Divers Cove lookout, above the sea, has a new bench and sculpture fit for an octopus’s garden

Visitors to the northern portion of Heisler Park overlooking Divers Cove in Laguna Beach will notice a new sculpture and bench, created by a man who watches the city’s coastline for his full-time day job.

On Monday city officials, accompanied by relatives and friends of the Ostensen and Olenicoff families, dedicated the newly installed “Tide Pool Kraken,” a sculpture of an octopus sitting on a rock, and “Strand of Life,” a bench with a strand of kelp as the back rest, from Casey Parlette, a Laguna Beach lifeguard and artist who built the pieces in his Laguna Canyon workspace.

“It’s a way to enjoy the city and recognize how important the arts are,” Mayor Toni Iseman told the crowd of about 100 attendees. “This really knocked it out of the park.”

The bench and sculpture pay tribute to Andrei Olenicoff and Bill Wickett, two men who relatives said loved being in the ocean.

Natalia Ostensen, Andrei’s sister, said she and her husband, Derek Ostensen, often walked by the site, thinking how it would be the ideal place to honor her late brother, who died in a 2005 car accident at age 32.

She recalled how Andrei would come home from school and suggest that they head to Divers Cove to swim and snorkel.

“It was divine that this spot was available,” Natalia Ostensen said during Monday’s ceremony.

Wickett, Derek Ostensen’s grandfather, lived in a condo overlooking the cove.

Ostensen, a wildlife conservationist and former executive director of the Laguna Canyon Foundation, said he approached the city 18 months ago about a new bench to replace the former wooden seating area and a sculpture, and that he wanted to work directly with Parlette, a Laguna resident.

“We wanted to find the right artist, preferably a Lagunan, who could capture the essence of the setting and why Divers has meant so much to Andrei, Bill and thousands of other visitors over the years,” Derek Ostensen wrote in an email. “Casey is an incredibly talented artist and he has also spent his life diving, exploring and appreciating Laguna’s coves, including Divers. It was the perfect fit.”

The Ostensens commissioned Parlette to do the work on behalf of the Ostensen and Olenicoff families.

Lou Parlette, John Cunningham and Guy Westward, from left, admire the new bench "Strand of Life" by local artist Casey Parlette.
(Don Leach / Daily Pilot)

This was a different approach than a donor paying the city and the city in turn issuing a call for artists. In such cases, city employees would be ineligible to apply for projects, but “this was something completely different,” Cultural Arts manager Sian Poeschl said in a phone interview.

Since the bench and sculpture sit on city property, the project needed approval from the Arts Commission and City Council.

Parlette, 37, said during a phone interview that Derek Ostensen approached him about the project in August.

The all-bronze sculpture features an octopus sitting atop a rock with unfurled tentacles that curl at their ends. Parlette welded thousands of washers to replicate suction cups.

“When they move, they sort of unroll,” Parlette said, adding that he’s been fascinated with octopuses since he was a child.

“In the tiny ecosystem of the tidepool, the octopus is definitely the biggest thing going,” Parlette said.

Parlette built the octopus on the stone in his shop and transported it to the site on a flatbed truck. He used a crane to lower it into position.

For the bench, Parlette hammered, forged and welded bronze pieces to build the strand of kelp, which contributes to an overall theme of a family tree representing multiple generations.

He made the seat base out of limestone, carving a halibut in a way that the tail end looks like it is buried in the sand.

Parlette affixed three bronze models of abalone shells on the bench legs.

“[Divers Cove] is real rich in terms of aquatic ecology,” Parlette said.

Parlette, an exhibitor at the Festival of Arts for the last nine years, said he’s taking this year off to spend time with his wife and their 6-month-old boy, Brooks.

“I’m honored to make something that goes right over the beach, where I’ve spent my life,” Parlette said.

Andrei’s family established the Andrei Foundation in 2006 to honor his memory by carrying on his legacy of kindness, hope and respect for all, according to the foundation’s website.

Andrei was afflicted with a retinal degenerative disease known as retinitis pigmentosa, which can cause vision impairment or vision loss.

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Twitter: @AldertonBryce