North County coastal communities have a reputation for artistic creations such as the “Cardiff Kook” sculpture and the “Surfing Madonna” mosaic in Encinitas that illustrate the region’s surfing culture in whimsical ways, whether intentional or not.
Fifth grade art students at Sycamore Ridge Elementary School put their own stamp on the tradition with their recent winning entry in a contest sponsored by Mendocino Farms Sandwich Market in Carmel Valley’s Del Mar Highlands Town Center.
Representatives of the shop invited five elementary schools in Carmel Valley to participate in the Paint Me Mendo contest. The competition called for art students from each school to decorate a miniature plaster cow in a matter that reflected the Los Angeles restaurant chain’s theme and vision.
The company’s corporate mascot consists of a blue-spotted white cow, as can be seen in models mounted above the Carmel Valley store’s exterior.
The contest’s winning entry was based on a tally of votes cast by patrons at the store and online through Instagram.
Sycamore Ridge students won the $1,000 prize that goes to the campus’s art program by crafting a bright yellow bovine sporting black plastic sunglasses, a sandwich board hanging from its neck and a surfboard mounted on its back imprinted with the Mendocino Farms’s slogan, “Eat Happy.”
“Mostly in San Diego, people go surfing down at the beach,” said Savannah Swanberg, one of the fifth graders who worked on the sculpture. “So we thought it would be cool to make a surfing cow. We discussed how we wanted a sandwich necklace, and we wanted the color to reflect the sunset.
“I feel excited that all our hard work in making this artwork paid off and with this money, we’ll be able to buy more art supplies for next year and be able to make new, unique things.”
Each of the programs from the runner-up schools — Solana Ranch, Solana Highlands, Carmel Del Mar and Sage Canyon — received $100 and cookies.
While the Sycamore Ridge piece won’t be accorded the visual prominence accorded the “Kook” statue on South Coast Highway or the “Madonna” on Encinitas Boulevard, it and the other entries will be displayed over the next year on a wall within the Mendocino Farms restaurant.
“We love being able to partner with anyone in our community, especially schools,” said the Carmel Valley shop’s general manager, Aaliya Karolia, at the award ceremony Thursday, June 7. “It was so amazing how much thought and effort went into this (contest). ...
“Sycamore Ridge’s (piece) was probably one of the most thoughtful. It dug into our vision as a company.”
While all the pieces submitted were vividly colorful with intricate designs, the Sycamore Ridge entry was the one that most overtly epitomized the coastal culture.
Sycamore Ridge Art Specialist Cat Gilbert, who guided the students, said the project dovetailed with this year’s fifth grade theme of creating art for others rather than satisfying personal aims.
“It tied in perfectly with our public art elective,” Gilbert said. “I saw it as an opportunity for kids to have a real-world experience working for somebody else. I’m super-excited for the kids because they put so much heart and thought into it.”
Lori Hawe, the mother of Sycamore Ridge art student Bjorn, called the students’ creation “wonderful.”
“I was amazed at the quality,” Hawe said. “I love our art teacher. She let them come up with the ideas and the vision, and the community came together to ‘rally around the cow.’”
Savannah’s father, Kurtis Swanberg, said he believes Mendocino Farms’ contest was important in supporting art, which he said is an under-appreciated aspect of education.
“We have to have funding for arts programs,” he said. “Without arts programs, kids would really miss out on a great part of their education.”