A mother sea lion and her baby and two giant turtles were sighted this week at Ventura Harbor Village, part of a series of ceramic marine sculptures by a former Santa Cruz Island shepherdess.
"Basically I've been given free rein to put ceramic tile anywhere in the village," said Michel Petersen, who is pursuing her master's degree in fine arts at Cal State Northridge. CSUN and Ventura Harbor Village are footing much of the cost for Petersen's pieces.
Her next work for permanent display at the retail complex is a tile mural of dolphins, 20 feet long and 8 feet high, which she hopes to install by Dec. 12.
"This dolphin project should take a year, but I'm doing it in eight weeks because I'm a maniac," she said.
Indeed, the woman, who lived for six years on remote Santa Cruz Island herding sheep, could be considered a little eccentric. It was her time there that inspired the creatures seen in her art, she said.
"Living out there in seclusion and isolation reformatted my psyche, so I have this energy that is drawn to natural phenomena," Petersen said. "I'm trying to give back for the beauty I experienced on the island."
"Once Upon an Island," a book Petersen wrote about her time on Santa Cruz, will be published by the Santa Cruz Island Foundation before Christmas.
Petersen won the 1998 American Ceramic Society's Beatrice Wood Memorial Award, named for the Ojai ceramist who died in March at age 105.
Working out of a studio at the harbor, Petersen crafts her ceramic sculptures like a jigsaw puzzle of colorfully glazed marine-blue and green tiles held together by grout.
The challenge, she said, is getting the dozens of pieces to stick to a wall.
"The seal took 18 hours to apply the tile because we're working against gravity," she said.