I had heard about this magical sculpture garden called Queen Califia’s Magic Circle in Northern San Diego for a long time. It’s only open for only a few hours a week and I don’t make it to Escondido much so it took me years to make time to get there, but I was finally able to make the trek last week to meet up with photographer friend Nevena. The artist Niki de Saint Phalle is well known in San Diego due to her many mosaic covered public art works installed all over town, but nothing else she has done reaches this remarkable scale. It’s a true dreamscape and I was able to get a sense of the way she merged fantasy and history in her work more than anything else of hers I have previously seen. I tried to embody some of the fantasy while playing with the high contrast color and delicious textures…perhaps a modern day Queen Califia. Nevena’s photos turned out wonderful and I hope you enjoy.

All photos by Nevena Marigold Studio 

Below is the description from the City of Escondido’s webpage about the sculpture garden:

Queen Califia’s Magical Circle is the only American sculpture garden and the last major international project created by Niki de Saint Phalle (born France, 1930-2002). Inspired by California’s mythic, historic and cultural roots, the garden consists of nine large-scale sculptures, a circular “snake wall” and maze entryway, sculpturally integrated bench seating, and native shrubs and trees planted within the interior plaza and along the outer perimeter. The garden bears the brilliant, unique mosaic ornamentation that is an unmistakable part of Saint Phalle’s later work.

The sculpture garden’s key architectural features are an undulating circular wall that surrounds the garden. Monumental playful serpents, decorated in colorfully patterned mosaics, slither along the top of the wall, their curved bodies forming a pattern of solids and voids that allows visitors to see landscape vistas beyond the garden. The “snake wall” opens into a maze whose walls and floors are covered with black, white, and mirrored tiles. Once through the maze, visitors enter into the central courtyard. There are nine freestanding sculptures in the garden. The imposing mosaic sculpture of Queen Califia standing on the back of a five-legged eagle commands the center of the garden. Eight large totemic sculptures surround Queen Califia. They are covered with symbols and forms freely drawn from Native American, Pre-Columbian, and Mexican art as well as the artist’s own fantastic imagery.


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