In Bloom

ae_Richard StarkSculpture springs from the gardens of Sierra Azul
Hunched guard dogs made of river rocks take fluid shape at each side of a grassy entrance; behind them, a giant fish stands on its nose, glinting multicolored in the light. Beyond is the garden—as magical a landscape as man and nature can devise. The gardens of Watsonville’s Sierra Azul Nursery have sprouted their spring crop of sculpture, becoming a dazzling demonstration of the friendly annual creative competition between nature and man.

Over six years of maturation, Sculpture Is has become one of the most anticipated annual exhibitions in the Monterey Bay region, this year featuring 56 Northern Californian artists and 135 sculptures in widely diverse styles and media, placed within the now-mature plantings of the two-acre Mediterranean gardens in Watsonville’s agricultural outskirts.

Sculpture Is is run by the ever-adventurous Pajaro Valley Arts Council, and was conceived by Sierra Azul owner and PVAC president Jeff Rosendale. The nursery purchases at least one piece each year for permanent exhibition in the garden, which is how exquisite works like Paul Cheney’s woven metal shield from the first exhibition seem have become an integral part of the ecology.

Kirk McNeill’s towering tour de force of rusted steel balances the bulk of a giant heavy orb with impossibly fluid filigrees of undulating kelp and fish—a window into the floating world of “Mooring Buoy #30.” This fantasy sprouts among the sage near the garden entrance where a pair of Michael Eckerman’s boulder-made “Guard Dogs” keeps nobody away. Meanwhile the stainless steel mobiles of Moto Ohtake gyre and spin against the sky like busy, shining insects.

Liver-colored Smoke Trees vie for attention with their delicate “Inflorescence” spreading around dense leafy clusters like the blur of wet watercolor while giant aloes explode with skyscraper-high flower spikes. They’re taller than Aaron Van de Kerckhove’s two-story steel “Lookout Tower,” whose open door invites playful visitors to pause in the cool knotty-pine interior, or climb to the railing-lined heights for an eye-to-eye with the nests in the adjacent cluster of eucalyptus.

Underfoot, soft pathways suddenly erupt in lizards wiggling over shoes and under Carole DePalma’s joyful ceramic totems, while birds in paradise compete for air time, warbling symphonically among the rose bowers, or perched on LMNO Arts’ steel window frame fantasies. Ceramic tree clusters by Susana Arias decline to shade the new growth of giant celadon asparagus shoots by Sylvia Rios while, above our heads, the stainless steel “Pacific Swimmer” by Mandy Spitzer demonstrates perfect form.

Sculpture Is continues through Oct. 31 at Sierra Azul Nursery & Garden, 2660 East Lake Ave., Watsonville. Sierraazul.com.

Maureen Davidson writes about the arts as “The Exhibitionist.” This column and her radio spot and blog at KUSP.org/exhibitionist are funded in part by a grant from the Cultural Council of Santa Cruz County.

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