Feature photo: A model of James Moore’s “Community / Connection”. The sculpture is scheduled to go in Victory Park in 2023.

Stockton has a hit-and-miss record with public art. The first attempt of the recent era, a fancy solar bus bench on North El Dorado Street, was torn apart by Yahoos.

Downtown’s “Anchored,” a 21-foot-high abstract metal sculpture of five swirling crescents, was pricey at $250,000, but does provide a graceful waterfront focal point.

“Stockton Rising,” a $120,000 pillar of ascending Stocktonians near the arena, turned reptilian green and looks like the demonic Tower of Souls from “Hellraiser III.”

And so on, unevenly. Now the Council has okayed Stockton’s latest public artwork, commissioning on Tuesday sculptor James Moore’s $175,000 “Community Connection.”

“Public art serves a great purpose,” said Kris Farro, director of Community Services. “I just think it brings joy and light to people’s lives. … It really just helps people expand their minds.”

Stockton sculptor James Moore works on a study from the series “Man in Motion”. (COURTESY OF JAMES MOORE)

A 14-foot-high metal sculpture of three human figures holding cubes aloft, “Community Connection” (its working title) will occupy the long-vacant knoll in Victory Park where a popular totem pole once stood.

“My work in general is about highlighting or bringing people’s attention to the fact that we all have much more in common than we sometimes think,” said Moore, 63, a Stockton resident.

The knoll, which rises on the park’s northeast corner beside one of Stockton’s busiest streets, is one of the city’s most prominent art pedestals. “And I am absolutely honored by that,” said Moore.

On that spot a beloved, if misunderstood, Tlingit totem pole stood with its cryptic iconography from the 1930s to 1999. Hard to believe that spot has been vacant for 23 years.

Termites munched the totem pole; “Community Connection” will be made of brushed stainless steel. “The work will last virtually forever,” said Moore.

Using automobile paint, the faces and cubes will be colored primary red, blue, and yellow. One figure will be re-proportioned to suggest the female form.

But the real diversity comes from keeping the figures general and the cubes open, allowing allow viewers to engage subjectively and to bring diverse perspectives, Moore said.

“These interlocking cubes are intended to suggest the idea of what community and connection might be. I think it’s wrong-minded to define what that might be for generations down the road.”

Moore’s sculptures straddle mid ground between abstract and figurative. While identifiably human, they require unpacking. What are they doing? Is there a narrative? Do I see myself there?

“It looks from a more humanistic perspective,” Moore said. “What essentially are the building blocks that we all have in common?”

The totem pole, though masterfully carved, featured icons from Tlingit myths few locals understood. “I hope this work will contain imagery everyone will understand,” Moore said.

The Victory park totem pole, fenced off in 1999 (right) when inspection revealed rot, and in storage in a closed firehouse, where it awaited a proper burial ceremony. (Courtesy Stockton History Facebook Page)

Stockton public artworks must be Navy Seal tough. Moore said his will be.

“In order to deconstruct this piece into sizes where it could be taken away, you would need a plasma torch, some source of energy nearby to run that, and some fairly loud cutoff grinding tools.”

Where “Community Connection” will fit in Stockton’s mixed bag of public art is, of course, subjective. I think it will be pretty cool – aesthetically pleasing, fun in a shoebox-headed sort of way, even thought-provoking. Art gives you pause. That pause can be an offramp from the mundane world.

“The idea of walking through a very familiar built environment then coming across some really surprising element is one of the values public art can bring to a space,” Moore said.

Raised in tiny Caruthers south of Fresno, Moore stumbled upon a sawed-off walnut branch when he was around 14. In the wood he saw a face. Scrounging hammer and chisel, he sculpted it. “That is how I was born as an artist.”

Moving to Oakland, he found influences in the British sculptor Henry Moore’s generalized representation of the human form, the lesser known nal figurative work of Angeleno Isamu Noguchi, the primordial figures of Stephen De Staebler.

“Star Gazers,” installed at Hyatt House hotel in Cupertino. (COURTESY OF JAMES MOORE)

A couple dozen sculptures by Moore stand in civic plazas, parks, hospitals, and corporate headquarters, mostly in the Bay Area, but also Texas, Florida, and New Jersey.

The sculpture is too big for Moore to fabricate in his Wilcox Road studio. He will subcontract the welding, structural engineering, and lighting design out to locals.

His contract gives him 44 weeks. So around Summer, 2023 look for three enigmatic figures holding cubes aloft on the Victory Park knoll where the totem pole once stood.

“Public art is critical to the health of a city,” Moore said. “It visually activates public spaces, making them more interesting, potentially more engaging … The artist’s visual cues can shape the city.”

Michael Fitzgerald’s column runs on Wednesdays. Phone (209) 687-9585. On Twitter and Instagram as Stocktonopolis. Email: mfitzgeraldstockton@gmail.com

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7 Comments

  1. Congratulations in order to Stockton Public Arts Commission. Public art often takes an extensive torturous path from conception to installation. Each piece is a triumph of perserverance.

  2. Not my favorite of the three design finalists. But I am proud to say that I was on the committee that chose the sculpture for the fountain in DeCarli Plaza opposite the Hotel Stockton. Now, if the city could just get the fountain working again…

  3. I was part of the original panel that selected the finalists for this competition. We met the artists, either in person or virtually, reviewed their proposals and their resumes, and worked very conscientiously to narrow the field to the final three. Though the ultimate selection was not my favorite piece, I’m pleased that the project is moving forward. I would also be pleased to advise Mr. Fitzgerald on the processes and prices involved in planning, creating and executing a major piece of public sculpture. And if he finds Stockton Rising is not aging well, Mr. Fitzgerald should speak with the city about how it maintains exiting art works.

  4. Public art is wonderful, well as long as it is “Navy Seal tough”. This piece is quite nice. I only hope it is constructed from materials that are not just very tough, but that are not desirable. Never underestimate the the abilities of those that steal anything recyclable.
    Mike, do you recall our series’s of communications over the fancy solar bus bench and it’s demise. Public art has improved dramatically, i look forward to seeing this piece in the park.

  5. I’m not sure what to think about the new art proposed for Victory Park, other than it appears to be something that vandals will take great delight in attempting to deface or destroy. Sad commentary, I realize.

  6. Congratulations!! Look forward to seeing the finished product. Please allow a request: Please make sure there will be no glare to blind drivers in the area. I’m grateful you’re not doing chrome like the mustang in Sacramento. It’s a beautiful piece, but I hate driving past it because you get blinded.

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