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Roundup: A Place for Public Art
The Sculpture Garden, a green field at Ragle and civic gardening
At the Sebastopol Community Sculpture Garden, Marghe Mills-Thysen looked around to appreciate it all. “Local artists are volunteering to put their work in the Sculpture Garden for the community to enjoy.” She is the Chair of the Public Arts Committee (PAC) of the City of Sebastopol. Marghe (pronounced with a hard “g”) met me at the Sebastopol Community Sculpture Garden, which runs along a pathway between Calder Creek and a parking lot for The Sebastopol Center for the Arts. Along the path are twelve concrete pads; seven of them have been occupied by sculpture over the last year, and the Commission is looking for submissions to fill the remaining five pads. Mills-Thysen lives near enough to the sculpture garden to walk there from home.
The sculptures were installed in July 2022 originally for one year but each artist was asked to extend the period by a year and all agreed. “Us” by Josho Somine was removed by the artist after the piece was vandalized. Now, the Public Arts Committee is looking for proposals from sculptors based in Sonoma County for the five additional spaces. They are specifically looking for “durable and low-maintenance original public art” to display for a two-year term. The deadline is November 6, 2023 and more information is here.
When Mills-Thysen emphasized the word “volunteered”, she meant that the work on display in the sculpture garden is not commissioned by PAC. The artists have the opportunity to display their work in public. “They don’t get paid,” she said. “But we decided to give artists a small stipend.”
The sculpture garden was Mills-Thysen’s idea about six years ago. Like almost everything to do with public art, the process seems to take a long time and takes someone with Mills-Thysen’s patience to see it through. She works closely with Kari Svanstrom of the Sebastopol Planning Department to secure permits from the City and other agencies.
Mills-Thysen wants the public to know that money for the public art fund does not come from City taxes. She has been on the Public Art Commission since 2012, a year after it was established by a City ordinance that can direct 1% of the cost of commercial buildings over $500K in the city toward a public art fund. She became the Chair of PAC a few years ago. The commission’s other members are Jeff Stucker (Vice Chair), Barbara Harris, Lars Langberg who is also a member of the city’s Design Review Board, and Robert Brent. They hold a public meeting on the second Tuesday of each month and while they presented recommendations to the City Council, Council members make the final decision on any public art.
Marghe Mills-Thysen grew up in New York, the daughter of a well-known artist, Agnes Mills, who was a print-maker and sculptor and worked as an art educator in the WPA on the Federal Art Project. Marghe has been a teacher in somatic movement and she moved to California to teach first at Dominican College and then Sonoma State. She is also an anatomical illustrator.
At a February 7th City Council meeting, Mills-Thysen introduced the Public Arts Commission and its work to the three new council-members via Zoom. She explained that PAC has a goal to place commissioned public art at the four entrances to the city. The first commission was for the West entrance at the Sebastopol Public Library. The sculpture is Grey Matter by Michael McGinnis. The second commission was for Ned Kahn’s Sebastopol Spire, which has been approved for the East entrance but has not been installed. (We have an upcoming story on Ned Kahn and that sculpture.) The site for the South entrance – in a triangular area at the start of the Joe Rodota Trail on Petaluma Avenue – was approved by the City Council at the February 7, 2023 meeting and a call for proposals is expected to go out soon. Work on public art for the North entrance awaits future funding. “As we all know, things take time,” said Mills-Thysen at the City Council meeting.
She speaks softly with quiet determination. She is happy walking through the sculpture garden but she was also upset about the vandalism that happened to Josho Somine’s artwork. “It was knocked off the base twice, then broken,” she said. “It’s desecration.” She can’t understand why anyone would do that to art. “I don’t want to talk about that,” she said, moving ahead to walk among the sculptures.
What she wanted to talk about was the importance of public art in our town and recognizing the artists who contribute to our creative culture. She talked about “Give Peace a Hand” by Beth Hartmann and how the hands of many artists are part of that sculpture.
She pointed out “Deflated” by Gordon Carter, a football made of iron with one side indented. It made her laugh.
She looked up at Zephrya, the last sculpture that you encounter in the garden heading west towards town. “It moves with the wind, and when there’s no wind, there’s a handcrank,” she explained. It was created by Jeffrey Zankel and other artists participating in a Sculpture Jam.
She was clearly proud that each piece of art had found its place in the community and that new pieces would be coming soon. “May we all enjoy the creativity and beauty that surrounds us,” she said, as a kind of benediction at the end of her presentation to the City Council.
The Grass is Greener
Field #1 at Ragle Park is now a field of green, thanks to sod from Park Avenue Turf. The project to improve the soccer field was funded in part by WESCO, which we wrote about last year.
Marshall Vincent, who spearheaded the project for WESCO and worked with Sonoma County Parks, said there were plenty of delays and the project was a big one. The field could be ready to use in about six weeks, Vincent told me. “We just missed our season. However, Sonoma County Parks will allow us to use it in November, barring rains.”
Vincent said he’s been working towards this goal for 10 years and it is good to see the field nearly done. “Perhaps next year we can do another field,” he said.
Civic Gardening Group
Laura Hagar-Rush is organizing the Sebastopol Civic Gardeners. The first meeting of the group is at the Forum room of Sebastopol Library on Saturday, Oct. 7, at 10 am. We are group of people interested in volunteering to the improve the appearance of city-owned properties in Sebastopol by replanting with drought tolerant native plants (or other likely candidates) and tending those replantings over time. “My vision is that people will adopt a small patch and tend it regularly--and perhaps we'll have some larger community planting events as well,” said Laura. “I'm eager to pass along what I've learned from the city so far--and to hear your ideas! Looks like the city already has a process set up for exactly the kind of thing we want to do.”
Email Laura (email@example.com) if you'd like to attend -- or just show up.
The Week of September 25-30
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