Finalists for Sculpture Garden Win Approval


Naomi and Scott Schoenherr with models of their competition-winning Heisler Park sculptures. Photo by Ted Reckas

Scott and Naomi Schoenherr’s designs for a sculpture garden, including works titled “Time Connected,” ”Continuous Rotation,” and “Tidal Pull” got the final go-ahead in a unanimous vote from the City Council this past Tuesday.

The couple had been among four finalists out of 42 artists or artist teams that had vied for the job in the city’s Heisler Park and were selected as the front-runner by the Arts Commission on Feb. 14.

The project won the commission’s unanimous approval for their ability to interpret the spirit of Shelley Cooper’s poem “Sparkle (Giggle Crack)” and to create something akin to a magical mystery tour for visitors. “They had a sense of the park as an integrated whole and by creating different moods, they carry people along into a shared experience,” explained commissioner Suzi Chauvel.

The competition was open to California residents, but local knowledge may have given an edge to the winners, who are Laguna Beach residents. They also won another public art commission, a tile mural inspired by native plant and animal life in Laguna Canyon that elevates the aesthetic of a Forest Alley public restroom. (See them in Part 2 of the city’s eye on artist films.)

The Giggle Crack poem suggested something of a magical itinerary and the artists focused the work on the passage of time, cycles and elements of nature passing through it. The crack refers to an infamous rock formation that turns lethal under certain surf conditions.

Experience in creating public art remains a prime consideration for the arts committee, which must consider the safety of the public and the durability of the works.

About $62,000 of the project’s cost will be paid for from state park funds with the remainder made up by the city’s art in lieu fund, some $42,000, which accrues from the contributions of developers who don’t add art works to their own projects. A public art installation was one of the conditions required of the $6 million park renovation, said city arts manager Sian Poeschl by e-mail.

Both Scott and Naomi are ceramicists and multi-media artists who met while students at Otis College of Art and Design. They have also exhibited at the Sawdust Art Festival and Festival of Arts. Some may remember their whimsical series of elongated cars with humorous occupants, but Naomi stressed that those only sum up a very small segment of their work.

“We wanted to show how we felt about the whole environment, the kind of work we can do and to create a unique experience for everyone,” said Naomi.

Naomi, 45, was born and raised in Tokyo, Japan, and also studied in Amsterdam while still in high school. To broaden her cultural experience further, she came to the U.S. in 1985 to study architecture but switched to fine art and ceramics.  “The switch came easily since I’ve always been interested in fine art,” said Naomi, who graduated from Otis in 1989.

Scott, 49, was born in Anaheim and grew up in Corona before moving to Laguna Beach in the ‘70s. He graduated in 1990 and, by now, has exhibited his ceramics throughout the United States.

“We worked a lot together in school and helped each other with projects and became attuned to each other as artists and friends,” said Naomi. The couple married in 1991 and, finding the Los Angeles scene too hectic, returned to Laguna Beach.

They plan to exhibit again at the Sawdust this summer. The signature cars will be on display, along with wall pieces and a line of jewelry by Naomi. They will not show at the Festival of Arts, devoting their energies to the Heisler project instead.

Relieved after weeks of suspense awaiting council approval, Naomi said, “We are really grateful and thrilled that people appreciate our public work.”

What’s next? “We like doing site specific works, public art and interactive pieces. Our hope is to create spaces where visitors can become part of the art; it’s not a monument,” she said.


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