Artist finds stories in Mount Shasta's Graffiti Bridge paint

Eve Thompson
The tools of her art: wire, boxes that she builds, measuring stick, wax, and tree sap. “Each chip is so fragile. Creating art with them is an almost sacred act,” said Janet Curti Haines.

If Oprah had a ‘must-see bridge list,’ Graffiti Bridge would be at its top. For more than six decades, Mount Shastans have painted the 20 foot concrete canvas with their hopes, dreams, victories, triumphs, promises, threats, loves, and losses. Artist Janet Curti Haines is celebrating these stories in her newest art series, “Graffiti Bridge Fragments.”

“The Bridge contains so many layers of personal stories; I wish I could count them all,” Haines smiled. “I’m trying to retell those stories, bring them to life again. It’s my way of preserving and celebrating Mt. Shasta’s history.”

Ten years ago, one of Janet’s friends gave her a Bridge paint chip she’d found on the ground around the train trestle, and Janet’s Bridge story began.

“I saw its beauty and its artistic potential, then thought about the best way to present it. When I learned encaustics (an art form using beeswax and tree sap) from Anne Kinkade, I knew that would be the way to go.”

This past winter, after snow plows had pushed pieces of the Bridge paint into piles, Janet and her husband collected bags of the chips. In spring, she cleaned the fragments then made them the centerpiece of her paintings.

“I refuse to remove paint chips from the wall out of respect for the artists and their stories,” Haines emphasized.

And stories there are. Her first piece was purchased by a former Mount Shastan. “Her husband proposed to her at the Bridge, and she wanted to surprise him with a piece of their history,” Haines said. “It’s just one of the sweet stories people have shared with me.”

Graffiti Bridge has a story of its own. Local historians Donna Brooks and Dennis Freeman confessed they had no idea when people began painting the Bridge.

“People have painted there for a long time and I think it’s related to the high school’s Paint the Street Night and The Rock (visible from northbound Interstate 5),” Freeman said. “They’re linked; I’m just not sure how.”

“I think the Bridge came after we were told we couldn’t paint the hill as a senior ritual,” Haines reminisced. “Each year, the graduating class ‘painted the hill’ (Alma Street, where the old high school was located). They tried to do it without the juniors catching them, but here were a lot of paint fights! Great fun!”

“The powers that be outlawed the painting shortly after 1957 when my class graduated. Round about that time, I think that’s when Graffiti Bridge emerged,” she added.

Weed Museum Curator Harold Orcutt outed the original painters. “Doug Caley and some of his friends did it; I worked with his father for 30 years – that’s how I know,” Orcutt chuckled.

“Mark Sarti, Tony Feminis, Richard English, and I, who were in the class of 1969, were the first to paint it,” said Doug Caley, who now lives in Anderson. “I see my past has caught up with me.”

“We did it in the spring of ’67. We were only sophomores; there was a lot of competition between classes then. We took a gallon of Dutch Boy light powder blue paint left over from when my dad painted my bedroom. Very neatly, we painted 69 on each side of the Bridge.”

“They made us use paint thinner and wire brushes to take it off,” Caley added. “And there was some retaliation from the senior class. We weren’t bad guys, but we were considered delinquents then. Today, we’d be called artists. I always thought the class of ’69 was ahead of its time!”

“We weren’t allowed to paint on the Bridge; we’d get in trouble with the police,” Venetta Brown, class of 1970, remembered. “And painting in front of the new high school hadn’t really begun. So we painted The Rock. Now, people paint the Bridge all the time; my daughter’s boyfriend wrote Happy Birthday on it.”

Haines’ Graffiti Bridge Fragments series appeals to visitors as well as Mount Shastans. “They’re really quite beautiful and original,” Portland writer and art fan Mary Campbell claimed. “They’re very archeological, like they came from a dig, yet they’re very contemporary.”

Haines, whose family has lived in the area since the late 1800s, says, “Found art contains so much of our history.

“My friends like to bring me pieces of the town because they know I’ll see their beauty and use them in my work. I can’t wait to see what they’ll bring me next!” she laughed.

To enjoy decades of Mount Shasta’s history, visit Graffiti Bridge on North Old Stage Road or drop into Siskiyou Art Council/Mountain Art Cooperative Gallery on Mt. Shasta Boulevard. Who knows? Maybe you’ll bump into Oprah; if you do, be sure to tell her your Bridge story!