I’ve always really liked Mary. She was always easy to talk to and she was always kind. I never bought the namby pamby virgin they tried to sell to us as children. I saw her as strong, regal, a woman with her own mind, and internal power. So when she showed up in my home town a few months ago I was thrilled. Who wouldn’t want Mary to show up?
People who have been following the story of The Surfing Madonna knew it was going to happen, but still. It was shocking. She was here, then boom. Gone. Mysteriously our beautiful blue Mary showed up on the corner of Vulcan and Encinitas Boulevard a few blocks from Moonlight Beach in Encinitas on April 22 of this year and disappeared last Saturday.
Born under the Coaster train underpass, the gorgeous blue/green/golden mosaic showed up right before Holy Week and was an immediate hit. Tall, yet holding herself like the queen she is, Mary stood on the board arms extended, balanced on the surfboard, veils flapping wildly in the wind, her golden glow surrounding her with her motto to the left of the 10x10 foot mural. None of this ‘pray to me’ business for our new Guadalupe sister. It’s Save our Ocean. Her message is timely, simple, and profound.
The city council of Encinitas, the southern California beach town where I raised my kids, had a fit. They called her ‘illegal’ (kind of like her other sisters and brothers from Mexico), they called her trashy and demanded her removal. They reacted as if gang graffiti had been painted there. The city called in experts to assess how much it would cost to remove her. They even spent $2,200 of city money for an estimate.
Mary’s image captured the imagination of the community and even the nation’s largest news outlets. Her beauty, the mystery of her appearance, her message of saving the ocean brought people to the corner to see and touch her. Mary even had her very own flash mob who wore long Spanish mantillas on their heads and held candles. St. John’s, the local Catholic Church, told the city they would welcome the mosaic on its coastal campus. Other businesses on PCH 101 offered her a sanctuary as well.It was all too much.
The artist had hoped to remain anonymous, but when they threatened to take her apart and haul her away, coastal artist Mark Patterson came forward. He had dreams about Mary for years, finally he heeded her message. Mark traveled to Italy to learn mosaic, gathered the stained glass, and created her as a gift to the city with a reminder of the ocean’s vulnerability. Patterson agreed to a fine of $500 and to pay the fee for the removal estimate. Mark’s looking for a place for Mary along Pacific Coast Highway that won’t cause a traffic hazard so he and his friends took Mary down, carefully took her apart until they can find her a new home.
I’ve been thinking lately about how important art is in our lives. It surely evokes emotional responses such as hope or horror. It has the capacity to lift us higher, make us cry or laugh, or demand it be removed from our sight. Art elevates the conversation, shows us something new about ourselves. It can give us a glimpse of our better angels or our worst destructive tendencies. Art reflects our humanity back to us so we can examine who we are.
"We are all meant to be mothers of God, for God is always needing to be born." Meister Eckhart