By Mark Patterson
I have had a “friendship” with the Virgin of Guadalupe for years.
In 2005 I make a sketch of the Virgin of Guadalupe on a surf board. She is saying “Save the Ocean.”
I like the image but don’t think too much more about it.
In 2008, Her image shows up again. I am in a mind-numbingly boring conference and am doodling in my notebook, and there She is! Nice. But again, I don’t give it much thought.
In 2009, Her image shows up in my sketchbook yet again. I focus on the sketch this time. I finally realize that there is something important going on. I am being inspired by this image of the Virgin of Guadalupe in the unlikely position of being on a surf board with the message of “Save the Ocean.” But then again, the Madonna is the Star of the Seas!
In 2010 I am getting ready to take some vacation time in Italy as I’d been there years back and have always wanted to return. A friend suggested I might enjoy going to the mosaic school in Ravenna. I sign up at Luciana Notturni’s school in Ravenna. I pull out a picture of the head of the Virgin of Guadalupe and say to Luciana “I need to make this.”
After my 2 weeks of instruction are finished, I have the face of the Virgin of Guadalupe completed. I board my plane home with my mosaic sandwiched between two pieces of cardboard. And I’m literally floating on a cloud. My time in Italy has tapped into a newly re-discovered creative side in a very powerful way. And it feels wonderful. It feels like coming home.
I was turning 55 that year and after my trip to Italy, I finally felt inspired again about what my work could be. I could actually do something and jump out of bed in the morning excited about my work. If I didn’t grab this opportunity to be inspired by my work again, I felt I’d really regret it. This was revelatory.
It was the right time for me to start doing what I actually love doing.
So I quit my job at Microsoft.
The very next day I started working on the Save the Ocean mosaic (aka, the Surfing Madonna).
I have the perfect place to put the mosaic. It’s under the train bridge on Encinitas Boulevard. It makes a perfect frame. I ask my best friend Bob Nichols to help me do the installation (among other things!).
It takes me 9 months to complete the “Save the Ocean” mosaic. Most of the time I have no idea what I am doing or going to do next. But that 9 months is an awakening. It is the ripening of that initial intuition, the initial artistic vision that first showed up in my sketchbook in 2005.
I finish the mosaic at 4am on April 22nd 2011. It is Good Friday. And, interestingly enough, it is also Earth Day.
In broad daylight at 2:00pm on April 22, 2011, Bob and I install the mosaic underneath the train bridge on Encinitas Blvd. and Highway 101. We dress as construction workers and cover it up until the very end. The fire department came by and asked what we were doing. Bob says to them we are doing “recalibration measurements on the bridge”. They buy it!! We were out of there in 2 hours.
We walk across the street to Leucadia Pizzeria to watch people’s reaction and nobody noticed. People are walking right by. I thought ok, it’s going to just sneak into the community without a lot of stir. I was wrong. Dead wrong.
The next morning there were news stations all over the place trying to figure out who made the Madonna, who put her up and why. The BBC picked up the story and some friends told us later that they were visiting Costa Rica and saw the story down there.
After a few weeks and an intense investigation, they caught me. Apparently, they were calling the glass stores in San Diego trying to get records of people who were buying loads of blue glass.
City council told me the art was “graffiti” and I could be prosecuted for violating the ordinance. It was Loren Nancarrow, a local newscaster, who broke the story.
Thankfully, at that point, there was strong support from the community to keep the mosaic up. After all, it was a GIFT to the community.
I didn’t want fame, money or even to be recognized as the artist, but their investigators left no stone unturned to put the blame on someone.
The Encinitas City Council, at that time, were unsupportive and wanted to take legal action. Two of them weren’t re-elected that year!
The support from the north county residents was my saving grace. Money was donated to help pay the fines and law firms jumped in to help me – pro-bono. Letters were flooding in about how deeply some people were touched by the Madonna and her message. Candles were lit in front of her day and night. People were waking up. The message was clear. People want to “Save our Ocean”!
With help from some engineers, we were able to remove the mosaic from the train bridge safely. We had it on there pretty good. Back to my garage it went and it stayed there for almost a year. Then Bob finally said the community wants to see this art, so let’s find her a home.
After talking to some folks in the community, Keith Harrison, the owner of the building where Café Ipe/Coffee Coffee is located, offered to put it up there. I’ve been living in Leucadia since 1983, so placing the mosaic at a local coffee shop on the wall in Leucadia seemed perfect.
Several months went by. The Ipe tree at the coffee shop grew bigger, the coffee shop was using umbrellas outdoors for the summer time and the Madonna was no longer visible from the 101. What seemed to be an ideal place, turned out to be not so ideal. A lot of community supporters who drove by the coffee shop every day didn’t even know it was there. She had to be moved.
In 2012, we started looking for a better spot for her permanent home. When the word got out, the Madonna started to get nicknames, such as the Wandering Madonna and people were intrigued to see where she might appear next.
It wasn’t before long that we had definitely found the most perfect location for her. Directly across the street from her original debut under the train bridge, she now sits on the north wall of Leucadia Pizza (on the corner of highway 101 and Encinitas Blvd.) with a gorgeous frame around her and an eco-friendly park with engraved bricks, flowers, a water fountain and a sitting bench. This is her HOME.
**When you look at the mosaic, you will notice a slant at the bottom. That is because when I installed the mosaic under the train bridge, the sidewalk is at a slant, so I had to cut the mosaic in order for it to fit. It’s a fun reminder of her history.
In May 2012, the Surfing Madonna Oceans Project nonprofit was born in Encinitas. With 7 local board members, we are dedicated to bringing the community together through events that promote sustainability, oceanic responsibility and a healthy lifestyle to raise money that benefit our local ocean/beaches/parks, art and our youth.
If we want to make a difference in today’s world, we must start right here at home. We can help Encinitas become a leader in Being Green. Setting the bar a little higher for other coastal communities throughout the nation. As the saying goes, “If you want to see change in the world, BE the change”.
So, the story of the Madonna is actually just beginning…