Our Lady of the Surf catches wave of controversy

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Tuesday 14, June 2011 | Category:  

In his most recent “Pastoral Trends” column on the PrepareTheWord.com website, Catholic sociologist Bryan Froehle says the church needs to reach out “to people’s aspirations and culture” in the same way social media does. Images of the Blessed Virgin Mary have always done such reaching out. From the most sublime icons to decals in the rear windows of pick-up trucks, people have used the material forms of their cultures to express their devotion to and trust in Mary.

In downtown Encinitas, California, Jack Quick owns art supply store near a railroad bridge between Vulcan Ave. and Hwy. 101. A little before Earth Day last April, which was also shortly before Easter, he noticed a group of men in hard hats installing something under the bridge. In broad daylight and in full view of the 18,000 cars that pass daily, they put up a nicely executed 10-by10-foot-square rock and stained-glass mosaic of Our Lady of Guadalupe—on a surfboard. On the nose of the board was the face of Saint Juan Diego, and the words “Save the Ocean” ran along the side. Quick estimates the mysterious workers put at least $1,000 in raw materials and 100 hours of labor into the project. The mosaic seemed to be fastened to 5-by-5-foot plaster boards which were then glued to the concrete wall.

THE SURFING MADONNA of Encinitas, Calif.
Of course the piece has inspired debate. First of all, officials are not sure whether that part of the bridge is owned by the city of Encinitas or the North County Transit District. The Encinitas public works department got calls, some complaining about the presence of religious art on public property, others hoping the piece would be allowed to stay where it is. It has attracted droves of onlookers, some of whom leave flowers and votive candles ,and it also has Twitter and Facebook accounts ("I'm the Surfing Madonna. Cherished public mosaic. Hangin' in Encinitas. Hoping to become famous enough to be saved"). However citizens feel about it, though, the mosaic unauthorized use of public property and, legally speaking, graffiti and therefore by law must be removed.

Give city government some credit though. Encinitas is historically art-friendly, and the city council wants the mosaic to be relocated to a place where the public can continue to view it and has already paid a Los Angeles sculpture conservation agency to test ways to safely remove the piece. Local businesses are raising funds to cover the city's expenses, and several people have offered to buy the artwork. Sources: and he Associated Press

Sources: Articles by Julie Watson for the Associated Press and Jonathan Horn for pyramidbeach.com

Reprinted with permission from PrepareTheWord.com. ©TrueQuest Communications.


  1. Posted by: Joel 8 year Time Ago

    From the L.A. Times follow-up to this story: Encinitas removes mosaic of Surfing Madonna from railroad bridge "I didn't expect the kind of reaction it got. We put it up at 2 o'clock in the afternoon, so it's not like I was sneaking around," said Mark Patterson, a 58-year-old long-time local who came forward earlier this month to claim authorship. "I've driven past that railroad bridge a million times. It always looked to me like a perfect frame." Not for long. This week, Patterson and his attorney reached an agreement with the city. Patterson was fined $500 and will pay for removing the Surfing Madonna from under the railroad tracks and any damage that's been caused. He also will reimburse the city $2,125 for the art consultant it hired weeks ago to evaluate how to remove the mosaic — eight panels glued to backing which was screwed into the concrete bridge — without shattering it. "We recognized the workmanship in the piece," said Deputy City Manager Richard Phillips. But there were issues of protocol and safety; people were absentmindedly walking into traffic looking for the best angle to take a picture. Finally, Patterson agreed to "refrain from placing any works of art on public property without city authorization." People speculated about who was behind it, this guerrilla artist with an environmentalist's agenda. Turns out, Patterson is mild-mannered non-Catholic "free-ranging spiritual thinker" with a love for the ocean who left his corporate job to follow an artistic vision. "It was intended to be a gift to the community," he said. "It was the perfect spot, right by the beach, to get the message across that the ocean is in crisis. We're facing mass extinctions. That's really the point of all this …trying to help people wake up." Patterson plans to eventually find a new home for the mosaic in Encinitas — with all the proper permits.




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