In Sonoma County, public art is easily accessible, in every town. Petaluma, especially, has loads of public art, and, to help you explore it, we’re offering a guide of the highlights.
There are more than 30 outdoor public art pieces scattered around the city, including murals, sculptures, arches and a community-built fountain.
In August, Petaluma-based artist David Best unveiled his new public art piece, “River Arch,” an intricate, rust-colored steel archway that greets passersby on Lynch Creek Trail off Lakeville Street. The 25-foot metal arch — with decorative curves, natural motifs and a chandelier-like detail — enhances the industrial look of the area while serving as a gateway between downtown Petaluma and the surrounding natural landscape.
Best is known for the large, elaborate temples and sculptures he creates for the Burning Man festival. The Petaluma Public Art Committee commissioned Best in 2017 to create the River Arch to improve the site for residents and visitors, welcoming them to Petaluma’s downtown. Lynch Creek Trail is located at 88 Lakeville St. in Petaluma.
‘Wrist Wrestling Champions’
Wrist wrestling transformed from a playful test of machismo to a nationally recognized sport when local legend and Argus-Courier columnist Bill Soberanes arranged a match at “Diamond Mike” Gilardi’s bar in 1955. The thrilling contest, which ended in a draw, generated so much attention that a committee was formed to organize a tournament. The tournament grew over the years, and, in 1962, the first World Wristwrestling Championship was held in Petaluma’s Hermann Sons Hall.
By 1988, the city of Petaluma erected a statue downtown — made by prominent Cuban artist Rosa Estebañez — in Soberanes’ honor, depicting him and another man locked in a strenuous battle of the forearms. The bronze sculpture includes a plaque commemorating Soberanes as “the World’s Number One People Meeter” for his knack for making fast friends. Find the statue near the corner of East Washington Street and Petaluma Boulevard North, next to Lemongrass Thai Noodle and across the street from the Petaluma Heritage Mural
‘Reared In Steel’
Get a taste of Burning Man at the corner of Copeland and East Washington streets, where Petaluma artist Kevin Clark set up his private art studio Reared In Steel. The massive metal sculptures out front are a fixture in downtown Petaluma, when they’re not at the annual Burning Man festival or rented out to various other events.
The steampunk-like artworks that can be spotted on Copeland Street include a 70-foot “Flower Tower,” a metal-winged guardian lion (“Guardino Leone”), a fully motorized “Rhino Redemption” art car and an intimidating “Medusa Madness” sculpture. Then there’s the giant squawking metal raven perched atop the studio.
While the working art studio is private, visitors are welcome to view it from the street and snap photos of the huge, unusual art sculptures in the studio yard, at 100 Copeland St., in Petaluma.
‘Outlet, Plug & Cord’
In Petaluma’s Theatre District, it’s hard to miss the giant wall outlet and plug protruding from the PG&E Substation on the corner of First and D streets. The comically large sculpture made of steel, wood and fiberglass seems to fit right in with its surroundings while adding levity to the industrial look of the area.
The cord of the plug appears to be coming out of the ground, suggesting it’s drawing power from the nearby electrical towers to supply energy to the PG&E building. The utility company commissioned artist Joel Jones, of Basal Ganglia Studio, and fabricator Shawn Thorsson to create the art piece, which they unveiled in 2015.
‘Faces of Petaluma Fountain’
In the middle of Petaluma’s Theatre District is a water fountain covered in more than 800 unique faces made of clay and set in colorful mosaic tile. Ceramic artist and community organizer Donna Billick designed and led the public art project, which welcomed Petalumans of all ages to sculpt self-portraits from clay.
Billick took the finished clay faces back to her art studio in Davis to fire and prepare them for installation, and Heath Ceramics in Sausalito provided the mosaic tile panels. The project was completed in 2007 and presents an artistic link with the Petaluma community’s past and future. See the colorful, whimsical fountain in Theatre Square, surrounded by local businesses such as Trattoria Roma, Sol Food and La Dolce Vita Wine Lounge. It’s located at Theatre Square, 140 Second St., in Petaluma.
Patrons of Petaluma’s Boulevard Cinemas can’t miss this whimsical abstract statue of a yellow-and-blue cup spilling over with pink cherry soda. Sculptor Robert Ellison created the painted-steel statue in 2003, originally installed at Lucchesi Park.
