Gull sculpture ruffles some feathers

SOLANA BEACH — Call them the “art”-ful dodgers. After spending one-third of the Feb. 25 meeting discussing a donated sculpture, council members eluded a decision on the fate of the piece and instead voted 4-1 to have staff create a full-scale, on-site mock-up to accurately illustrate its visual impact.
After an hour and 15 minutes, at least one council member was clearly frustrated. “This is ridiculous, people,” Councilman Tom Campbell said. “We’re sitting here talking about a bird.”
At issue was a seagull sculpture donated by residents Peter House and Carol Childs. Council members accepted it into the city’s permanent art collection in March 2008 and directed the Public Arts Advisory Commission to review possible placement at Fletcher Cove, the location members were recommending at the recent meeting.
The 400-pound piece was crafted from molded sheet metal with a dark patina finish to mimic a bird in flight. At its widest, the gull has a 6-foot wingspan, with 3 feet between its beak and the tip of its tail feathers. The sculpture was created around 1940 and was originally displayed at a private home in Maine. House bought the piece in 1985 and stored it in New York until 2007.
A 45-day public review period that began July 9 at Fletcher Cove was extended until Sept. 12. The public outreach effort included newspaper and TV coverage, e-blasts and a posting on the city Web site.
Of the 66 comments received, 38 opposed either the gull, the location or both. The advisory commission considered several alternate locations for the sculpture, including east of the railroad tracks, Coast Highway 101 near the train station bridge and various sites along the coastal rail trail. All were deemed undesirable or inappropriate.
Comments are posted anonymously in the online staff report.
“Most of the people who were opposed had a lot more to say than those people who didn’t, and I took that to heart,” Mayor Mike Nichols said.
“The sculpture itself suggests the heavy hand of an unperceptive amateur and the newly proposed substructure wrestles, visually, with the majestic pines behind it,” wrote one resident who opposed the bird and the site. “We have few ocean views and few handsome large trees. Let us enjoy them, uncluttered.”
Another resident stated, “(W)hat’s important about Fletcher Cove is what’s just west of it … the ocean. This park is a gateway to the ocean and it should not be cluttered up with anything that distracts from that visual.”
Someone else was offended by the gull. “They are just nicer looking vultures,” the person wrote.
Some of the positive comments described the piece as “classy” and “magnificent.”
“(T)he sculpture blends well with the other artistic expressions in Fletcher Cove Park,” one resident stated, while another wrote, “I think it is a great place for the sculpture. The real birds will love it.”
Five residents addressed council during the meeting, and their opinions were also almost evenly split.
“Public art can help a community economically,” Allen Moffson, arts commission chairman, said. “The color, the vibrancy — or eye candy to many of us — it helps bring people to shop, look and spend their dollars here.
“There is not one piece of art, nor one location, nor one presentation that will ever satisfy everyone. Art is personal,” Moffson said. “It brings out the best and the worst in us. And in others, it seems to be no big deal. But please be sure that everyone on our committee … was very sensitive to all these feelings and comments.”
“I agree that you can’t please everyone,” said resident Vicky Cypherd, who was an art history major in college. “Keep in mind that the goal should always be to find the most appropriate location for any artwork rather than forcing it into a position that neither enhances the artwork or the location where it will be placed.”
Council opinions were also nearly equally split. Nichols, Lesa Heebner and Dave Roberts liked the sculpture but not the location.
“The art of placing art is an art in itself,” Heebner said. “I’m afraid that (the gull) would become the signature piece in a location that already has a signature.”
Nichols agreed. “The artwork should enhance the place it’s located and not deter from it,” he said.
Campbell and Joe Kellejian supported the advisory commission’s recommendation.
Kellejian, who cast the dissenting vote, said commission members were appointed based on their expertise in art. “There was some experience and some worth that could benefit this community,” he said.
“We have a master arts policy in place,” Campbell said. “If we find out that this is not working, in a few years (we) take it out and move it. I think that we need to let the process work as it was designed.”
Roberts’ main objection was that a series of photographs with the gull superimposed were not to scale. He recommended the action that was ultimately taken.
“I don’t think we have all the information to make the right decision,” Roberts said. “The PAAC did all their due diligence. I just want to make sure that I have done all my due diligence, and I need to visually see it.”
House and Childs, who could not be reached for comment, agreed to cover all costs associated with installing the sculpture, including fabrication of a base and landscaping.

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