Arts Commission picks 'Eternal Legacy' to honor officers

The Laguna Beach Arts Commission has recommended a piece by two local artists who have a track record of creating public art to commemorate two police officers who died in the line of duty.

Commissioners voted Monday to recommend a work by Gerard Stripling and Michele Taylor, titled "Eternal Legacy," to the City Council, which will make the final decision.

Though the vote Monday was unanimous, Commission Chairwoman Pat Kollenda said the decision was difficult.

"They were all terrific, with lots of thought and a great amount of heart," Kollenda said about the other artistic entries.

Taylor, 44, who has lived and worked in Laguna for 14 years, specializes in glass, metal and ceramics. She created the "Laguna Tortoise" sculpture at Bluebird Park.

Stripling, 49, moved to Laguna 14 years ago and focuses primarily on sculpture. He created the benches called "Repose" at Treasure Island Park.

A subcommittee of commissioners and the Laguna Beach Police Employees Assn. recommended Taylor and Stripling's sculpture, which represents an eternal flame within an unfurling flag, to the commission after the four finalists presented their projects, city Cultural Arts Manager Sian Poeschl wrote in an email.

The other finalists were Jorg Dubin, Marsh Scott and Terry Thornsley.

The City Council will consider the recommendation at its May 6 meeting.

The bronze, cast glass and resin sculpture would stand 7 feet and feature an illuminated flame.

Cast in illuminated glass, words such as "honor," "courage," "duty" and "remember," would be embedded within the bronze. The design would also include inspirational quotations such as "You will never reach your dreams without honoring others" and "Heroes are the people who do whatever has to be done regardless of the consequences."

Three internally illuminated benches, each with a glass insert with the officers' badge numbers and call signs, would surround the sculpture.

The memorial is intended to honor Laguna Beach officers Gordon French and Jon Coutchie.

French died in 1953 after being shot by a prisoner attempting to escape from the police station, according to the city's website.

Coutchie was killed in September when a truck making a left turn from South Coast Highway onto Cleo Street struck the officer, who was riding his department-issued motorcycle.

Stripling and Taylor say their piece is meant to be a living testament of the officers and their sacrifice, according to a statement.

"Overall, the individual elements are designed to create a cohesive whole that can be experienced by all from multiple angles and positions, while passing by or for quiet reflection," the statement said.

Police association President Larry Bammer called Stripling and Taylor's piece "uplifting."

"It reinforced the positive side of the unfortunate loss of both [French and Coutchie]," Bammer said in a phone interview. "It reminds officers that worked with Jon since day one of the police academy, and future officers, why they are willing to risk their lives."

At the meeting, Bammer relayed comments from Coutchie's family, who liked Dubin's "Sentinel Hall."

"It spoke to them with the strong and clear message of the pillars and thin blue line," Bammer said. "The intent of the installation is to honor [French and Coutchie] and the pride and honor in serving the Laguna Beach community, which had led to looking closely at "Eternal Legacy."

Bammer said Coutchie's family also requested that an American flag be installed at the site, which will be near the front doors of the police headquarters at 505 Forest Ave.

Poeschl said Stripling and Taylor, both full-time artists, are aware of the request.

The commission voted unanimously to accept a $1,000 donation from Costa Mesa-based Rainstoppers Inc. for a cost estimate of relocating a gas meter, gas lines, dryer vent and rain gutters at the memorial site.

Rainstoppers estimates the work would cost $5,500, which the police employees association would fund.

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