Category Archives: Sculpture

Gold Rush Fountain ~ 5th & I

A stand of beautiful white-barked trees forms a soft backdrop for the Gold Rush fountain in front of the Sacramento Federal Courthouse at 501 I Street. This fountain is more than just a cascade of water; cartoonish bronze figures dot the entire plaza. Anthropomorphized animals, Native Americans, Western miners, pioneers, and even Uncle Sam, are in and around the symbolic river creating an allegorical image of the Gold Rush.

One online article referred to the sculpture as a “whimsical representation of early California history” (1). Otterness’ figures are whimsical but the piece as a whole is not simply whimsy. Like much of Otterness’ works, Gold Rush also speaks to the darker elements of the story. The plaque nearby describes that “Otterness’ intention is to prompt viewers to reevaluate certain beliefs (and myths) about American history.”

While designing a different piece for the bankruptcy court in Sacramento, Otterness, faced criticism from a judge regarding his initial design — a chess board with 6′ tall chess pieces in the form of money bags (2). The article by Pranay Gupte quotes the judge saying: “Forget it. The last thing that anyone wants to see outside a bankruptcy court is a radical economic critique.” (3) Otterness worked with the feedback and his design evolved. He described this process as “a kind of surrealistic collaboration with a very conservative judge” and said the process taught him “that when it comes to public art, you need to work closely with local officials and others who understand the environment, the local culture.” (4)

Otterness’ public art work appears across the US, Canada, and worldwide (5). One of his best known works is, Life Underground, that includes more than 100 different pieces scattered throughout subway stations in NYC. Otterness described the subject of Life Underground as “the impossibility of understanding life in New York” (6).

“His style is often described as cartoonish and cheerful but tends to carry a political punch. His sculptures are filled with multiple meanings and allude to sex, class, money and race.” (7)

Controversy surrounds Otterness an awful act of animal cruelty that he did as art in 1977 (8). He issued an apology but it is a disturbing fact of his history.

I like this quote from Otterness about how he wants us engage with his work:

My work is really social commentary….I want people to touch these sculptures, to discuss them, to argue about them, to find in them whatever meaning they might draw from my work. Not everything in my work is explainable, of course. But that’s good, too. It’s sometimes good to leave people somewhat puzzled. The important thing is that they touch my sculptures, and talk about them.(9)

The plauqe reads:

A native of Wichita, Kansas, sculptor Tom Otterness is known for creating bronze and cast stone scupltures. Most of his work utilizes allegorical human and anthropomorphic animal figures. Otterness includes humorous elements in much of his work, even when dealing with serious social or political subjects. For the Sacramento Courthouse, artist Otterness created an assortment of knee-high characters reminiscent of California’s early history – animals and fish, native Americans and pioneers. He choose to position his whimsical yet enigmatic figures along the plaza’s fountain, which serves as a reminder of the significant role the Sacramento River and other waterways have played in the history of the state. Using the Gold Rush as his theme, Otterness worked both with and against the artistic traditions of the American West, especially the sculptor Frederick Remington. With the familiar cast of characters, Otterness’ intention is to prompt viewers to reevaluate certain beliefs (and myths) about American history.

Title: Gold Rush
Artist: Tom Otterness (
Date: 1999
Media: Cast Bronze Sculptures
Location: Sacramento Federal Courthouse, 501 I Street

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(4) (

Alhambra Reservoir ~ Alhambra and K

A 400 foot aerial map wrapped around the side of the Alhambra Reservoir creates an image of the water-flow drawn from our rivers and wetlands into the reservoir then delivered from there to our communities. Michael Bishop, a Fulbright scholar and art professor at Chico State, created this piece which was installed in 2005 (1, 2).

