Published April 20, 2010
Volume 18, Number 4

Distinguished Visitors Settle in for 3-Month Stay Downtown 

A collection of distinguished visitors has taken up temporary residence in downtown Pleasanton. Their arrival was rather unconventional: met by the City’s Support Services crew, they were gingerly escorted off a big truck. Delivering them to their destination was even more complicated, as a veteran fork-lift operator artfully hoisted them, one by one, into their designated spots along Main Street.

Who are these 11 visiting dignitaries? They all belong to a very elite group, the creations of the internationally recognized sculptor, J. Seward Johnson, Jr.

Johnson is considered one of America’s most innovative contemporary artists. For the past 30 years, he has been known primarily for life-sized sculptures of people engaged in everyday acts--snoozing in a lawn chair, tying a shoe, waiting for a bus. The figures are so realistic that passers-by have dropped coins into the violin case of sculpted street musician and stopped to pet a small dog on a leash.

The sculptures represent the first expansive temporary public art exhibit hosted by the City of Pleasanton. Johnson’s work was selected as a starting point for this type of event based on its broad appeal, as well as the relative ease with which it could be brought together, relates Julie Finegan, Pleasanton Visual Arts Coordinator. Nevertheless, it has taken several years for the original idea to germinate and come to fruition.

The Arts Commission first began to consider the project back around 2006, when one of its members, inspired by a similar display in another city, suggested Pleasanton do the same, Finegan recalls. The proposal coincided with the commission’s work on a public art master plan for Downtown, and met with a warm reception. A temporary exhibit like the Seward sculptures would not only help promote appreciation of the arts but also enliven Downtown and attract more foot traffic.

“The idea of this temporary exhibit dovetailed really well with the master plan,” Finegan says. Because Seward’s work is managed by a foundation in Santa Monica that handles all the heavy-lifting—transport, invoicing, insurance, etc.--“it was an easier way for us to acquire a collection for a short period of time,” she notes.

The commissioners carefully considered which of the hundreds of figures in the Seward catalog would be most enjoyable and appropriate along Main Street, winnowing their choices down to just 11. They also spent time talking to merchants to get their buy-in and strolled up and down to fine-tune locations—for example, the American Gothic couple stationed in front of the Museum on Main.

Installed on April 1, the new guests will remain in place until June 30. “I’m hoping the exhibit will increase general awareness for public art, boost the flow Downtown and create some buzz, and help promote the grand opening of the Firehouse Arts Center in September,” Finegan comments. It will also, and undoubtedly, elicit many smiles.

For information about the complex techniques Johnson employs to make his sculptures, visit www.sewardjohnson.com. A list of Downtown exhibit sites is at www.ci.pleasanton.ca.us/pdf/ca-sewardjohnson.pdf.


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