Fullerton has had a long history of public artwork, from historic WPA (Works Progress Administration) pieces on view in the City’s downtown, to more modern forms of art by local and regional artists. So, if you’re looking for an excuse to get out of the house while still practicing social distancing, you could always take a drive in your car around the city of Fullerton to appreciate the creative displays of art around the community.
According to the Association for Public Art website, “Public art is a reflection of how we see the world – the artist’s response to our time and place combined with our own sense of who we are. Placed in public sites, this art is there for everyone, a form of collective community expression.” Highlights of the city of Fullerton’s public art collection include Charles Kassler’s “Pastoral California” on the exterior wall of the Plummer Auditorium, one of the State’s largest frescos, and Fullerton’s oldest extant mural and Aldo Casanova’s 1978 large outdoor sculpture, “Flight,” located between the public library and city hall.
Back in 1976, “Flight,” a 40-foot sculpture by Aldo Casanova, was commissioned by the city of Fullerton as a work of public art to celebrate the Nation’s Bicentennial. The Art in Public Places Committee screened proposals from approximately 25 sculptors and unanimously selected the piece by the well-known native California artist. The 5,000-pound steel sculpture with zinc coating was placed on the lawn between city hall and the library on November 15, 1978. According to the artist, “Flight” was created to “symbolize the continuous movement from Earth to Space. To suggest, in abstract terms, man’s indomitable delving into the unknown.” The plaque says that the sculpture was “dedicated November 19, 1978 by the Bicentennial Commission for Arts in Public Places.”
“Flight” was cleaned, lit, and repaired in 2002. Even though not everything in the City is opened yet, you can still clearly see the sculpture as you drive down Commonwealth, or you can catch a glimpse of it if you drive through the city hall parking lot. There is a rather wide pathway between the parking lot and Commonwealth if you want to take a chance and step out of your car.
The City happens to have a Public Art Committee, which is made up of 15 members representing the Fullerton Museum Center Board of Trustees, the Redevelopment Design Review Committee, Redevelopment Project Area 2 Committee, the Downtown Business Association, and the Parks and Recreation Commission. According to the City’s website, “Since its inception in 1996, the Committee has produced 10 original large-scale public art works that are now part of the City’s Public Art Collection.”
Driving north on Harbor Boulevard, you may have noticed the words, “Welcome to downtown Fullerton” on a bridge that extends over the street. Modeled after the Pacific Electric bridge at Harbor and Berkeley from 1917 to 1964, the Welcome to Fullerton bridge over Harbor is considered public art by the city of Fullerton.
While driving around the downtown Fullerton area, you may also come across some utility box murals, which the Observer has previously covered. The artists behind these utility box murals are Emily Heller, who painted “California State Flower” on the corner by the bank at the intersection of Chapman and Harbor, Annabelle Dimang, who painted “Hands of Fullerton” which is located directly across from City Hall, Amy Lopez, who painted “Space Golf,” and Andrea Evington, who created “Three 3D Designs.” These colorful utility box murals definitely stand out while driving by.
On the southside of Chapman, just past Lemon, you may be quite familiar with the sculpture of a giant hand on the lawn of Fullerton College. “The Hand” was created by Artist-in-Residence Todd Frahm in 2007. According to the Fullerton College Library website, “the 18,000-pound limestone sculpture was intended as an interactive piece at the time, and students were encouraged to sit, sleep or just relax on it. On April 16, 2007, the sculpture was vandalized when an unknown perpetrator poured an oil-based redwood stain all over the piece, necessitating restoration.” The sculpture was vandalized again in 2008 when a tar-like substance was poured over the top.
Looking on the city of Fullerton “Public Art” page, I was able to find another mural that I hadn’t seen before. Driving over to Olive Park at 901 Gilbert Street, I was able to look out my car window at the Olive Park Mural, which was created in 2010 and made by Katherine England, who was assisted by Valencia Park Elementary School students along with community and business volunteers. The bright, colorful mural depicts different activities people can do when they put their minds to it. At the far end, it starts out with the word, “read” with a painted person reading a book. “Celebrate, trust, sing, and play” come next, each showing someone engaged in that activity. The mural ends with “live and love,” before jumping to an unpainted brick wall background with only the words, “in Fullerton” on it. So, altogether reading from left to right, the mural says, “read, celebrate, trust, sing, play, shop, worship, dance, nurture, live, and love in Fullerton.”
Driving along a road on the south side of the train tracks off Highland, I spotted some murals on the walls of the Malden Station Apartments. What looked like historic photographs I might find in a book turned out to be murals. There was one of an old-fashioned locomotive passing by an orange grove. There was another mural that showcased a California orange crate with the words, “I am sending you a box of oranges from California” just above it. According to the website for Malden Station apartments, “Large murals face the railway, paying homage to the City’s historic past.” Indeed they do, because further down the road, I spotted two more murals: one depicting a parade of historic cars rolling down Harbor Boulevard with a sign for “Fullerton Drug Company” cut off in the foreground and another of the tower at Fullerton Municipal Airport.
In fact, the last two murals on Malden Station apartments reference Fullerton’s agricultural past. I saw a scene that reminded me of Paul Julian’s “Orange Pickers” mural in the old Pomona post office. Parking my car to get a better look, I saw a mural of people in hats and pouches picking oranges. Some were even standing on ladders to reach the oranges at the tops of the trees. The mural illustrated a row with orange trees on either side all leading to a point in the distance. Another mural just above the one of orange pickers realistically portrayed an open courtyard with the Plummer Auditorium in the distance and a hallway leading to the theatre on the far left side of the picture. The artists who put these murals together must have used reference photos to get these details correct.
Murals can also be found at nearly all the schools around Fullerton. At Orangethorpe Elementary School, I was able to look out my car window and see a mural of an orca whale swimming in the sea. Alongside the whale was a vast variety of little sea creatures from small schools of fish to starfish and crabs to octopi. At Richman Elementary, there was a different kind of mural, where it appeared that a whole class of students painted self-portraits, each getting a square of their own. These self-portraits were positioned next to a large square spelling out the word “Love” in solid blocks of colors. These are just a few out of many elementary schools around Fullerton with murals. In contrast to the elementary schools, the junior highs and high schools around town had their mascots painted on their fronts.
All the sculptures and murals I’ve mentioned above can be seen from the safety of your car so that you can avoid coming into contact with anyone else and can reduce your chance of catching the coronavirus.
To see some of the sculptures and murals I found while driving around, check out my short video below