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Artist Betsy Schulz smiles while working on a three-panel art project for the Solana Beach Fire Station. Photo by Kelli Kyle
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Solana Beach ‘Fire Wall’ public art project in final stages

SOLANA BEACH — In a bright, airy studio overlooking the Los Penasquitos Lagoon, artist Betsy Schulz dips a wood-handled paint brush into a bowl of sealant before smoothing it across a six-inch portion of colorful glass.

Three huge rectangular structures, all about 11 feet in length, rest on her work table. She’s treating the mosaics on these structures to keep out any moisture.

These three panels are part of a larger sculpture being installed at the Solana Beach Fire Station by the end of March, although it’s tough to visualize in the studio.

Artist Betsy Schulz seals the colored glass on three 11-foot panels. By the end of March, these pieces will combine with wire caging and chunks of red, yellow and orange glass in a public art project at the Solana Beach Fire Station. Photo by Kelli Kyle

“When it’s lying flat on the table, it’s hard to understand how the whole thing is put together,” Schulz said. “You won’t get it until it’s up — it’s more to pique curiosity.” 

When complete, the three mosaic panels will attach to metal caging that will house chunks of red, yellow and orange glass, meant to represent a contained wildfire.

The piece will rest on a patch of landscape specifically designed for the sculpture.

This project initiated in 2017, when the city of Solana Beach Public Arts Commission (PAC) called for proposals for a public art and landscaping project at the fire station grounds on Lomas Santa Fe Drive and N. Nardo Avenue.

Steve Ostrow, PAC member, said the project was intended for both beautification and sustainability.  

“There was close to 3,000 square feet of grass that needed to be maintained, and we’re moving toward grass-tolerant vegetation,” Ostrow said. “PAC is always looking to beautify, and because this area is a focal point of the city, we wanted a statement.” 

Once all the proposals were in, PAC selected three, and put them up for a 45-day public review. Schulz’s proposal was one of them, and during this period, she made a few changes based on residents’ feedback.

Upon selection, Schulz, who is also a landscape designer, teamed up with Mitch Phillippe of Van Dyke Landscape Architects in Solana Beach to mold the sculpture to its surroundings. 

“We could create a landscape that complemented the structure, instead of putting the structure in an existing landscape,” Schulz explained.  

Schulz also wanted to include a seating area, so passersby could relax and enjoy the art and the view.

The city’s budget was not enough to fund this component, so Schulz approached the SeaWeeders, a local garden club operating through the Solana Beach Civic and Historical Society, who voluntarily maintain the gardens around the post office and a few other green spots.

Both the SeaWeeders and the Civic and Historical Society donated funds to provide large boulders, pocket gardens and signage. The group is excited to have some ownership of the space, explains fundraising chairwoman Katie Pelisek, and they will most likely add the fire station gardens to their upkeep rotation. 

“I can’t really commit to it, but I know everybody will do it,” Pelisek said. “We’re happy to do it. It gives people a lot of joy to keep things looking beautiful.” 

With participation from other San Diego artists and businesses like Southwest Boulder & Stone, Stanford Signs and Chris Austin of Kiwi Studios, the project was a big community effort.

In Solana Beach, City Councilwoman Judy Hegenauer observed the project start-to-finish as the city’s representative on PAC. 

“For everybody to fall in love with their city, they need to be in on the beginning parts of those actions that are taken in their name,” Hegenauer said. “I think the commission is on the right track.”

When the structure is installed, the city plans to hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate. For Schulz, the creative journey has been collaborative, constructive and exciting. She is looking forward to seeing everything come together at the end of the month. 

“I definitely want to create something that’s beautiful, attractive and happy,” Schulz said. “It’s permanent, solid, safe — all the things that make a good piece of art.” 

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