Skye’s vision renewed in Plaza mosaic restoration project

Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union

The Plaza’s colorful trash bins, artfully encrusted with tiles by the late, legendary mosaicist Laurel Skye, are looking a little dowdy these days.

After 13 years of enduring vandals, thing-kickers, collisions with navigationally-challenged drunks, errant frisbees and one suspected car crash, the rigors of Plaza life have taken their toll on the six arty garbage cans. Missing tiles have pocked them with bald spots, and all of the receptacles could use a careful cleaning and tender touch-up.

The recent Plaza Improvement Task Force (PITF) meeting included a presentation by one of Skye’s students, who offered to restore the tattered trash cans in keeping with Skye’s vision. Julie Neander, deputy director of community services, replied by telling him he might do so as part of a grander restoration project in the works. 

Working with glass artist Robin Friedman, another former Skye student and Mosaic Artist in Residence at Eureka’s Parasol Arts, the colorful receptacles are to be restored to their original glory. 

Come October at a date to be announced, Parks Dept. workers will round up the Plaza’s half-dozen Skye-enhanced waste bins and take them down to their maintenance facility next to HealthSPORT at the Arcata Community Park.  

There, Friedman and a crew of other Skye disciples will make all necessary repairs and enhancements.   

MOSAIC MASTER, Laurel Skye, right, with her daughter Marley Goldman. Photo by Ursi Reynolds

“I’m organizing a group of mosaic artists and lovers of Laurel to come together over a long weekend and renovate those trash cans,” Friedman said. Skye passed away in July, 2018.

The first step is cleaning them, both for freshening and to ensure good adhesion of the replacement tiles. Friedman has been in touch with the manufacturer of the epoxy Skye originally used, to make sure unneeded remnants can be properly removed and tiles re-adhered. 

Robin Friedman. From

Pragmatism dictates that the approach won’t be to slavishly reproduce Skye’s original designs, though the artists will do what they can to remain true to her vision. While they will try to replicate the original art, the problem, Friedman said, is that “glass changes.” That is, the bits Skye used may no longer be on the market. But, said Friedman, “I’m looking through her estate to find matching glass.”

While she’s not aware of any original drawings on which to base the restoration – it appears that at least some of the time, Skye was just riffing in the moment without a specific plan – Friedman will look for any reference sketches.

“They may not be exactly the same,” she said.

Her mosaic squad will consist of 12 or so artists, and the lineup is mostly set. But the trash cans won’t be the last opportunity for artists to beautify the Plaza.    

Another waste receptacle in need of repair. KLH | Union

A celebration will hail the restored receptacles’ return, and more mosaic works will be planned. She hopes there will be ongoing community art projects to engage willing artists.

“We want to keep Laurel’s talent and imagination alive,” Friedman said.

Neander said the project will take place at some date following Pastels on the Plaza, which takes place Saturday, Oct. 5. 

“I think it will be a really fun project,” she said.

Other artistic embellishments

The PITF has indicated interest in expanding the Plaza’s artistic offerings. The square is rich in surfaces that might be embellished with tiles or other treatments, and various forms of sculpture – including a Greek goddess – have been suggested for installation at the Plaza’s center.

Further, a program whereby sculpture-friendly bases were mounted around the Plaza for rotating installations by area sculptures has at least one available spot – at Eighth and G streets, where a sculpture damaged by a car collision was removed and never replaced.

Any task force-recommended art initiatives will be detailed in its final report, which is now in the works. The city has allocated $150,000 to enact whichever of the PITF’s recommendations the City Council approves. 

One setback for the Plaza's artistic aspirations is abandonment – at least for the time being – of a streetwide art installation at Ninth and H streets. That project was being handled by Arcata Main Street, and was to occur over the summer. But with the departure of former Executive Director Jeanette Todd, it's no longer  being pursued.

Meanwhile, an initiative is in the works that could help define Arcata as an art town. Tuesday, the Community Development Dept. is to sit down with other staff and city councilmembers to shape a Strategic Arts Plan. That effort is being guided by Deputy Community Development Director Jen Dart.

The notion was first suggested by Councilmember Susan Ornelas, who suggested that Arcata leverage its abundant artistic assets in some organized fashion and market them. 

A formal plan could encourage creation of more public art and venues, which would be advertised tourists and potential residents. All this could help qualify Arcata for art-focused grants, fueling creation of still more public art. 


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