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Orange County Museum Showcases Iconic Santa Monica Mosaic


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By Jorge Casuso

February 22, 2024 -- An iconic half-century-old Santa Monica mosaic -- transported and installed piece by piece in the City of Orange -- was officially welcomed during a ceremony for the re-opening of the Hilbert Museum Thursday afternoon.

"Pleasures Along the Beach by Millard Sheets greets visitors to the Hilbert Museum in Orange County
"Pleasures Along the Beach "by Millard Sheets greets visitors to the Hilbert Museum in Orange County (Photo courtesy of the Hilbert Museum)

"Pleasures Along the Beach" by renowned California artist Millard Sheets will greet visitors to what is now Orange County's biggest art museum and home to one of the world’s largest collections of California narrative art.

Created in 1969 for a Home Savings & Loans building at Wilshire and 26th Street, the colorful 40’ x 16’ glass-tile mosaic will be viewed by students at adjacent Chapman University and by train passengers from the rail station across the street.

Landing the sprawling mosaic was a major coup for the Hilbert Museum and a blow to Santa Monica, which turned down an artwork that had become emblematic of its laid-back beach culture ("SPECIAL REPORT -- How Santa Monica Lost Its Iconic Half-Century Old Mosaic," June 7. 2019).

“After Janet and I saw ‘Pleasures Along the Beach’ for the first time," said museum benefactor and donor Mark Hilbert referring to his wife, "we had the idea to add a Millard Sheets mosaic to the building’s exterior as the ultimate preview of the art inside.

"But (we) never dreamed for a moment that it could be this specific piece,” Hilbert said in a promotional piece announcing the reopening of the museum.

The mosaic was up for grabs after the building's owner, Mark Leevan, unveiled plans to remove the artwork that is arguably the most ambitious of Sheets' 200 mosaics created for Home Savings & Loans across the State.

Under a legal settlement approved in 2018, the City Council agreed to revoke the building's local landmarks designation, and Leevan agreed to preserve the artwork and donate it to the City or a nonprofit organization ("Iconic Santa Monica Mosaic Could Be Removed Under Legal Settlement," September 5, 2018).

But when the City decided not to accept the artwork and made almost no effort to find it a local home, Hilbert seized the chance ("Iconic Santa Monica Mural Finds New Home in Orange County," June 5, 2019).

He sought the help of Brian Worley, who had worked as an intern for Sheets when the artist installed the mosaic at the Santa Monica bank building in 1969.

“I made a call to Brian to see what was possible and he informed that our favorite mosaic was indeed available," Hilbert said. "I have to believe that it was meant to be.”

Hilbert commissioned McCandless Tile to move the mosaic, and the Santa Ana-based company hired Worley to oversee the removal of the mosaic, restore it and install it at its new home.

Worley went to work, using pneumatic, diamond-bladed chain saws to remove the mosaic, cutting it into 570 jagged pieces numbered to correspond to those on a scale image of the artwork, museum officials said.

"He then painstakingly restored each piece, and reassembled them like a giant jigsaw puzzle on the floor of the former Claremont High School gym before starting the installation process at the museum in Orange late last year," museum officials said.

The restored piece is part of an opening exhibition that includes 40 paintings by Sheets, as well as works by Norman Rockwell and Disney’s Mary Blair, who created concept art for the animated films "Alice in Wonderland," "Peter Pan" and "Cinderella."

“Being able to help create the mural with Millard Sheets in 1969 and then oversee its removal, restoration and installation 55 years later at a place committed to the display and appreciation of California art is nothing short of a dream come true,” Worley said in a statement.

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