For kids, there is Disneyland. For sculptors and the Bohemian at heart, there is Art City.
Wedged between an auto salvage yard and an oil depot in Ventura's scruffiest neighborhood, Art City is one of the West Coast's largest sculpture supply businesses, a sprawling stone junkyard of the surreal that carries everything from alabaster and bowling balls to soapstone and steel coils.
But that's only one dimension of this quirky place. Scratch beneath the surface and like rough rock that conceals rare marble, Art City reveals a thriving artists' cooperative where up to six sculptors share studio space, inspire each other and create their three-dimensional visions.
And at the heart of it all stands Paul Lindhard.
Lindhard, a 41-year-old Ventura sculptor, is the "mayor" of Art City. His vision created it 3 years ago in an industrial compound off Ventura Avenue; his energy and labor keep it functioning today as both a studio and supply business.
For Lindhard, Art City is the full-blown realization of ideas he had toyed with in five earlier studios and 10 years of teaching sculpture at Santa Barbara City College.
"It's something I've thought about for years," Lindhard said. "The studio's a way of having a freewheeling creative environment for people, a sharing of energy. I get to watch people flower from their raw potential."
Many of the sculptors who are beginning to blossom in the art world credit Lindhard for their interest in the cool, dry medium of stone.
"He was an inspiration,"said Steve Knauff, a former Lindhard student and Art City denizen who recently won a commission to design a monumental sculpture across from San Francisco's City Hall. "He led me to think in entirely different concepts about what is possible . . . that nothing is too unexpected or too crazy to attempt."
Like many Lindhard proteges, Knauff makes occasional pilgrimages back to Art City to recharge his creative batteries in the clean Ventura air.
For Lindhard, greater commercial success is also close at hand.
Earlier this year, the city of Oxnard awarded him a $24,000 commission for its "Art in Public Places" program. The work--an abstract "emerging form" to be carved from a 12,000-pound chunk of red-and-black California marble that Lindhard wants to transport by helicopter from the Mojave Desert--will grace McGrath Industrial Park in northeast Oxnard.
Lindhard is also planning an informal gallery at Art City to showcase the works of co-op sculptors.
And thanks to numerous scavenging trips to gather stone from desert quarries, wood from orchards gone to seed and industrial artifacts from Ventura's dumpsters, Lindhard said, his inventory will now lure the most demanding of sculptors to Art City. Art City sells about $1,000 worth of materials each month--a figure he soon hopes to double.
The extra income from commissions and sales will allow Lindhard to devote more time to art. And Lindhard's most monumental work is the ever-evolving Art City.
"Paul builds environments," said Somers Randolph, a Montecito sculptor who has known Lindhard for 20 years. "Sculptors come here and they understand. You walk in and immediately you feel at home."
But Art City is not a typical domestic scene. A jumble of thrown-together "studios" cluster in the center of Art City's 1-acre lot. They are cobbled together with wood beams and topped with corrugated fiberglass roofs. Most work spaces are open to the air, although some have moveable wall partitions. Along the perimeter are wooden pallets, hunks of metal, concrete cylinders and an inexhaustible variety of industrial bric-a-brac, some of it stacked 10 feet high.
"I like creating out of chaos," said Lindhard, an unassuming, blond man with intense blue eyes.
He is laconic, sheepish when talking about himself. But mention stone, and he grows expansive. He wants to stock Italian marble, for instance, and explains how he'd go about collecting it.
"Seeing it down in the stone yard wouldn't do it for me," he said. "I want to climb the mountain, hike around, go through the rubble. I'd happily spend several weeks sifting through thousands of years of quarrying."
He has a profound love for the mountains and has been known to say small prayers of thanks for finding good stone, which he collects with almost spiritual fervor.
"I feel passionately about it," Lindhard said. "That's the only reason this business exists, because I got so enamored that I started collecting a lot more than I could possibly use. It was like having hundreds of tons of children."
He picks up a petrified stone, which he calls a Bonsai rock. "I couldn't improve upon it," he said, handling the stone as if it were the Hope diamond. "This stone is a follicle from the mountain. It could be a billion years old."