Monday, August 8, 2016

Art in the City

Take a look at the public art on display in South Pasadena

I love being part of such a creative community here in South Pas.  I've already mentioned my love of the South Pasadena Arts Council.  Membership in SPARC is a great way to connect with the city's artists, writers, filmmakers, musicians and art afficianados.  But it's also fun to be reminded of South Pasadena's rich, artistic history ... and there are hints of it at every turn.  

During the Great Depression, Federal Relief agencies put many South Pasadena residents to work on projects ranging from building the control channel to constructing the high school fine arts and science buildings.  The powers-that-be realized that communities not only needed structures to have good function, they also needed them to have beautiful form.

With that in mind, when South Pasadena's post office was built in 1936, the Treasury Relief Art Project commissioned artist and former postal clerk John Law Walker to create the lobby mural.  The scene -- a Concord mail coach -- was familiar to the brand new South Pasadena postmaster, George Hugh Banning.  He had recently authored a book on the subject called Six Horses.  

The resulting work was a meaningful addition to an otherwise utilitarian place.  Walker's painting didn't assist with the business of mail.  It didn't deliver packages or sort letters.  But at a time when the majority of citizens were struggling just to make ends meet, it offered beauty and inspiration.  It still does.  (For even more details about South Pasadena during the Great Depression, you can't beat Jane Apostol's comprehensive book, South Pasadena, A Centennial History.)

South Pas is a treasure trove of more beautiful and inspirational art.  In 1930, the celebrated USC professor of sculpture Merrell Gage created a series of classical friezes representing famous book to be placed on the library exterior.  They still adorn the original building facing El Centro.  On the Oxley side, you'll find two of Gage's stone carvings  One is a rendering of St. George and the Dragon; the other is a whimsical Spanish galleon.  Another restored stone casting by Gage was installed several years ago on the Oxley patio.

Inside the library you'll find stained glass by Judson Studios, playful chidren's murals by Leo Politi, and numerous paintings by South Pasadena artists Zolita Sverdlove and Jean Tryon.  The library Children's Room also has an architectural mosaic created by celebrated artist Jolino Beserra.

Another piece of public art you can't miss is Mission Station's impressive Walking Man sculpture.  Officially titled Astride Aside, the 10 foot bronze sculpture was created by Michael Stutz.

"The daily ebb and flow of life reveals a drama accentuated in my work," Stutz explained in a statement at the work's 2003 installation.  "Using organic forms, I explore the dichotomies between permanent and impermanent, public and private, external and internal, to create an intimate and humane ideal.  Light plays through the latticed forms of the woven sculptures, blending line, movement, time and the body.  Focused hand-wrought craftsmanship reveals a yielding openness that invites viewer interaction." 

Viewer interaction?  I'll say!  The sculpture doubles as a kid's jungle gym, a bench and a convenient spot to put a plate of food on Thursday nights at the Farmers Market.  (It's also a very lively Pokemon Go gym!) It's a great example of how public art can be inspirational as well as accessible.

Los Angeles is notorious for destroying public art.  Sometimes destruction is due to the "progress" of new construction.  Other times, it comes from vandalism partnered with apathetic city government.  I find it encouraging that South Pasadena treasures and maintains its public works of art -- from the 1970s Girl Scout mural in the Arroyo Drive tunnel to the Ostrich Farm mural at Oxley and Mound.

I'm also delighted to have seen all of the public utility box art, commissioned by SPARC.  I can't wait to see the upcoming projects by the group.  Keep track of their plans here.

South Pas seems to recognize that art adds soul to an otherwise utilitarian cityscape.  Isn't it great?

Be sure to click on my video above to take a look at some of the public art around town.

Want to leave a message, or let me know about a bit of public art I missed?  Head over to the Glimpses of South Pasadena Community Forum and start a conversation!

A version of this article was originally published in my South Pasadena Patch column in 2011.