Elizabeth Healey hopes her Dream Big watchdog will inspire positive change

By MARRIE STONE

You won’t find any signs at City Hall this spring telling you to keep your dogs off their grass. All canines and humans are welcome. And all are invited to Dream Big.

It has long been artist Elizabeth Laul Healey’s dream to showcase her work in her hometown. But Healey had always been private about her aspirations, preferring to let her art speak for itself. “Why was I doing that?” she said. “I decided I had to put [my hopes] out into the universe.”

At a recent Laguna Beach High School (LBHS) reunion, Healey connected with an old friend who encouraged her to submit to the City Arts Commission. That’s how Healey’s big dream, Dream Big, landed on City Hall’s front lawn last week. And it’s already attracting a lot of attention, from both humans and canines alike.

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Photo by Jeff Rovner

One of Laguna’s favorite doggy ambassadors, Dexter, contemplates his own big dreams in front of Elizabeth Healey’s “Dream Big,” which was dedicated on Thursday, March 7

The nine-foot-tall, 400-pound watchdog statue has a fiberglass foam base and is made up of thousands of pieces of broken mirrors, Italian smalti tiles and various stones, including turquoise and quartz, all blended into a whimsical mosaic. Begun in 2023 and completed this year, the sculpture took three months to create.

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Photo by Jeff Rovner

There’s symbolism embedded in every inch of the sculpture – from the time on the watch, to the circles, to the reflective mirrors inviting viewers to see themselves and reflect on their dreams

Dream Big is the first of three temporary public art installations planned for outside City Hall in 2024,” said Cultural Arts Director Siân Poeschl. “It’s an exciting start to the year and wonderful to have a Laguna Beach native start the season.”

Now based in North Carolina, Healey conceived of her Watchdog series while doing a show at [seven-degrees]. “I was showing female and male mannequins and busts, and I got inspired to try a dog,” she said. “I tiled one dog figure, and everybody fought over it.” The first sold to an Irvine Company executive. Another to a local mayor. No surprise. Laguna loves its dogs. Soon, glass artist John Barber offered Healey studio space to show more. The work was also welcomed by Studio Arts Gallery, once located in Laguna’s historic Pottery Shack. To date, Healey has made more than 300 dogs.

Dream Big is embedded with symbolism. Note the clock around the watchdog’s neck, set to 11:11. That’s been a time of significance for Healey for decades. “My mom and I would always call each other at 11:11 and make our wishes and prayers together,” Healey said. “It’s a time of oneness and unity. My alarm goes off, seven days a week, at 11:11. I’ll stop whatever I’m doing and send positivity into the world. Most of the watches on the dogs will be set at 11:11.”

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Photo by Jeff Rovner

Note the clock’s time, set to 11:11, a moment of significance for Healey and her now deceased mother

The circles also hold significance. “When my daughter was born in 2003, my mom was simultaneously dying of cancer,” Healey said. “All I could think about was the circle of life. It was both the happiest and saddest time. I did a whole series of paintings that sold across Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego called Circle of Life. Twenty years later, the circles have made their way back into my art. It’s all about treasuring the ones who are here and the ones who have passed. It’s about community and friendship and family. Circles are eternal. This dog will live longer than me. With any luck, my art will outlive me.”

The message underlying Dream Big might be even larger than that nine-foot pup. Healey hopes the sculpture inspires people to pause and reflect on their own lofty ambitions and go after them in intentional ways.

“There are so many people who live in fear and stay in their lane. They’re not taught to think big,” Healey said. “But humans pay attention to commands. If a sign says ‘STOP,’ we stop. When we’re given a command like ‘DREAM BIG,’ it’s like getting permission to do whatever you want. People get inspired. They realize they deserve more. It gives them hope that whatever they’re going through can make them better.”

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Courtesy of Elizabeth Laul Healey

Laguna native Elizabeth Laul Healey poses with her newly installed sculpture “Dream Big” in front of City Hall

Healey knows what this feels like. She recalled a time back in the 1980s when her LBHS cross-country coach, Jim Toomey, pulled her aside as she struggled with dyslexia, telling her she was capable of anything she set her mind to accomplish. Toomey’s brother was an Olympic decathlete. Inspirational messages were encoded in his DNA, and he passed those self-help lessons onto his team.

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That may also have inspired Healey’s work with Tony Robbins, America’s favorite motivational coach, back in her early 20s. And her decision, alongside her husband, to open an art park near her North Carolina studio called Positivity Park.

“During the pandemic, [with all the negativity surrounding our nation], I decided I wanted to help people to come together. So, I took all that background, and used my art to give people some sort of happiness and light and hope. Or just make them smile.”

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Photo by Jeff Rovner

“Dream Big” dog reflects on our flags, the state of the world and his own big dog dreams

Healey wasn’t always an artist. In addition to her work with Tony Robbins, she had a career as a wholesale mortgage broker and as art director and operations manager at a luxury magazine. She also briefly did some acting in Hollywood. Longtime locals might remember Healey from her time in Laguna (LBHS Class of ’86), where she worked at Baskin Robbins, Heidelberg Bakery and the Forestry Market (now 230 Forest).

It wasn’t until a trip to Paris with her high school French class that Healey’s eyes opened to art’s possibilities. “I always loved art. I would enter little contests, but never thought about it as a career. But in Paris, I discovered this contemporary artist named Niki de Saint Phalle. She had these huge mosaic red lips in front of the Pompidou. They were spinning with water coming out. I didn’t even know that kind of art existed. I marveled at it for two hours while my friends went shopping. My love of art grew from there. I started collecting with my limited budget,” she said.

Almost 40 years later, it’s Healey’s work that’s making folks marvel. Talk about a full-circle moment.

“I’m so honored and grateful to be back in Laguna,” said Healey, whose next big dream is to have her work in Heisler Park. Life has taught her to put her intentions out there because you never know.

For the next three months, Healey’s watchdog will guard the town, reminding us that our goals may lie within reach if only we stretch ourselves and try.

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Photo by Jeff Rovner

The city plans a pop-up dog training class in early April. Meanwhile, they invite all dog lovers to share photos of their pups with the installation using the hashtag #dreambiglaguna.

Special thanks to the lodging establishments and City of Laguna Beach for funding this installation.


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