While driving or strolling through Los Altos, visitors will inevitably catch sight of a few sculptures. From the multicolored "ZooScapes" creatures outside the main library to the life-size "Olympic Wannabes" at Village Park, public art weaves its way through downtown, the civic center area and local parks.
Los Altos’ first sculpture appeared in 1986 when the Public Arts Commission inaugurated the sculpture project. The city selected Mircea Paul Goreniuc’s "Space Dance for Peace" as its first piece of public art. Nearly three decades after its installation, the sculpture still calls Lincoln Park home.
Although some artwork is on loan from the artists, the city now owns more than half of the 30 pieces in its collection, thanks to donations from local residents.
"We’re bringing art to the city in the least costly way," said Faye Chapman, chairwoman of the Public Arts Commission. "Art really adds a lot and shows that the city really cares."
Members of the Public Arts Commission handpick and review the sculptures. When selecting works for display, members take into consideration the artistic talent invested, visual appeal and compatibility with the environment.
Artists often loan their pieces to the city for two years at a time and in return gain media exposure, public recognition and the opportunity to sell their work to local art lovers. When the two-year period expires, the artist may choose to donate the piece, take it back or renew the contract.
To find new sculptures, the commission releases a call for art and contacts more than 300 artists to find suitable additions to the growing collection. After selecting a sculpture, it takes approximately a year before it reaches public display. Commission members compare their search for the right sculptures to finding a needle in a haystack.
"We need something that won’t be a safety hazard and fits in with its surroundings," said Chapman of the commission’s criteria. "I see some sculptures and I can just imagine someone climbing all over it, or kids getting their fingers stuck in the cracks."
Chapman noted that sculptures may only be placed on land owned by the city, the primary reason so many are located at Lincoln and Shoup parks. Narrow sidewalks and limited public space downtown constrict the number of sculptures the city can display.
A number of sculptures await installation, including "The Guardian," a life-size bronze work in the shape of a fairy by New Orleans artist Karen Cauvin Eustis. "The Guardian" will stand watch in the open space near the Costume Bank at the corner of State and Third streets.
Santa Rosa artist Riis Burwell’s "Bird" - an 11-foot-tall bronze and stainless-steel abstract tribute to the late jazz musician Charlie Parker - is slated to land in Lincoln Park soon.
Once construction on First Street is completed, Chapman said an additional three sculptures will decorate the landscape.
In addition to the city’s sculpture collection, the Public Arts Commission plans to introduce other forms of public art - bike racks, murals and more - with support from the city council.
For more information, visit losaltosca.gov/publicartscommission/page/public-sculpture. n
Sculptures in Los Altos - Photos By Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier