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Santa Monica's Treasured Mosaic to Be Centerpiece of Orange County Museum Expansion

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By Jorge Casuso

January 21, 2020 -- Santa Monica's iconic "Pleasures Along the Beach" mosaic will be the centerpiece of the expanded Hilbert Museum of Art in Orange County when it opens in the fall of 2022, museum officials told the Lookout.

The 16.5-foot high, 40-foot long glass and ceramic mosaic will be viewed by visitors to the Chapman University campus and from the Orange Metro Line station across the street, said Mary Platt, the museum's director.

The Hilbert Museum accepted the donated mural created for Santa Monica half a century ago by renown California artist Millard Sheets after City officials turned it down last January ("City Leaves Public in the Dark Over Loss of Iconic Mural,"January 16, 2020).

"PleasuresAlong the Beach" by Millard Sheets
"Pleasures Along the Beach" by Millard Sheets ( Photo by Peter Leonard Courtesy of Santa Monica Conservancy)

"It will have very much a place of honor," said Platt. "It's really going to be spotlighted."

The mosaic composed of thousands of small glass tiles depicting an afternoon on Santa Monica Beach will be installed on the west facade facing the setting sun, she said.

"It will really become a landmark."

Manufactured by glass artisans in Venice, Italy, the mosaic was cut into 93 pieces and stored in crates in a climate controlled storage space paid for by the museum.

It will be installed -- with the numbered pieces fitting like a jigsaw puzzle -- on the facade of the museum, which is nearly tripling in size, museum officials said.

The mural was donated by Mark Leevan, the owner of the old Home Savings building at 26th and Wilshire, as part of a settlement agreement with the City that reversed the landmark status protecting the building and its artwork.

Leevan also donated the large stained glass and two bronze sculptures that accompanied the mosaic.

The cost of the installation will be incurred by the Hilbert Museum as part of the cost of the expansion, museum officials said.

Museum officials declined to reveal the estimated cost of installation.

But Rosa Lowinger and Associates, the art conservators Leevan hired to remove the mural, estimated the cost at between $100,000 and $150,000 ("How the City Failed to Pursue 'Pleasures Along the Beach,' January 17, 2020).

In rejecting the mural, Santa Monica City officials vastly overestimated the cost of installing and maintaining the mural, saying that similar projects "have cost millions of dollars and several years to complete."

Mark Hilbert, who founded the museum with his wife Jan in 2014, seized the opportunity to showcase the Sheets mural at the museum, which focuses on the work of California artists.

“It was serendipity,” Hilbert told the Voice of OC after he accepted the donation last May. “Just the way life is sometimes, when all the pieces are right, they’re right.

“We had the fortune of stepping up at the right opportunity,” Hilbert said. “It’s actually the best of both worlds, really. We will preserve and take care of it.”

Art experts note that mosaics -- which are a hot item in the art world -- are among the longest lasting of all arts media and the easiest to maintain.

Platt notes that what remains of ancient civilizations are often the mosaics and pottery that survived for thousands of years.

"Pottery shards and glass are two things that last," Platt said. "It's because they are hard to destroy.

"When they're excavating Orange County 5,000 years from now ("Pleasures Along the Beach") might be the only thing they find," she joked.

"It's indestructible."

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