Posted by: Craig Woolheater on August 14th, 2013
For Felton’s Michael Rugg, a life-long devotion to tracking California’s most famous non-human biped isn’t merely a personal quest, it’s a form of art.
Rugg, who owns and operates the Bigfoot Discovery Museum in Felton, is no stranger to artistic projects. In fact, he considers his museum to be a work of art.
Rugg was a graphic artist for 36 years, a free-lance illustrator before teaching himself how to use the Macintosh to produce graphic art. At one point, as a freelance artist, he painted backgrounds for “Primal Rage,” an arcade fighting game developed by Atari.
As a member of a musical trio called Hubert’s Hotshots for four years, Rugg became part of the local folk scene. He was self-taught on the dulcimer, an instrument he and his brother built and sold.
Throughout those years, however, beginning in the early ’50s when he was a child, Rugg accumulating Bigfoot-related items including books and toys.
“It’s kind of like there was a little voice telling me, ‘Mike, someday you’re going to do something with this material. All these books you’re gathering, all this stuff you’re collecting is going to have a purpose and meaning, and the time will come when that is ready to happen.’”
The time came in July of 2004 when the Bigfoot Discovery Museum, located on Highway 9 near the entrance to Henry Cowell State Park, opened to the public.
“Putting the museum together was a culmination of 60 years of being an artist because the museum itself, to me, is a little piece of art that I’ve put together,” says Rugg.
His collection, which grew as more Bigfoot-related items were published or released, originated with a scrapbook of Bigfoot articles — from Life magazine, for example —that Rugg started at the age of 5.
It was the year before, however, when his interest in Bigfoot was first sparked. At 4 years old, Rugg says he caught sight of a Bigfoot. Walking by the Eel River near Laytonville in Mendocino County, Rugg, as he describes it, saw an extremely large being with human-like features — a nose, hands and feet similar to those of a human—yet “much, much hairier.”
“It looked like an overly large bodybuilder on steroids, but with a pleasant look on his face,” Rugg recalls. “The Bigfoot I saw wasn’t threatening in any way, despite its size.”
Still, he didn’t talk about it for years because of the stigma surrounding Bigfoot.
“You try to share that you saw it and then everybody tells jokes and they make fun of you, so most people stop talking about it and do no sharing of information about their own sightings,” Rugg says.
In part, it’s why Rugg created the Bigfoot museum — to provide comfort by establishing a nonjudgmental safe harbor for individuals who wish to speak or learn about the matter.
“A great deal of the eyewitnesses that I’ve talked to also had a tendency to put it out of their mind for a period of time, to not talk about it, and maybe even doubt their own sanity,” says Rugg.
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