It sits at the busy intersection of Forest Avenue and Glenneyre Street, a once shiny and colorful bench shaped like a chambered nautilus shell. Thousands of passerby have enjoyed it, but many have also smeared their tags in black markers, pasted their chewing gum and used it as a skateboard ramp.
Created by Laguna Beach artist Carolyn Reynolds in 2001, it looks forlorn now, but is one of the first pieces of public art authorized by the Arts Commission to be restored this year.
“That bench gets lots of traffic, and city arts manager Sian Poeschl asked me to resurface it,” said Reynolds.
The process involves re-staining the surface in its original turquoise green hues and replacing its protective coating. “The bench has been in bad shape for far too long,” remarked Reynolds. “But, current plans to repair it and other pieces of public art are a good sign.”
Smith Art Conservation of Long Beach, tapped to forecast repair costs for several of the city’s public art works, provided the city’s art manager with a $2,160 estimate to shape up the bench.
The Arts Commission will soon discuss developing a maintenance master plan for the entire collection, city Arts Manager Sian Poeschl said. Funds for repairs are allocated from the commission’s special budget, replenished by a Business Improvement District bed tax.
Laguna Beach’s Art in Public Places was established by ordinance in 1986 and over 31 years has yielded a public art collection of nearly 90 permanent works, some on city property and others on private property. The ordinance requires the installation of site-specific works of art when new buildings of more than $225,000 are developed or a payment to the city’s Art-in-Lieu fund.
Last year, the city spent $20,000 to restore 14 pieces of public art out of its own 54-piece collection. Forty-five other art works installed under the Art in Public Places are on private property and privately maintained.
Two new works were added to the collection in 2016, a privately funded Crescent Bay Park bench and a temporary installation at the red phone booth on Forest Avenue, said Poeschl.
Reynolds likened the city’s bourgeoning public art collection to a gallery with nearly too much art to maintain. “There are some interesting pieces here, but it’s hard to keep a collection relevant and in good shape,” she said.
Also slated for restoration is Gerard Stripling’s “Moving Forward,” a bench located at Third Street outside the Susi Q Center. Done in 2009, it is a witty installation consisting of a bench and a collection of shoes parked underneath. It needs extensive cleaning, buffing and a new coat of protective lacquer. Costs are estimated at $1,750.
“As an artist, I think it’s important for the pieces to look as best as they can, so it’s in my best interest to maintain them myself,” said Stripling, who regularly inspects his output. He said city public art commissions contain a three-year warranty, but he feels compelled to keep an eye on his creations past the warranty period. “I don’t want anyone else to work on my sculptures,” he said.
“Eternal Legacy,” the monument honoring Laguna Beach police officers Gordon French and Jon Coutchie, who died in the line of duty, is also due for minor maintenance. Stripling created the latter in partnership with sculptor Michele Taylor.
Also up for refurbishing is the late Cheryl Ekstrom’s “Deer Warrior,” created in 2000 and located at Jahraus Park. The bronze depiction of the mythological creature suffers from corrosion and marring of its patina caused by the high saline content of the sea air. The solution calls for pressure washing and brushing and removal of debris, along with specialized treatment of bolts. Smith estimates cost at $1,775. Similar conditions hold true for “Rendezvous,” a bronze statue by Nguyen Tuan located in Heisler Park.
Located at Forest and Ocean Avenues, Ralph Tarzian’s three bronze women titled “The Discussion,” have become a popular stopover for avians. It too needs a good wash and removal of bird poop. Other than that, it’s deemed in good condition and only costs $750 to clean up.
Then there’s “Semper Memento,” Jorg Dubin’s memorial to the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. After repairing three bouts of vandalism, Dubin is not enthused about how the city maintains its public art. “In all three instances, the damage has been discovered by myself or friends,” said Dubin. “The collection is so big now, it requires monthly sweeps to keep it up.”
To prevent further incidences, the city has installed a security camera and signs, which Dubin finds helpful. Meanwhile he and artist Marlo Bartels suggested deployment of art-minded high school students in need of community service credits to help with the maintenance of Laguna’s legacy.
The three artists agree that the city does its best to maintain the collection, but that more should be done. Constraints against de-accessioning works should be loosened as well. “Pieces that are not executed to withstand time and the elements should be removed and replaced with contemporary, relevant pieces with less emphasis on locals,” said Dubin.
Leonard Glasser’s “Sunbathers” are an example of highly deteriorated works, which were de-accessioned and removed, and in a rare instance re-executed in more durable stainless steel. Built in 1982 and installed in Nita Carmen Park, the two-piece steel sculpture rusted and turned into an eyesore, but its removal provoked a public backlash and a reversal by the City Council.
“People made a connection between the sculpture and the spirit of living in Laguna Beach,” said Glasser. He was pleased by the second iteration.