The water map appears a burnished gold during the day, and a night 2,000 feet of blue LEDs illuminate and animate the map. The dark spots in the LEDs that need repair detract from the effect, but it is still fun to watch the blue circle of the reservoir empty and fill every few seconds, simulating the daily water draw and re-supply (3):

The polyhedron-shaped reservoir was built in 1937 and holds 3 million gallons of water (4). The bottom 100 feet of the structure was previously home to a blood bank but now is home to the special operations and training facility of the Sacramento Fire Department (5). During World War II, the entire reservoir was painted in camouflage symbolizing the fighting abroad (6).

Bishop’s page for this project includes some excellent nighttime photos and he writes about the inspirations for the piece:

I was taken by how the water tower actually functions and at the same time, the urban history and urban myth surrounding it. It was painted in camouflage during the war, and still called the blood tank by locals from the days when the blood bank offices were downstairs. I was also interested in the tower as a symbolic contrast of organic space versus human made space – Jeffersonian grid meets American river. Maybe it boils down to the notion that I am not the believer in western narrative that I once was. It may seem odd, but to me, the work today is distilled and poignant, like focusing on an expansive horizon and realizing after awhile you are not spacing out, but taking it all in.

The 12-foot-tall, 350 lb concrete vessels decorating the top of the tank are a complement to the relief that appears above the main entrance (photo below). Stored inside the vessels are drawings and letters from local schoolchildren inspired by their lessons on the water tower (7).

Researching this piece, I ran across several photos of scooters parked in front of the reservoir. They are playing Scooter Tag, a game where riders take a picture of their scooter in a local spot (without identifying where) and other people have to figure out where the location is and then take a picture of their scooter in the same spot (8).

Title: The Alhambra Project
Artist: Michael Bishop (
Date: 2003-2006
Media: LED, Aluminum, Steel, Cast Vessels
Location: 3230 J St

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Shimizu Fountains ~ 700 H

Modeled after Japanese origami forms, two very ’70s metal fountains with large burnt orange pools sit in the North and South plaza entrances to the Sacramento County Administration Building (1). These fountains, and an interior wall sculpture of a similar design, were created by Seiji Shimizu in 1977.

The south plaza fountain is the smaller of the two and measures 8 x 3 x 8 ft.

The north plaza fountain measures 12 x 3 x 6 ft.

Research turned up very little information about these fountains or Shimizu himself. I did find references to two of his other works from Japan.

In 1962, he created a geometrical sculpture that hangs from a skylight at Numazu Culture Center (2).

He also created the baptismal font at the Archdiocese of Tokyo Catholic Tokyo International Center (CTIC). The font is shaped like an open hand. Light falls from the ceiling into the hand, and the list symbolizes the “light of God that leads the faith of the catechumen and shows the abundant grace he is going to receive.” (3)

The wall sculpture inside the main lobby is too tall to capture in a single photo.

Title: (untitled)
Artist: Seiji Shimizu
Date: 1977
Media: Metal
Location: 700 H

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ArtTake: Arty Bike Racks Deux

ArtTakes are my mini-posts on art found in unexpected places that is often FUNctional (sculpted bike rack, painted newspaper stand, crafted business signage). Today’s arttake is a follow-up to my first post on bike racks from Feb 2011.

Nick on the Town has also posted on fun bike racks around downtown in two installments: Sept 2009 and July 2010.

Hardware style bike racks at East Sac Hardware, 48th & Folsom. The nut and bolt at the top are real and cost $75 per.

Across the street at Nolan’s Hilltop Tavern they added a little style to the tops of their bike racks.

Down the street you can find pretzel bike racks in front of Socal’s Tavern, 52nd and Folsom.

They are authentic down to the salt crystals.

I came across this super-industrial bike rack in a residential neighborhood at 25th & I.

Bright yellow happy racks with water-bottle and rear-lamp details near Fifth String Music at Alhambra and J.

Reminiscent of old fashioned penny farthing bikes, these racks sit along the R Street Corridor around 14th & R in front of the Shady Lady Bar, Burgers and Brew, and Top This Frozen Yogurt.

