Legacy Park sculptures take long journey to Malibu

One of eight mosaic sculptures at Legacy Park.

As construction charged ahead in the weeks before Malibu’s Legacy Park grand opening in October 2010, eight larger-than-life mosaic animal sculptures quietly appeared next to the pathways. Their fine craftsmanship has made them highlights of the park, but in the scramble to get the park finished and open to the public by the deadline, the story of the giant mosaic animals and how they came to be there was never told.

The process began 18 months before the park opened, hundreds of miles north in the Bay area.

Legacy Park was originally conceived as a park consisting of different demonstration habitats, according to Leslie Stone, whose Sausalito design firm specializes in educational exhibits for parks and museums. Since the park was designed for passive uses, Stone was brought on by RHAA Landscape Architects in neighboring Mill Valley to “bring the park to life” with an iconic creature for each of the habitats.

The task of choosing the eight animals fell to Richard Ambrose, a UCLA scientist and consultant to RHAA. His selections included a coyote, burrowing owl, red-tailed hawk, red-legged frog, California mountain king snake, Western fence lizard (also known as the blue belly), California newt and coast horned lizard.

The selections made, artist Tom Whitworth of Sonoma created the animal drawings to bring the statues to life, Stone said.

“We wanted the animal statues to be friendly, but not used as jungle gyms. We just wanted them to say hello from the edge of the trail,” she said. “We decided on mosaic tile for the animals because we wanted to reflect the history of the Malibu tiles.”

Tile artist Robin Indar of Chico was brought in to create the animal sculptures using the drawings and specific dimensions, materials and color schemes. She created thousands of custom handmade mosaic tiles for the animals with fanciful colors and designs, maintaining a balance between a natural and a playful look.

“I knew I wanted to make it an interesting project with different textures, designs and hand-stamped triangles…,” Indar explained. “I tried to make the ratio of handmade tiles to commercially bought tiles about 50/50 for the Malibu animals.”

Indar worked with the sculpture division of Universal Precast in Redding to create the cast-concrete animals. They made 3-D computer models of the animals based on the sketches, allowing them to be viewed electronically from all angles. The designer was then able to modify some of the animal dimensions, like the length of a throat or a leg.

Once the concrete molds for each statue were created and cast, Indar began making regular treks to Redding. “I’d drive up to the plant with my bags of approved tiles,” she said. “I’m working in a cement factory with giant machines and sandblasting, wearing a dust mask. I experienced every kind of weather from cold and rainy to triple-digit heat.”

It took Indar four months to put all of the mosaic tiles on all the animal sculptures, putting them on one at a time with adhesive, and then pressing it into place. She put up photos of the actual animals for reference, and sometimes drew lines on the cast concrete statue with a Sharpie pen to guide her on where an animal’s stripe or color would be before placing the tiles.

When it came time to transport the finished sculptures to Legacy Park, “It was pretty exciting,” Stone said.

“The giant snake had a footing attached, so the crane could barely get into the warehouse and lift it onto the flatbed without hitting the ceiling,” Indar laughed.

Added Stone: “The sculptures were shipped to Malibu on huge [flatbed] trailers, I can’t imagine what people thought when they saw those going down the highway.”

After arriving in Malibu, construction crews poured big cubes of concrete into holes in the ground to secure each sculpture, then attached fake rocks and rebar.

“I think [the sculptures were] very successful,” Stone said, reflecting. “People seem to really respect and appreciate [the sculptures]. It’s a fun addition to a park that doesn’t have many amenities.”

“I saw them for the first time at the grand opening,” Indar added. “And it was nice to see they were right on the trail and people could enjoy them up close.”

When asked if she had a favorite, Indar was charitable.

“I love them all,” she said.