Bike rack blooms at Sawdust Art Festival entrance

In Laguna Beach, even the most utilitarian object can be reimagined as a work of art. It’s even better, one might argue, when beauty and function coexist in the same piece.

This is what Liz Avalon has brought to the Sawdust Art Festival.

Visitors this summer will notice her colorful addition as they approach the entrance — the city’s first sculptural bicycle rack, made up of four giant steel “flowers” painted in bright splendor. Not only can art aficionados appreciate the work, but cyclists can use standard U-shaped locks or cables to attach their bikes to the flowers’ “stems.”

The piece, which replaced a comparatively drab everyday bicycle rack, is titled “Bicycle Garden.”

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The Sawdust board tapped the Laguna resident to design and build the rack in a contest open to exhibitors of the annual art showcase. Members of Transition Laguna Beach, a community organization focused on edible gardens, water conservation and multimodal roads, approached Sawdust officials about an artistic bike rack.

Biking aligns with the group’s push for less reliance on cars in a city that has serious parking and traffic challenges.

Avalon, 39, who by day is planning director for the Emerald Bay Community Assn., spent nights and weekends over a couple of months inside a rented Costa Mesa warehouse welding and painting the flowers.

She used a special type of paint manufactured for cars that she said is “tough, resists fading, is easy to refresh and is less likely to peel or flake in a marine environment.”

Avalon then hired a contractor to drill holes in the concrete on city property near the Sawdust entrance and place each flower individually.

Avalon, a cyclist, acknowledged that the piece speaks to a greater social conscious through respect for the environment — as it sits in the appropriate nature-filled canyon, where Sawdust is nestled against an undeveloped hillside.

“I wanted to reflect the natural world, to remind people that riding a bike is something environmentally conscious and is a good thing for your own health,” Avalon said.

“It’s such a visible location. I wanted something to greet people and make them feel happy.”

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Since Sawdust funded the project, the board decided to limit the contest to its exhibitors, board member Michael Thorstensen said. Sawdust officials alerted artists to the contest through newsletters. After an initial screening, the board whittled the list to designs from four or five finalists and voted for Avalon’s entry last summer, Thorstensen said.

“I liked the whimsy of it,” Thorstensen said. “I thought it was playful and would catch your eye as you drive down Laguna Canyon Road. Some of the other choices were cool but didn’t pop as much.”

The Laguna’s Arts Commission and City Council also gave the design a thumbs-up, Avalon said.

“I was happy, overjoyed,” she said when she got word that her design had been selected. “I have always wanted to make art for public spaces, that’s interactive.”

The city commemorated the installation with a ceremony earlier this month, and Avalon said Sawdust artists are already relaying their anticipation about parking their bikes at the rack.

“It will be a project that is useful when the festival is going on,” Avalon explained. “When [the festival] is closed and there is not demand for parking, it will also function as a stand-alone sculpture.”

Avalon, who specializes in carved and painted glass, will return for her fifth Sawdust this summer. Last year, Avalon gave guests a thrill by creating a room full of mirrors, a la a fun house.


Bryce Alderton,

Twitter: @AldertonBryce