The R Street Corridor project has been in the works for some years now, transforming the old industrial area of Sacramento into a lively urban area (not unlike Portland’s Pearl District). R Street was once the edge of town, and Corridor project’s website gives an interesting history of R Street.

Serendipity Fountain ~ 400 Q

Although I’m still discovering the numerous art fountains throughout the downtown area, I’m willing to bet that Serendipity by Mark di Suvero would win in the category of “Most Fun Fountain”. Serendipity sits in the park-like area near the entrance to the CalPERS building at 400 Q.

The spiraling shape of the top sculpture, the varying water jets, and the mosaic tile pool are all fun and interesting, but the piece goes beyond the amusing shapes and colors. Nearby is a keyboard control so you can play with the jets to make the top sculpture move and sway in response to the jets.

There is a great photo of the fountain when it was brand new on the flickr page of SLDdigital, and in the photo you can clearly see the mosaic pattern and metal element for the jets.

In the video below, you can see a slight swaying movement of the top sculpture in response to the water jets:

This plaque describes the inspirational themes di Suvero drew on for the piece:

The inspiration for Serendipity comes out of di Suvero’s roots in California and his deep interest in the role of water has played in the state. The powerful spiral of this sculpture and its multiple jets of water allude to Sacramento’s complex relationship to the water sources contributing to the agricultural bounty of the Central Valley. The sculpture echoes the tree-like form at the building’s entrance, reminding us of the role CalPERS plays as provider to and protector of its members. The vivid mosaic image in the pool beneath is based on the drawing made by di Suvero that reiterates the dynamic form and gesture of the sculpture above.

Last March di Suvero was honored at the White House by President Obama with the National Medal of Arts (1). An online article quotes Obama praising di Suvero: “Exhibited throughout the world, Mr. di Suvero’s exemplary sculptures depict a strong political and social vision, demonstrating the power of the arts to improve our world” (2).

While exploring di Suvero’s works, I learned about Storm King, a 500 acre sculpture park 1 hour north of NYC with works by di Suvero, Andy Goldsworthy, George Rickey, David von Schlegell, and over 100 other artists. This fabulous looking park is now on my list of places to visit during my lifetime.

Motu Viget is another of di Suvero’s fun sculptures. Located in Grand Rapids City, the sculpture is a large steel form with a massive rubber tire suspended in the air and is known popularly as the “Di Suvero Swing” (3). A flickr site has a good photo of the entire sculpture.

Motu Viget is a Latin phrase meaning “strength through activity” and this seems particularly relevant given di Suveros’ history with an accident in 1960 that nearly killed him:

he suffered a near fatal accident that left him confined to a wheel chair for nearly two years. Despite a pessimistic prognosis, di Suvero, through sheer determination, regained his ability to walk. During his recovery, his work took on an even greater monumentality. (4)

This Grand Rapids Press article describes the history of Motu Viget, which was created in 1977, and includes a close-up photo of a couple playing on the swing.

Title: Serendipity
Artist: Mark di Suvero (
Date: 2005
Media: Stainless Steel, Titanium
Location: 400 Q

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von Schlegell Fountain ~ 300 Capitol Mall

What a happy surprise to pass Capitol Mall recently and find water cascading down the fountain at 3rd and Capitol. This 45′ tall stainless steel fountain was created by David von Schlegell whose sculptures were very influenced by his time as an aircraft engineer for the US Air Force (1). Nautical and aeronautical themes emerged frequently in his work (2).

