley glooms, thrusts aside the night, and the new day is born. The rose tints are gone, but also the gray, and in their place appears a giant, pointed cone of purest white, albeit streaked to its base with black lines, each some awful gorge. It rises not like other mountain piles, from ranges rivalling its own height; no, all alone it stands forth from its high plateau, piercing heaven's blue, from base to summit, eleven thousand feet, from ocean's plane to apical peak thirty-five hundred more-Shasta, O, Mt. Shasta.178

It is not known if the illustrations of the 1924 edition as reproduced here, were done by Oliver himself. The earliest edition so far found during the researching of this book was the 1924 fourth edition, from the Poseid Publishing Company. An unusual pamphlet-prospectus for a 1921 edition of the book was written by Edgar Lucien Larkin, then director of the Mount Lowe Observatory. Lucien was mystically inclined, and seem to be responsible for the publishing of several later editions. The prospectus also contains previously unpublished statements by Oliver concerning the circumstances of the book's authorship by Yol Gorro (Phylos), and contains as well statements by Oliver's mother about her son. In any event, the illustrations of Mount Shasta, of space ships, and of Tibetan sages, etc. are probably the region's earliest visionary art.

[175] LaPena. The World is a gift of my Teachers.

[176] Hutchings California Illustrated Magazine. May. 1857. p. 482.

[177] Oliver. p. xi.

[178] Ibid. p. 244.


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