‘Madonna’ closer to public display

ENCINITAS —  The audience erupted into applause as the City Council voted unanimously to accept the “Surfing Madonna” mosaic in the form of a loan to the city and support it’s installation near the entrance to Moonlight Beach.

The vote to accept the recommendation of the city’s Arts Commission to place the piece of art on the northwest corner of Encinitas Boulevard and El Camino Real. The state parks system leases the property to the city as part of its Moonlight Beach landholding. The state still has to approve the installation.

Artist Mark Patterson talks to supporters at a recent fundraiser for the preservation of the Surfing Madonna mosaic. Photo by Wehtahnah Tucker

Tim Luker, an arts commissioner and part of the ad-hoc committee that reviewed the loan agreement in detail told the council the panel addressed possible issues in an effort to avoid any further difficulties in presenting the art in public.

The committee looked at visibility of the art, traffic patterns, public safety, lighting, the art’s relationship to surrounding architecture, public accessibility to the art, social context, and the message on the mosaic and the economic impact on the city.

“Originally I had my doubts about the whole process but I’ve come to think this is a labor of love for the people of Encinitas,” Luker said.

A secretive crew posing as construction workers installed the colorful 10-foot by 10-foot mosaic in broad daylight April 22. The unknown workers affixed the six-paneled mosaic to a railroad bridge support along Encinitas Boulevard, just west of the Vulcan Avenue intersection. 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.

Patterson revealed himself as the artist in June after the City Council voted to have a consulting company determine the best way to remove the art.  Patterson paid a company approximately $4,000 to remove the piece and paid the city a fine.

The committee learned that residents surveyed had an overwhelmingly favorable opinion of the art. “I hate to say it but this thing put us on the map,” Luker said, “the city is getting a lot of publicity from this artwork.”

Luker encouraged the council to accept the proposal in order to “move the process forward so we can see the lady up again.”

In fact, should the state agree to the agreement, the mosaic could be in place as soon as April.

A representative from Assemblyman Martin Garrick’s office told the council he supported the art placement and would assist at the state level in the approval process. “That’s a welcome message,” Mayor Jerome Stocks said.

The artist, Mark Patterson told the council the mosaic’s secular message was to save the ocean. He also reiterated his desire to keep the piece local in a public space. “I want the mosaic to stay in Encinitas, it was a gift to the city,” he said.

He thanked the other municipalities that offered to display the art but politely declined. Daniel Powell, a Solana Beach resident said he was aware at least two proposals by private property owners to purchase the artwork and put it on publicly display.

“Mark has an incredible amount of integrity,” he told the council. “I think his loyalty to the city of Encinitas should be honored with your yes vote tonight.”

The Mizel family foundation is matching funds raised by Patterson’s nonprofit Surfing Madonna Oceans Project to pay for maintenance and installation costs.

Several speakers and council members expressed support of the proposal. “It’s not just a labor of love but a very generous gift to the city,” Councilwoman Teresa Barth said. “It’s been a long trip but very rewarding.”

Tony Krantz, said that as a Catholic and a secularist he said he was a “little leery” of the mosaic upon first hearing about it. “She’s a piece of work that sings to you,” he said. After photographing the mosaic he changed his mind. “I was converted that day.”

However, Deputy Mayor Kristin Gaspar said there was a risk of litigation, especially given the religious icon at the center of the mosaic. She suggested the foundation set up an escrow account to cover the removal of the piece or pay legal costs to defend potential litigation.

In the end, the council agreed to modify the loan proposal to include language that allowed Patterson to remove the art in the face of litigation.

Patterson said the proposal was reasonable. “If the city gets in a pickle and I have to take it down, well I’ve done it before,” he said.

“Next stop, state of California,” Stocks said to Patterson.

The proposal will now go before the State Parks San Diego Coast District for consideration. Arts Administrator Jim Gilliam said residents could contact district superintendent Clay Phillips at the State Parks Department at cphillip@parks.ca.gov or (619) 688-3260.

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