Unfortunately, most times I pass this way the fountain sits dry. It seems they turn it on when the school buses come full of children touring the Captiol area and the Crocker Art Museum. But you can experience the rush of the water over steel and the waves shimmering throughout the pool below in this video:

While it is sad to see the fountain dry most of the time, it is appropriate they turn it on when the children visit since a plaque nearby states that the fountain is dedicated to the Children of Sacramento:

The inspirational quote by Abraham Joshua Heschel (a leading Jewish theologian and philosopher of the 20th Century) reads:

…remember that the meaning of life is to build a life as if it were a work of art. Start working on this great work of art called your own existence. Remember the importance of self-discipline, study the great sources of wisdom and remember that life is a celebration…

One of von Schlegell’s most well-known pieces is a fountain in Pennsylvania, Voyage of Ulysses. The Philadelphia Public Art site has one of the best photos I could find of the fountain. The Fairmount Park Art Association site describes the relationship between the fountain and it’s title:

In basic shape Voyage of Ulysses resembles a sail, but its appearance varies from different perspectives. Hydraulic engineers helped von Schlegell produce dramatic effects with the water that tumbles against and through the sculpture. In the sculpture’s “duality of stillness and motion”—the fixed metal form combined with the flowing water—von Schlegell hoped that viewers would gain a sense of humankind’s “driving toward the unknown,” as Ulysses did in his storm-tossed ship.(3)

The fountain sits at the entrance of an 18-story office building sometime referred to as ‘Emerald Towers’ and sometimes as the ‘West America Bank Building’. In 2010, this building received LEED Gold certification which is the second-highest rating for existing buildings from the U.S. Green Building Council. (4). Local photographer, Phil Kampel, has a great photo of the fountain and building together.

One of the most interesting angles to view the fountain is from directly behind it. Note that it is designed so that the water that flows down on the other side of the main tower cannot be seen from this angle:

Unfortunately, my thumb made it into the photo without my realizing it. I’ve returned to re-take this photo but have yet to find the water running again.

Sac Metro Arts online gallery of Art in Public Places has a wonderful night view photo of the fountain.

A photo of the fountain reflected in the aqua-silver glass of the building:

Title: (untitled)
Artist: David Von Schlegell
Date: 1985
Media: Stainless Steel
Location: 300 Capitol Mall

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(1) Google Books preview page

Proteus Fountain ~ 9th & H

Summer in Sacramento, the perfect time to seek out public art in the form of fountains.

A large fountain spraying cool water into the air surrounded by dozens of trees creates a nice respite in the courtyard at the entrance of the Gordon D. Schaber Sacramento County Courthouse. The fountain is a 32′ diameter sculpture wrought from bronze and cooper by Aristides Demetrios in 1965 and titled, Proteus (1).

In Greek mythology, Proteus is the “Old Man of the Sea” and shepherd of the seals who could assume the form of his choice (2). Thus the adjective protean has positive connotations of flexibility, versatility and adaptability (3). I don’t know whether the piece was placed in front of the courthouse with that symbolism in mind, but I very much like that to enter the threshold of this courthouse, one must pass a symbol of flexibility, versatility and adaptability.

For a good photo of the entire fountain from above, click here, and for a 60’s era photo from another angle click here.

Demetrios has another public art piece in the Sacramento area, Cosmos, a red sculpture towering 80′ tall at Olympus Pointe in Roseville (4). Cosmos was installed in the late ’80s on a hill next to the freeway exit near Sierra Junior College. The sculpture must have been very new when I started at Sierra in the fall of 1988, and it remains a landmark to me of that time in my life because we passed it every day driving to campus.

One of the world’s largest aeolian harps (wind harps) was designed by Demetrios and sits atop a hill in an industrial park in San Francisco (5). The harp is 92′ tall and the hill provides a stunning view of the area.

