Wind-powered, metal sculpture to launch city's new public art effort

A wind-powered, titanium sculpture by a famed Encinitas metal artist will be the first featured piece in a new city-orchestrated effort to establish public art displays in all five of its communities.

Plans to install the kinetic metal sculpture won City Council approval Jan. 10. The piece, titled "Orpheus," is scheduled to be placed this spring in the tiny, new K Street Park at the south end of Coast Highway 101.

"This location is the perfect vantage point to serve as the entry to the downtown," city Arts Program Administrator Jim Gilliam said Jan. 11.

The sculpture's installation is the result of a three-way collaboration — the city is coordinating the effort, the Encinitas Friends of the Arts organization is paying for the concrete pedestal and solar lighting, and artist Jeffery Laudenslager is loaning his piece to the city for a year.

"This has been a longtime goal of mine for probably 12 years to loan something to the community," said Laudenslager, who lives along Orpheus Street in Encinitas' Leucadia neighborhood.

His giant, moving metal sculptures are typically snapped up by private collectors or bought by corporations for display at their headquarters buildings. His "Orpheus" piece previously appeared as part of a trilogy along the Avenue of the Stars in Los Angeles' Century City. It won't be his first on public display in Encinitas — that honor goes to one that he did for Scripps Hospital Encinitas.

"But, it's going to be the biggest," he said Friday morning, Jan. 12. "This piece is 20 feet tall. It's impressive."

He's not the only one who's thrilled to see the city's public sculpture effort moving forward. Naimeh Tanha-Woodward, president of the Encinitas Friends of the Arts organization, was so excited that she spent her birthday at the Jan. 10 City Council meeting, telling her husband that she absolutely had to witness the council vote and her birthday festivities could wait.

"I said this is the biggest gift to me," she recalled Thursday, Jan. 11.

Public art is a huge gift to any community, she said, because "it brings the community together, it creates conversation, it beautifies the place, it puts us on the map."

Encinitas is known as an extremely arts-friendly community. Its music concerts at the library draw huge crowds, its annual Arts Alive streetlight banner project has been used as a model by other communities, and many professional artists call the place home. But, it doesn't have many outdoor sculpture pieces on public display.

Gilliam said Jan. 11 that he knows of only two city-owned, outdoor sculptures. One is the Encinitas Child, a metal sculpture of a girl who sits on a wall along the west side of Coast Highway 101 just south of its intersection with Encinitas Boulevard. The other is the Magic Carpet Ride — the famous boy surfer statue, commonly nicknamed the 'Cardiff Kook," which floats above the sidewalk along Cardiff's portion of Coast Highway, adjacent to the San Elijo State Beach campground.

A huge Easter Island-style head — a Torrey pine tree stump that was carved into a big head at Swami's park -- could be counted as a third city statue, but it's designed to decay over time, Gilliam said.

Over the next two years, the number of outdoor sculpture pieces on public display in Encinitas will dramatically increase. In 2018, the city plans to install four sculpture display pedestals with solar lighting — one each for Leucadia, New Encinitas, Cardiff and Olivenhain. That's in addition to the one at the K Street Park that the arts organization is funding for the Orpheus piece.

And, next year, there are plans for two more pedestals. The city already has set aside $100,000 for the two-year project and potential locations — likely spots along major roadways, in city parks or at city facilities — are now under review, Gilliam said.

The city doesn't plan to buy statues for these sites. Like the Orpheus project, these pieces will be on temporary, one-year loans, allowing the city to change out its displays and to showcase multiple artists in the years to come, Gilliam said.

Meanwhile, other efforts also are underway to increase the number of public sculpture pieces in town. The city's J Street Overlook area will gain a permanent sculpture — artist Maidy Morhous' bronze piece known as "Humanity" — thanks to private financing. Donors Sue and Jay Vicory are funding the pedestal, the solar lighting and the acquisition of the sculpture.

Even the Easter Island head is getting a new buddy. On Jan. 10, the council approved plans for artist Tim Richards, the person who did the first head, to produce a second one with a ring of flowers at the base of its neck.

-- Barbara Henry is a freelance writer for The San Diego Union Tribune

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