Inside San Diego

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Bow Wave Fountain Undergoes Conservation Treatment

For years, the majestic Bow Wave Sculpture has greeted visitors to City Hall, the Civic Theater and Community Concourse. Appearing to glide gracefully through calm seas, the sculpture’s copper glow has over time, dimmed.

In early July, the City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture will initiate the conservation of Bow Wave. A temporary fence will be erected around the sculpture while the team of Griswold Conservation Associates, LLC and Spectra Company perform the work. Completion is expected in August.

Installed in 1972, Bow Wave is a significant piece of art in the City of San Diego’s Civic Art Collection. The sculpture evokes the bow of a ship cutting through the sea, sending arcs of spray out from the hull. Constructed with a steel frame clad in layered sheets of copper, the artwork is outfitted with recirculating water jets and centered in a tiled basin.

“Bow Wave explores San Diego’s ongoing relationship with the sea,” said Christine Jones, senior public art manager, Commission for Arts and Culture.

Over decades, Bow Wave has deteriorated through normal corrosion and environmental damage. The conservation project includes the removal of mineral build-up and grime, as well as treatments for corrosion followed by the application of a superficial protective layer to reduce future environmental damage.

Once the conservation work is completed, the fountain will operate in accordance with San Diego’s mandatory water use restrictions. Running the water both preserves the structural integrity of the equipment and helps protect the copper surface from environmental damage. Maintenance personnel will receive the latest training in sculpture conservation protocols to support long-lasting preservation of the artwork.

“The City of San Diego conserves works, like the Bow Wave, in the Civic Art Collection to provide meaningful aesthetic and cultural experiences for San Diego’s residents and visitors,” said Jones.

Bow Wave is one of the best known mid-century public sculptures in Southern California by renowned artist Malcolm Leland. He began his art career as a potter and ceramicist. He studied at the Jepson Art Institute and won the Good Design Award from the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in 1955 for his innovative ceramic bird shelter, still sold in stores today. In 1957, Leland’s work began to shift toward integrating art into architectural projects. Leland is well-recognized for creating art elements for several prominent Southern California landmarks including the San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park. He also designed the concrete friezes around the second-floor perimeter of the San Diego Concourse.

You can learn more about the City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture and the Civic Art Collection here.