Every year in March, my uncle (an amputee from Vietnam) participates in the Bataan Memorial Death March in New Mexico as a fundraiser for his organization, Disabled Sports USA. This is relevant to this post because Demetrios created a memorial to the Bataan War called, The Eternal Flame of Freedom, that sits on Corregidor Island in the Philippines at the entrance to Manilla Bay. The original Bataan Death March was:

the forcible transfer, by the Imperial Japanese Army, of 75,000 American and Filipino prisoners of war after the three-month Battle of Bataan in the Philippines during World War II, which resulted in the deaths of thousands of prisoners. The 60 mi (97 km) march was characterized by wide-ranging physical abuse and murder, and resulted in very high fatalities inflicted upon prisoners and civilians alike by the Japanese Army, and was later judged by an Allied military commission to be a Japanese war crime. (6)

The sculpture by Demetrios “commemorates the sacrifices, hopes and aspirations, and the heroic struggle by the United States and the Philippines to preserve freedom for future generations. The sculpture stands as a reminder that all men will fight as one if need to be to defend a nation’s liberty. (7)

Appropriate for an Independence Day post.

This detail shot shows how mini-fountains are created within the fountain by the varieties of shapes within the design.

A close-up of the fossil-like design on the metal plates.

As I took photos of the fountain, I wondered if the design includes movement of the water jets or variance in the water pressure. I imagined that one might see a very different looking fountain depending on how the water flowed over the wild metal shapes of the sculpture.

Today and tomorrow the forecast is for 100°+ heat; a good time to enjoy our local fountains.

Title: Proteus
Artist: Aristides Demetrios (
Date: 1965
Media: Bronze and Copper
Location: 9th between G & H

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Butterfield Horse ~ 5th and J

The spirit of an old Air Stream trailer lives in this sculpture by Deborah Butterfield. Butterfield has focused her 40-year career mastering her one subject, horses, and she primarily creates her pieces with found objects like wood and scrap metal. Her sculpture at 5th & J was installed in 1983 and is crafted out of aluminum originally from an Air Stream trailer (1).

Butterfield has used a progression materials over the years. In the early years it was natural materials like mud, clay and sticks over metal armatures. Then metal and industrial materials. Recently, she has created her works in wood and organic materials and then has them cast in bronze from those materials. This helps the sculptures withstand time while still maintaining the organic look of the original materials. (2) The casting process is very involved; taking twenty people two to three months to cast a large horse. (3)

Butterfield’s sculptures began as metaphorical self-portraits that she describes on MMoCA Collects as “one step removed from the specificity of Deborah Butterfield.” (4). Over time, her sculptures became less self-portrait and more of an exploration of the horse (5).

Unlike many horse sculptures, Butterfield’s pieces never include a rider or any other human form (6). Neither are her horses executing dramatic movements such as rearing or galloping. Her exploration is of a different nature:

My work is not so overtly about movement. My horses’ gestures are really quite quiet, because real horses move so much better than I could pretend to make things move. For the pieces I make, the gesture is really more within the body, it’s like an internalized gesture, which is more about the content, the state of mind or of being at a given instant. And so it’s more like a painting … the gesture and the movement is all pretty much contained within the body. – Deborah Butterfield (7)


Judy Wagonfeld describes Butterfield’s pieces as “paradoxes of power and vulnerability” which captures them perfectly. This paradox also expresses the nature of horses themselves. Part of Butterfield’s intention for her art is to draw us into an empathic experience where we project ourselves into the form of the horse.

With a Google Image search on her name you can explore an array of her pieces and find which are the easiest for you to project yourself into. As a horse lover all of my life, I’m drawn to many of her pieces, but Vermillion is one that captured my attention the most. It would be an interesting self-exploration to use these horse sculptures to explore different aspects of one’s self.

This particular sculpture came to Sacramento through the efforts of Phil Hitchcock. Hitchcock is an art professor and director of the University Library Gallery at Sac State. He is active in the local Sacramento arts world; serving as a judge for juried shows and as an Advisor for the non-profit Sacramento Art History Consortium.

Hitchcock has also served as an art consultant for local developers (8). An art ltd article describes him “a conduit between builders and artists” in Sacramento. There are ordinances in Sacramento for developers to install public art, but Hitchcock says “90 percent of all the work I have done is for developers who are not required to put one stick of art in their buildings. . . .There are so many of them… and they do it with a real passion.” (9)

Sacramento is home to several horse sculptures (10). Sean Guerrero’s chrome sculpture, Spirit, appeared in SacPedArt last year.

