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Wyland Project Seen as a Natural

Dana Point proposal would put a life-size whale sculpture in town. But some don't think the $1.4-million price is worth it.

January 05, 2006|Dave McKibben | Times Staff Writer

Looking to invigorate their downtown, Dana Point officials are thinking big -- really big. The City Council is considering adding a 48-foot-long sculpture of a gray whale and her calf to the town center.

The life-size sculpture by artist Wyland would cost $1.45 million. Wyland, a former Dana Point resident who goes by his last name, has made his reputation painting massive marine-life murals in cities around the world. The piece -- at the north end of the town center, where Pacific Coast Highway, Del Prado and Street of the Blue Lantern meet -- would launch Wyland's 25-year project, a series of bronze, concrete and fiberglass sea-life sculptures he hopes to place in 100 cities.

"It would be nice to do the first one in my backyard," said Robert Wyland, who lives in Laguna Beach and Hawaii. "I can't think of a better city to do this in. Dana Point has been involved in whale watching ... for a long time."

Some city officials and residents agree that a Wyland sculpture would give the town the identity it has been seeking. Last summer, Dana Point began reshaping its image by holding a contest to give the town a motto. The City Council chose "Harboring the Good Life" over 140 other entries.

Councilman Wayne Rayfield said he thought donations could finance about 90% of the sculpture and that the rest would come from the city's Art in Public Places program, which has about $100,000.

The project is not a sure thing. City staff is studying its feasibility, and the council, which approved the concept Dec. 15, still must give final approval, which would include a funding plan.

Wyland said he hoped that if the council OKd the project by spring, he would have the sculpture finished by March 2007 for the city's annual Festival of Whales.

Some residents aren't sure a Wyland sculpture is what the town needs. James V. Lacey, the lone council member to vote against it, said he didn't think the statue made financial sense.

"I love the look of a lot of what Wyland does," Lacey said. "But I just can't justify spending taxpayer dollars on a cement whale statue that has commercial value to the artist. I'm concerned our city government is a little star-struck with having a big name like Wyland do a statue for us." Lacey said he was also concerned about the durability of the concrete statue.

"The materials are substandard for the price," Lacey said. "If it was cast in bronze, it would be a more permanent structure. What if an earthquake strikes it or a car hits it?"

Wyland said bronze would be a lot more expensive and probably not worth the money.

"We want to create something that will stand the test of time," he said. "If we had concerns about the cement statue's sturdiness, we wouldn't do it. With any art like this, there's always some risk. I guess there may be a giant meteor that could come down and hit it."

City Manager Douglas Chotkevys said much of the project's cost would come from a reflecting pool the whales would sit in.

City officials see the sculpture as part of a plan to create a pedestrian-friendly downtown with a mix of residential and retail. Bob Mardian, who sits on the city's town center subcommittee, said he would favor the Wyland proposal if donations covered 80% to 90% of the cost.

"Wyland at the entrance to your town center adds the stamp of approval and credibility to retailers and potential developers," said Mardian, who owns two Dana Point restaurants.

Dana Point's Art in Public Places program is more than a decade old, but so far it has produced only a handful of pieces. Other communities, such as Brea and Laguna Beach, have done more with their art programs. Brea has created 144 sculptures through a program that requires developers to install artwork with each new project. In Laguna Beach, more than 30 pieces of public art are installed throughout town.

Sometimes public art displays can elicit strong reactions. In Carlsbad, a waterfront fenced-garden sculpture that resembled prison bars, "Split Pavilion," created such a furor that voters removed it in the late 1990s and replaced it with a bench and grass.

In Dana Point, residents strolling along the harbor on a recent morning had mixed feelings about the idea of a 48-foot breaching whale and her calf in their downtown.

"It would be nice to have something like that out there in the middle of town," said Frank Chiodo, 66. "But can't we get a discount or something?"

Richard Lee said the city had more pressing concerns than beautifying the downtown.

"We need more parking in Dana Point," said Lee, 59. "He does nice work, but we don't need a whale in the middle of the highway."

Chris Lutz wasn't so sure.

"I think it'd be very pretty," said Lutz, 61. "There is really not a defined entrance to town, but this would give us one."

There are also some people who simply don't like Wyland's art, dismissing him as cartoonish and commercial, his recognizable whales slapped onto commemorative plates, beach towels and throw pillows.

Bolton Colburn, director of the Laguna Art Museum, recently told The Times: "Critics don't deal with his work, because they don't consider it serious."

Wyland said he understood there were critics of his work, but that hasn't deterred him.

"I want it to be a beacon that will inspire a whole generation of people in the 21st century," he said. "I hope when they see it, they will think conservation, clean water and healthy oceans."

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