Archive for June, 2011

Mystery Mural in Colorado

Sunday, June 19th, 2011

Landfill Mural

If you stand facing the new building at the Custer County Landfill, you see a large mural of the Sangre de Christo mountains.  If you turn around, you see the real Sangre de Christo mountains.

Sangre de Christo Mts.

Custer County Landfill is just outside the small mountain town of Westcliffe, Colorado, which is about 60 miles west of Pueblo and some 3000 feet higher. The area was a booming silver, copper, lead mining region in the late 1800’s, and the adjoining town of Silver Cliff which existed before Westcliffe was the third largest town in Colorado in 1880.  The remains of the mines can still be seen in the tailings which dot the hillsides.  Now it is cattle and hay country, rolling grasslands in the Wet Mountain Valley which lies at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The mountains range for 100 miles and include 54 peaks, Alpine-like, and capped with snow most of the time.  Very little snow this June, though, and these days lost in smoke from the Arizona and New Mexico fires.

So who was inspired by these mountains to paint this large mural?  No one knows.

When?  No one knows.

At least no one I talked to at the Chamber of Commerce or on the main street of Westcliffe. Not only that, but no one I talked to had even seen it.

I noticed the mural right away on our drive up Rosita Road when we first got into town in early June, probably because I have been paying attention to the mural of the Surfing Madonna in Encinitas, California, on previous posts. The landfill mural is either oil paint or acrylic, I can’t tell which, and it is painted on what looks like Masonite or a siding material of some sort.  It was attached to the wall before the stucco was added. And, as you can see, cut to accommodate the window and door.

The guy at the landfill told me it was originally four panels but only three of the panels fit on the wall.  He said the four panels had been stored at the Westcliffe Chamber of Commerce but when the Chamber had to move to smaller quarters, it was decided to put the mural on the wall at the landfill. How long it had been in storage he did not know.  Not surprising, since no one at the current Chamber of Commerce or Visitor Center knew anything at all about it. I left a copy of this post at the Visitor Center and Nancy from the Chamber of Commerce sent me an email.  She says there were actually 21 sheets of 4X8 painted mountains stored for at least five years in the old Chamber building.  They may have been a backdrop or a school project. She will try to find out more.

Here is a huge undertaking by an artist who respected the mountains.  And someone stored the panels in the Chamber of Commerce.  And somewhere there is a historian who knows about it.

I’m hoping someone can tell us its history and its artist.  And I hope a lot of someones will drive by and look at it.

Mark Patterson’s Surfing Madonna

Friday, June 10th, 2011

Surfing Madonna

We’ve been following the saga of the Surfing Madonna with a couple of previous posts.

SignOn San Diego, June 9, 2011,  reports that the artist who constructed the Surfing Madonna, Our Lady of Guadalupe on a surfboard with the message, Save The Ocean beside her, is Mark Patterson. Patterson claimed creation of the mosaic because the  city of Encinitas has decided it must be removed from the gray cement supports of a train overpass.  The mosaic seemed to be epoxied to the cement and chipping it away the only way to remove it.  But Patterson said it was attached to a back-board screwed on with 18 screws.

So Encinitas can safely take it down.  It is on public property with a religious icon.

There has been a lot of back and forth public opinions, Leave It Up/Take It Down.

However, that it would be removed is a no-brainer. The graffiti artist, by definition,  appropriates someone’s property without permission to display his art.

Graffiti in Chinatown, San Francisco

Like this tag in San Francisco’s Chinatown. It may be art, but it is out of place.  And it is not like commissioned public art or murals on walls which have been approved by the owners, like the La Jolla murals.

Patterson’s notion that the train overpass would be an okay place for his art is naive at best.  He did after all disguise himself as a construction worker wearing a hard hat to put it up, so it would seem that he had some small inkling that he was doing something illegal.  SignOn San Diego states that “Patterson said he was unaware of the city’s public-art approval process.”  That’s like saying you are unaware of a building code.  It’s easy enough to ask.

And it’s hard to believe that his attorney, Anton Gerschner, sees Our Lady of Guadalupe as merely a “cultural icon that is part of our society” and not a religious icon.  The culture and society which revere Our Lady of Guadalupe as holy happen to be Catholic. It’s hard to divorce the Madonna from religion. Even though Patterson says his message “is not religious” but a message to “save the ocean” he did choose a religious figure to ride the waves.

There is no denying that some of the 18,000 drivers a day snap photos as they pass the mosaic, some walkers leave flowers, and some come to Encinitas just to see it.  And if it had not been put in that public spot, maybe not so many would have discovered it.  Now it has not only local followers but national attention as well, reported in such papers as the Washington Post.

I’m sure the city of Encinitas will find a legal place to display it so people can continue to come to see it.  And Patterson’s message, Save the Ocean, will continue as will our appreciation of his skill as a mosaic artist and the unique way he visualized his message. We just need to appreciate his skill and vision in a different spot.