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“Art in Public Places” – Forest Ave. & PCH by Marlo and Jesse Bartels


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Some of the art you see around Laguna Beach is the result of two city programs: “Public Art and Murals” and “Art in Public Places.” The goals of the Public Art and Murals and Art in Public Places (adopted in 1986) initiatives are to create diverse art installations of the highest quality that will, over decades, reflect the city itself and its citizens, and improve the quality of life; and to be a source of pride to all Laguna Beach residents. 

Forest Ave. & PCH was created by the father/son team of artists Marlo and Jesse Bartels for the Bollards Public Art Project in 2020. 

art in sideview bollards

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A father/son collaboration created by Marlo and Jesse Bartels

Marlo has been producing and installing permanent ceramic and stone sculpture, mosaics, pictorial murals and functional art for cities, institutions and personal clients since 1977. He works with ceramic tile, terrazzo & stone; shaping, forming and glazing the clay elements by hand. With the support of a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in Washington, D.C., he has developed new techniques for fabricating furniture and sculptures, using tile facings on ferro-cement with polystyrene substrates. His work includes sculpture, indoor and outdoor walls, fountains, floors and functional art and features durability and low maintenance. Colors are myriad, non-fading and resistant to graffiti. 

He has several other pieces of public art in Laguna including Third Reef, Canyon Chess and Checkers, Al’s Bench, 580 Broadway and the memorial benches in Heisler Park.

art in closeup bollards

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A dazzling array of vivid colors

Jesse Bartels is a second-generation Mosaic ceramist and artist. Jesse grew up on the grounds as a Sawdust kid in the ‘70s, helping out at his father Marlo’s booth. He developed a love for ceramics at a young age, moving on to manage the ceramic demo booth in the early ‘90s before becoming an exhibitor himself. His one-of-a-kind mosaics are colorful, inspired, sometimes spontaneous and other times irreverent. They have a magnetic way of drawing you in to inspect every unique detail, intention and whimsy. 

art in trolley bollards

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View from Forest Avenue looking out onto PCH 

“What we know about ancient cultures, we know from their ceramics,” said Jesse. “I’m interested in the fact that ceramics endure a long time and have been used as a means to store information, like that of carved stone. I get to leave a lasting mark on the world, an impression that will outlast myself and possibly several more generations.” 

He has said of his work, “I’m here to confuse future archeologists!”

Jesse has other public art installations in Laguna, including the tiles on Mermaid Street.

This is the 86th article in our weekly series featuring Art in Public Places. Since there are more than 100 pieces of public art scattered throughout Laguna, it will take a while to cover them all.

For a map of Art in Public Places (not every piece is listed), click here

To apply for the Arts in Public Places program, click here.