Located in a remote area of Kit Carson Park, Queen Califia’s Magical Circle in Escondido, California was created by Franco-American artist Niki de Saint Phalle (1930 – 2002) and completed posthumously in 2003. However, due to necessary maintenance and repair, the sculpture garden is currently closed. Inspired by California’s mythical, historical, and cultural origins, it consists of nine large-scale sculptures, a circular snake wall and maze entrance, as well as sculpturally integrated bench seating. Indigenous trees and shrubs are planted within the interior plaza and along the outer perimeter. It is the only public sculpture garden in America by Saint Phalle, and it was to be her last major project.
Queen Califia’s Magical Circle clearly reflects Saint Phalle’s fascination with the interrelationship between art, monumental sculpture, and architecture. As a result of environmental damage due to climatic conditions, the garden revealed signs of mild deterioration and general degradation in 2013. After a decade, abrasion, erosion, broken mirrored tiles, and vandalism were visibly present. Debris was immediately removed, gates were locked, and damages were thoroughly assessed by the Niki Charitable Art Foundation. Subsequently, further evaluations were made by a Getty Museum conservator which stated that damages were more significant than previously noted. Thus, extensive repairs were necessary.
In order to deter future vandalism and promote respect for the dynamic sculpture garden, the Public Art Commission of Escondido intends to provide security cameras, educational training, and volunteer docent programs. Kristina Owens, Associate Planner and Public Art Administrator provided a statement regarding the current situation: “The City’s primary goal is to re-open Queen Califia to the public. The Public Art Commission is actively putting together a volunteer/docent program to establish limited days/hours the exhibit can be open to the public with supervision. The number of hours we are able to open during the week will be based initially on the number of volunteers we have and the number of hours they can volunteer. The commission is considering different approaches, but we are aiming for an early fall ‘soft’ opening of the Sculpture Garden (September). They are discussing coordinating a grander re-opening with publicity to possibly coincide with ‘October Arts Month.’” In order to subsidize general maintenance and repairs, the Commission will utilize funds from the Pedestrian Pathfinders and the Escondido Creek Art reserves. In addition, they intend to solicit private donations.
Queen Califia's Magical Circle, 2003. Photos © Jewel Goode, 2011. All Rights Reserved.