The Petaluma Public Art Committee purchased “Cherry Soda” from the Voigt Family Sculpture Foundation after Ellison’s death in 2012, and the two groups worked with the city of Petaluma to facilitate the installation at the cinema. “Cherry Soda” resides at the corner of Second and C streets in front of the theater, and the statue remains a popular hangout spot for young people waiting to see a movie. Boulevard 14 Cinema is located at 200 C St. in Petaluma.
‘A Whale of a Good Time’
A life-size whale tail made from scrap metal stands 15 feet tall in the Deer Creek Village shopping center, where it dives into the pavement between Sourdough & Co. and Habit Burger Grill. Sacramento artist Terrence Martin created the sculpture in 2014 after gaining inspiration from a whale-watching trip. The statue seats nine people inside and is surrounded by a ring of fluorescent blue lighting that glows at night.
The aquatic sculpture was the first piece in a series of art installations at the shopping center, including a 20-foot steel and glass abstract tree sculpture (also made by Martin) next to Mary’s Pizza Shack and decorative benches created by Martin and local artist David Duskin
Hands & Balls, Petaluma
Meant to represent balance — of the rational and spiritual, terrestrial and celestial — a pair of giant concrete hands rest on red marbled balls in front of Lagunitas Brewing Co., coaxing in curious onlookers. The position of the hands evokes Buddhist iconography of symbolic hand gestures (known as mudras). The right hand appears to be in the Abhaya position, with the palm facing forward, representing fearlessness and protection. The left hand is in the Dhyana position (the meditation mudra), with the hand resting and palm facing up, symbolizing compassion for all living beings.
The husband-and-wife team Peter Crompton and Robyn Spencer-Crompton built the sculpture, with Peter focusing on the form of the concrete hands and Robyn on the mosaic surface design. The “Hands & Balls” sculpture has been a part of the Sculpture Trail in Cloverdale and Geyserville and was installed in front of Lagunitas in Petaluma in 2012. Lagunitas Brewing Co. is located at 1280 N. McDowell Blvd. in Petaluma.
‘Fred J. Wiseman Monument’
In 1911, local pilot Fred J. Wiseman embarked on a short flight, in a biplane he designed and built, to deliver mail and newspapers from Petaluma to Santa Rosa. It was the world’s earliest “air mail” flight. A park in Petaluma was named after the pilot (Wiseman Park), and local Cuban artist Rosa Estebañez created a monument in his honor in August 1968.
The monument, a bas-relief of Wiseman’s bust and plane mounted on a wall of stone and concrete, was originally located in Kenilworth Park, where Wiseman began his first air mail flight. Now it resides in Wiseman Park on the east side of Petaluma, near the Petaluma Municipal Airport.
Standing at the corner of Lakeville Highway and Frates Road, an 18-foot totem sculpture seems to defy physics. Made by Donna Billick in 2007 and covered in vibrant mosaic tiles, it has an inverted cone perched on what appears to be a miniature house, which balances atop five colorful spheres descending in size.
Like Billick’s Faces of Petaluma Fountain, the mosaic tiles on “Home Stretch” are from Heath Ceramics in Sausalito. The totem may be in an odd place — on the corner of Lakeville Highway and Frates Road, across from Petaluma Poultry Processors — but it’s encircled by four benches, where people can relax and admire its details
Petaluma Friends: A sculpture made of Corten steel depicting a dog with a cat standing on its back, and a small bird perched on the end of the cat’s tail. The dog has a bone-shaped hole across its body, revealing the green tin of the Adobe Animal Hospital building behind it. The animal sculpture was created by Dale Rogers Studio in 2015. Adobe Animal Hospital, 408 Madison St., Petaluma
Heron & Reeds Wall Relief Sculpture: A large wall relief sculpture depicting a heron flying low among reeds, made of copper and established in 2009. Raley’s Grocery Store, 157 N McDowell Blvd., Petaluma
Lucchesi Park Tower Sculpture: An abstract, green metal tower sitting in front of the Petaluma Community Center. 320 N. McDowell Blvd., Petaluma
Millennium Arch: A black-painted, steel archway in McNear Park commemorating the local Rotary Club’s commitment to the city. Made by sculptor Nicolas van Krijdt and established in 2003. McNear Park, 1008 G St., Petaluma
Dubull Eagull: Unsurprisingly, Petaluma’s art and visitor centers have a number of sculptures outside, including the “Dubull Eagull” (also known as the Double Eagle). The rust-colored steel sculpture is an abstract, minimalist depiction of two eagles flying between two tall columns. It was made by Peter Forakis in 2001. Petaluma Arts Center, 230 Lakeville St., Petaluma