For an art teacher who has a master’s degree in painting nearly in hand, bottle caps may not seem the likely choice for a medium.
But for Kate Landry, they helped marry her passions for water conservation, children and art.
Her latest project is the largest bottle cap mural in Mexico, intended to decorate a wall of a new youth center built on the remains of a trash dump.
Landry, 40, will graduate Friday from Laguna College of Art + Design with a master of fine arts degree in painting.
As one of her last stints as a student, she traveled to San Jose del Cabo last month to begin the mural as part of an artist in residence sponsored by the Laguna Beach Sister Cities Assn.
“I was just trying to think outside the box in terms of the area that I was going to,” Landry said. “It seemed like kind of a lofty idea, but at the same time, I thought it would be kind of fun.”
San Jose del Cabo, a city on the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula, is one of Laguna Beach’s three international sister cities. The two coastal towns share an affinity for the arts, with regular downtown art walks and bustling galleries, Landry said.
When the Sister Cities Assn. selected Landry for the residency, members expected her to sign up for some art walks or perhaps use an artist’s studio to work, founder Karyn Philippsen said. It didn’t anticipate she would begin an artistic collaboration with the San Jose del Cabo community.
“It was very clear as soon as we met her that she was an Energizer Bunny and had lots of desires to do something not only for herself … but to also represent the association that was sending her, in a beautiful way,” Philippsen said. “She knocked our socks off.”
The Sister Cities program covers the costs of travel, lodging and food to send its artist-in-residence to a sister city. The association also helps the artist connect with local resources, which for Landry meant the Los Cabos Youth Center.
Los Cabos has after-school activities; a health, dental and hearing clinic; an instructional garden; opportunities for college scholarships and more. The center is expected to open in July and serve more than 600 young people in the area, according to founder and sponsor John Pentz.
Landry envisioned bringing children in the San Jose del Cabo area into the creation process for the mural. About a month before she left for Mexico, she asked them to begin collecting bottle caps.
When she arrived, she met with a group of local youths to brainstorm the mural design. They wanted to see their home depicted on the youth center — the blue of the Gulf of California, the green of the cacti. She sketched a landscape of the surrounding area, with a golden sun setting over the mountainous horizon.
Then the group set to work painting the concrete wall, washing bottle caps, drying them on sheets in the sun, sorting them by color and finally affixing them to the wall.
“The kids were really, incredibly hard-working and tenacious,” Landry said, noting that they had to wash the bottle caps in pails of water, since no sink had been installed yet at the site.
The group couldn’t complete the mural in the two weeks of Landry’s residency, so she plans to return in June to finish it.
Before the mother of two enrolled at LCAD two years ago, she led an art program at St. Anne School in Laguna Niguel.
She grew up in Maine with a revolving door of exchange students who visited over the summer from other countries. After studying in France during high school and in Australia as an undergraduate at College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, Landry knew she wanted to live abroad again.
“I think it became insatiable, it just became a real drive for me,” Landry said. “I loved living abroad and I loved teaching.”
The day after graduating from Holy Cross, Landry moved to Mexico, where she taught at the American School Foundation of Guadalajara before moving to Southern California.
She decided to attend Laguna College of Art + Design after a few years living in Dana Point.
“It was just sort of like this mysterious, magical place in the canyon,” Landry said of the school. “Every time I’d drive by, it just seemed like unique things were happening there.”
The painting MFA program chairman, Peter Zokosky, said she brought an innate artistic sensibility and refreshing honesty.
“She’s done some subtle, very nuanced work about very wholesome, beautiful subjects,” Zokosky said.
Her graduate education in painting didn’t focus on bottle cap art, but Landry said her professors influenced the way she approached her residency project in Mexico.
“My teaching now would be different than it was before LCAD,” she said. “Going forward, I think, when I’m in an educational setting … the way I’d approach is have your leader in the trenches with you. It’s a different experience.”
While the bottle cap mural is still in progress, Landry’s other work can be viewed around Orange County.
Her master’s thesis will be part of the Laguna Art Museum’s “Emerging Masters 2019” show, which opens May 31. Some of her other work will be featured at Q Art Salon in Santa Ana beginning June 1.