Friday, February 22, 2013

Queen Califia's Magical Circle

This magical kingdom rises above the winter landscape in an explosion of color.  My travel buddy did not know what to expect.  I had decided to keep it a secret.  "This better be worth it," he complained as we took a detour into Escondido on our way to San Diego last weekend.  I drag the poor guy to art installations all over the state of California.  Some are bad.  Some are good.  This was WOW!

Located down a path in the middle of Kit Carson Park, it is not an easy place to find, but definitely worth the effort.  I guarantee once you enter the black and white maze and step into Queen Califia's realm, you will not want to leave.
This incredible sculpture garden was created by Niki de Saint Phalle.  I discovered her work while visiting Paris in the 1980's.  Her voluptuous female figures across from the Pompidou Center were more memorable to me than anything in the Louvre.  I only learned recently that she moved to La Jolla in 1994 for health reasons and fell in love with our state.  In honor of California, she created this garden around the mythical black queen, Califia, after whom our state was named.  The garden took four years to complete.  Sadly, the artist died in 2002.

Queen Califia was created by Spanish writer Garci Rodriquez de Montalvo around 1500 in his novel Las sergas de Esplandian.  Califia, a powerful female warrior, lived on an island filled with gold and riches.  She and her army of women flew to Constantinople on a flock of griffins to join the Muslims in their fight against the Christians.  She was defeated and taken prisoner.   In the book she eventually returns to California for further adventures, but she is no longer a pagan.  She is a married Christian woman!
Queen Califia rules over her kingdom on a tall griffin-shaped temple.  Underneath the temple sits a large golden egg, representing the fertility of women and the birth of humanity.  Around her are eight totemic sculptures, each with images of a powerful female figure.  Massive, undulating snakes line the garden walls reminding us of Eve's downfall in the Garden of Eden (lest we get a bit too uppity!).
We marveled at the colors, textures and patterns of the mosaics.  Each piece of travertine, agate, quartz and turquoise is highly polished and positioned  . . .well, perfectly.  "This is not outsider art," my travel buddy commented.  "This woman was a pro."  She used mirrors, as well, so the sculptures are reflected from where ever you stand.  It is an absolute delight.


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