I admit it; I'm a fan of Califia. Since 2005, when the 14-foot fountain statue was placed at the corner of Main and Market streets in downtown Turlock, it has evoked many a passionate opinion — mostly negative. But I , for one, am a supporter of the mythical Amazon queen that is supposed to symbolize this area’s connection to the soil and its agricultural vitality.
On my daily drive to work, the colorful bronze and ceramic statue welcomes me to the downtown area, and she has truly become a symbol of Turlock to me. I know that some think an Amazon queen doesn't belong in this Central Valley town; and others take issue with the water that falls from her fingertips, which can at times have a bad odor.
Just like Califia was met with controversy, so has another female ruler, Queen Shamiram.
It's baffling to me that the Queen Shamiram statue has yet to find a home after six years. I don't see the problem. The statue is being generously donated by Turlock resident Narsai David. The 9-foot bronze representation of the first woman to rule an empire is fully clothed, so there's no nudity issues.
Art is an outward expression of inward thoughts and emotions that, when shared, is a medium for discourse and reflection. Public art is an expression of regional identity, a way to memorialize a mark in history or an attempt to prompt community discourse of a particular issue.
If a piece of art is so non-offensive that it prompts no emotional response at all, is it really art? Most artists would say no. The fact that Turlockers are talking about Califia, what she represents and their thoughts and feelings about that, means the public art piece is a success.
"No work of art pleases everyone, ever," said Lisa McDermott, former Turlock City Arts Commission liaison and current assistant director of the Carnegie Arts Center and member of the Modesto Public Arts Council.
McDermott has years of experience working with cities, communities and artists with regards to public art.
"For every piece of art there are invariably supporters and contractors. Hopefully, the contractors don't like the way it looks but understand why it's there and what it means. The goal of any good public art program for any community is diverse representation," she said."Different styles, medium, different artists; if they don't like this piece, walk three blocks down and see something they do like. It's not about pleasing everybody all the time.
"Hopefully, with diversity is education. Getting people to engage with art is sometimes hard. With public art they can encounter art without intention. They walk up and encounter public art without no set level of expectation. ..it opens doors for them to encounter other art."
Turlock is already on its way to a diverse public art representation. At City Hall, there is a stained glass window that depicts a Valley scene. The Turlock Police Services building hosts two different public art pieces: Five Core Values and Kids Walk bronze medallions set in the walkway along the facility and Figure in Motion, a steel structure. The Armillary Sphere positioned on the corner of Monte Vista Avenue and Countryside Drive is also public art. And the City of Turlock celebrated its centennial in 2008 with the placement of a life-sized bronze statue of town founder, John Mitchell, in Central Park.
It's already been six years since David first tried to gift the Queen Shamiram statue to the residents of Turlock. Let's get this done, before Queen Shamiram gives up and finds a new hometown. I'd hate to see Turlock lose this piece of public art, like it did a certain temporary art project that involved lots of four-foot tall eggs.