ENCINITAS — In an announcement during the City Council meeting on June 8 that took everyone by surprise, City Manager Phil Cotton revealed that an attorney claiming to represent the artist of the “Surfing Madonna” mural contacted the city.
Cotton told a stunned crowd that the city’s legal office received correspondence from the artist’s attorney late that afternoon. He said the two parties are in negotiations but did not elaborate. He said the city would have no further comment and declined to name the attorney or the artist.
Not long after the announcement from City Council, word spread that the artist of the “Surfing Madonna” mosaic was Leucadia artist and longtime resident Mark Patterson. His identity was revealed after inspectors from the Los Angeles-based Sculpture Conservation Studio found the artist’s signature at the top of the mural. Patterson’s signature could not be seen from ground level.
Inspectors were examining the piece Tuesday to see how, or if it could be safely removed.
During the public speaker portion of the meeting several speakers addressed the council regarding the preservation of the mural. Former Planning Commissioner Gene Chapo said an exploratory committee had been formed with representatives from the Downtown Encinitas Mainstreet Association, Cardiff 101 Mainstreet and Leucadia 101 Mainstreet and other residents in an effort to facilitate the process of safeguarding the artwork. Chapo said his comments felt a bit irrelevant given the preceding statement by Cotton.
However, he went on to explain that Highway 101 Coordinator Peder Norby and Jim Gilliam, the city’s Arts Administrator were advising the committee. “We want to make sure we do this right,” he said.
Fred Caldwell, a Leucadia resident and artist said his recent foray into an area of Mission Valley revealed a piece of artwork situated under a bridge. He told the council that it was not close to the caliber of the “Surfing Madonna” and that the city was fortunate to have such quality art beautify an “ugly” part of the city.
The news comes a day after an arts conservation agency, hired by the city, determined that the stained-glass mosaic is bolted to the concrete underpass on Encinitas Boulevard just east of Coast Highway 101. Los Angeles-based Sculpture Conservation Studio studied the 10-foot by square “Surfing Madonna” and surmised that it would be difficult to remove without damaging it. The city commissioned a report by the company at a cost of $2,000. It is expected to be complete June 13.
“It’s such a shame to take it down,” lamented Charles Glibb, an Oceanside resident who made the pilgrimage to view the mosaic. Like hundreds of others, he said he made the trip to see what all of the “fuss” was about. “I really didn’t think it was that big of a deal when I saw it on the news or when I read about it in the paper,” he said, as he stood with a few others at the base of the railroad trestle. “But when you see it up close and think about what went into making it and constructing it covertly, you start to really appreciate it.”
In fact, a group of artists dressed as construction workers boldly installed the piece in broad daylight April 22. It depicts Our Lady of Guadalupe on a surfboard with the words “Save the Ocean” down the side. It has been labeled vandalism by city staff, some council members and various residents, including other artists. However, it continues to garner national media attention and widespread support is mounting for preserving the mosaic. “Maybe this will set a precedent, I don’t know and I really don’t care,” said Cheryl Simpson flatly. “But this one piece should be taken on its own merits and if the city does that then it will stay.”