Making the Day a Little Bit Brighter : Bold, Calming Art Sprouts in Public Places

San Diego County Arts Writer

Like mushrooms sprouting in a vast field, public art is blooming all over the county.

Art is being used to promote downtown revitalization, to calm anxious welfare recipients and to add a measure of brightness to a drab community center. Among recent developments:

*The Public Art Partnership Panel of Escondido picked three, 20-foot-high, red, windmill-like sculptures last week for a key downtown site.

*Within the next few weeks, Carlsbad will dedicate two public artworks.


*Four specially colored local landscape murals were commissioned and hung at a county social services office in Chula Vista to provide a calming influence on anxious welfare clients.

*"Wall of People,” six wooden cutout figures in bright colors, was dedicated Wednesday at the Fallbrook Community Center, the latest of five projects financed by the county’s Public Arts Advisory Council.

The Escondido public art panel’s selection of “Three Windmills” as the winner for the $45,000 art project, at Quince Street and 2nd Avenue, was a major endorsement for sculpture with a distinct presence.

The windmills were “a bolder statement” than either of two, more subtle environmental art proposals, said city planner Randy Mellinger, one of nine panelists. “The feeling was, at that location, a much bolder work was required.”


San Diego artist Marjorie Nodelman led a team including Katherine Stangle and Robert Niedringhaus who designed the windmills for the busy intersection, a major entry into downtown Escondido from Interstate 15.

Nodelman described the artwork as “a kinetic image for cars--almost like a visual Doppler effect.” Now that the piece has been approved, Nodelman and company begin the final drawings and engineering studies required to fabricate the three windmills.

The Escondido panel also picked San Diego County artists Mario Lara, Christine Oatman, Jesus Dominguez and the team of Joyce Cutler Shaw and Susan McLintock Whitin as semi-finalists for a $50,000 public art commission in Kit Carson Park. Each will develop a model for his or her proposal.

The City of Carlsbad will dedicate two new works in coming weeks.


Los Angeles artist Lloyd Hamrol’s environmental “Crown Lair” sculpture will be dedicated Aug. 4 at Stagecoach Park. The $75,000 piece, a series of low, curving sandstone walls, has been completed, and grass seed is sprouting in the surrounding earth.

In downtown Carlsbad, a 15-foot-diameter medallion depicting a bird of paradise plant, conceived by Jim Hubbell of Julian, will be dedicated in a few weeks. Built with mosaics, terrazzo and brass, the medallion, in the sidewalk at Elm Street and Carlsbad Boulevard, is 90% complete, according to Carlsbad redevelopment director Chris Salomone.

Hubbell has been commissioned to provide a number of design elements for Carlsbad’s

$6.5-million center-city redevelopment project.


“We could have gotten catalogue items, landscaped and beautified with bricks and bolt-down benches,” Salomone said. “Our mission when we started this project was to capture what is uniquely Carlsbad.

“One way to create uniqueness is to fabricate original materials. That’s what artists do. We felt that using artists, and especially nationally known artists, gives us a bigger bonus.” Hubbell has designed benches, light fixtures and a cement and iron arbor for downtown Carlsbad. New York environmental artist Andrea Blum has designed a $200,000 sculpture for the intersection of Carlsbad Boulevard, Ocean Street and Pine Street. Ground breaking for Blum’s piece will be in October, with completion by summer of 1990.

In Fallbrook, artist Helen Redman’s “Wall of People” made “a great improvement” for the community center, said center executive director Gordon Stone. “The inside of the building is a little on the drab side.”

Redman, who like Nemour, was funded by a $3,000 county Community Art Projects grant, spent time observing people at the center. She produced plywood cutouts of a girl on a gym bar, a man playing volleyball and an older woman exercising.


However, not everyone likes the colorful images, Stone conceded.

“Some said, ‘Is that supposed to be me? I look so ugly.’ ” Stone said. “Actually, she combined a lot of people. She’s really captured a good cross-section of typical community users. It’s a great improvement.”

In Chula Vista, artist Leslie Nemour was given an unusual task: to design a series of indoor murals using only certain colors. Employees at the South Bay district office of county social services asked Nemour to use only pastels and cool tones, because of their soothing effect on people.

“Coming to a welfare office is not always the most pleasant thing,” said Lois Sibley, a worker at the office. “We wanted to make it a place that does not add to your stress.”


Sibley and other members of the office’s quality circle, which was formed to improve the work environment, had researched the psychological effect of colors on people and applied for a Community Art Projects grant from the county’s Public Arts Advisory Committee.

Nemour painted four landscapes for the lobby: winter in the Southern California mountains, spring in the desert, summer in coastal Baja California and a beach near La Jolla in autumn.

Nemour said she has spent time waiting in a social service office and wanted to be empathetic to others who “must endure this experience.”

“They’re beautiful,” said client Denise Miles, who was waiting in the lobby. “The mountains have so much color. The palm trees look so real. For a welfare department to have beautiful pictures is unusual. Maybe it adds a little peace to the place.”


The Fallbrook and Chula Vista projects were models in a new county-sponsored program.

“We’re hoping that these Community Art Projects will serve as models for the county in how other public artworks can be used, supported and encouraged,” said Carol Hobson, former executive director of the Public Arts Advisory Council. “This was an opportunity to show (the county Board of Supervisors) programs that didn’t quite fit the public art policy guidelines.” Workers at the Chula Vista social services office also personally painted 36 small interview rooms using soothing colors or playful scenes with underwater and circus animals. Two interview rooms are painted in pink, which has a particularly soothing effect on hostile clients, said Joan Bond, a social services worker.

The office’s attention to art and color is paying off. Not only are clients soothed, but so are the workers. The South Bay district office has received an award for the lowest error rate of eight district offices.

Said Bond: “It shows we can have beauty and be good workers too.”