When we were in Zurich a couple of years ago, we saw a large, exuberant statue of an angel-woman. Its bold primary colors and robust curves brightened our surroundings and dominated the entire street scene in her vicinity. Now, in Escondido, near San Diego, we have found the artist again, and have enjoyed more of her lavish sculptures.
Niki de Saint Phalle, born in the United States of French parents, was first a fashion model (her picture is on at least one LIFE Magazine cover in the 1950s) but felt she needed to "do what the men do" -- create objects. She became part of the French and American art scene, being friends with Tingueley and Larry Rivers. She created the Stravinsky fountain in Paris. She spent the last years of her life living and working near San Diego, and her final creation was the object of our visit. Two totem poles
We began with a quick trip to a pleasant new museum, the Mingei, in Escondido. This is about the size of a large gallery, remodeled from a J.C. Penney store, and will have changing exhibits complementing those of its main location in Balboa Park. That was where we saw a sister to the Zurich angel, as well as other charming pieces such as a trio of large women dancing, some animals and totems. This exhibit will be here through the spring.
Then we drove to Kit Carson park in Escondido, where, in a secluded corner near a pond populated by many different kinds of ducks, we entered Queen Calafia's Circle, a sculpture garden completed just a couple of years ago. We shared our space with several small children and their mothers, as well as adult couples who had come to enjoy the colors; the children knew immediately how to appreciate art; they patted, climbed steps, and ran around the pieces. The adults mostly stood quietly and looked.
Reminiscent of folk art like the Watts Towers, although clearly much more technically adroit, the pieces bring color and gaiety to this corner of the park. Her creation is a generous gift of her talents to her city.