Described by Charles Johnson as “stupendous kitsch”, it is a dramatically different expression of the horse from Butterfield’s (11).

Title: Untitled
Artist: Deborah Butterfield
Date: 1983
Media: Aluminum (scrap metal from an Air Stream trailer)
Location: 5th & J

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Whiskey Wild: Steel Doors and Windows ~ 1910 Q St

Update 7/2012: The steel doors and windows have been removed as part of construction happening on the building in what looks to be preparation for opening another bar here.

The lone bar near the railroad tracks at 19th & Q, Whiskey Wild, has been vacant and boarded up for years now. Driving by one day, I recognized the metalwork on the doors and windows as the work of Keith Peschel, who created the steel door series called, Under the Microscope, at a parking structure downtown.

This building was home to Peschel’s art before Whiskey Wild took it over, and his website includes good photos of the metalwork in its early (pre-graffiti) days; (see photos 23-25).

Title: (unknown)
Artist: Keith Peschel
Date: (unknown)
Media: Steel
Location: 1910 Q St

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Amaneceres de Sacramento ~ 16th & L

Nine beautiful sunrises (amaneceres) radiate energy along the facade what could have been an ordinary parking garage building. From the corner of 16th & J, the 16′ high cut steel grille arches, called rajas, extend down each block (1). The artpiece is called, Amaneceres de Sacramento, and it was created by Victor Mario Zaballa, an artist from San Francisco.

The rajas were inspired by wrought-iron tracery placed over doorways in 16th-19th century colonial hacienda and mission architecture of Mexico (#).

This piece was created as one of about two dozen art pieces by different artists in the Capital Area East End Art Program. Last September, I posted on a metal grillwork piece by Gale McCall that is also part of the East End project.

The state government website for this project describes the rajas as representing the rising sun:

The inspiration for the rising sun icon comes from the Aztec “Stone of the Sun” or Aztec calendars as well as the shining, sun-feathered headdresses of Quetzalcoatl or the Morning Star. (2)

The various shapes within the arches form layers of concentric arcs and these contribute to the radiating energy emanating from the central “sun” image.

Zaballa and his long-time partner, Ann Chamberlain (who passed away in 2008), collaborated in 1999 on a project for the Mexican Cultural Heritage Gardens in San Jose (3).

Images of their art for the San Jose gardens can be found on the Google Books page for a book titled, Designing the World’s West Public Art. The book describes the theme of their collaborative artpiece as, Cemanahuac, or “the location of the individual within their community and the cosmos.” Over 500 community members drew on their personal histories and participated in creating this piece during a series of public workshops (4).

In an interview with Shuka Kalantari, Zaballa describes how he survived liver failure some years ago (5). He was on dialysis for seven years while he waited for a transplant and during that time the viens in his arms swelled from the dialysis to the point where he could not create his art. He eventually had a successful transplant and has returned to his art. The interview discusses the cultural implications of organ donation and transplant in the Latino community, and it also includes a slideshow video of Zaballa and some of his art.

In 1990, Zaballa completed an artist research program at the Exploratorium in San Francisco. He created a performance piece called, Ayolotl, which drew, in part, from his own dreams:

Victor Mario Zaballa created a performance based on tradition, anthropological research, and his own dreams. “Ayolotl” explored the relationship of pre-Columbian people with the nature that surrounded them. The performance included the use of a Mayan water drum which he finished during his residency, and the traditional paper art of Mexico. (6)

Next time you drive, walk, or ride along the East End Garage at 16th & L, take a moment to notice and enjoy the warming energy of nine rising suns.

Another set of photos are available at the main page for this artpiece.

Title: Amaneceres de Sacramento
Artist: Victor Mario Zaballa
Date: ~ 2003 or 2004
Media: Metal
Location: North and west facades of the East End Parking Garage at 16th & L

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