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Going for the Gold: California Stories on the Los Angeles Metro Gold Line: Communities, Public Art, and Placemaking.: 06. Michael Stutz, Astride-Aside, Mission station

The project was funded in 2008-2009 by the California Council for the Humanities through its California Stories: California Story Fund




Michael Stutz

Bronze sculpture: 9’9” x 4’3” x 7’6”

Sculpture and blocks: 12’3” x 4’3” x 17’6”

The strong sense of community in the City of South Pasadena has made the Mission Station history unique among the Gold Line stations.  Shortly after the City of South Pasadena learned of plans to construct a station at Mission Street and Meridian Avenue, it informed the Art for Rail Transit (A-R-T) program of the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, the predecessor of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), that it neither wanted the station nor the public art designed until its citizen advisory group, the Downtown Revitalization Task Force, had developed a plan for the area.  The city also wanted the design of the station and public art integrated into its Mission West Historic District so it would enhance a “sense of community.”[1]  In January 1993, the City of South Pasadena invited Metro Art, the public art office of the newly formed MTA, to meet with the Downtown Revitalization Task Force and describe the scope of the art program, present examples of art at other stations, and invite community feedback.[2]  After making the presentation, the City Manager of South Pasadena offered to help recruit people for the Community Advisory Committee (CAC) that Metro Art was creating for the station, and requested the Community Profile that was going to be written by the CAC specifically direct the artist to be sensitive to the community’s concerns.[3]  The Task Force also wanted to divert funds for the art to architectural restoration.  However, the Task Force was subsequently informed that funds for the art program could not be diverted for architectural purposes.[4]  In May, Metro Art had a community meeting and informed the public about the art program and invited people to participate in the art creation process by joining the CAC.[5]  During the summer of 1993, the CAC wrote a Community Profile directing the architect/artist team to “realize the importance the Advisory Committee places on the need for the design to harmonize with the nearby historic structures and surroundings.”[6]  After completing the Community Profile, the CAC elected two members to the five member Artist Selection Panel.  At its first meeting on December 6, the panel created a short list of 41 artists after reviewing the material in Metro Art’s slide registry.  On December 13, the panel reduced the short list to five finalists, who were then interviewed on December 22.  After the interviews, the panel selected Richard Hall as the artist for the Mission Street station.  The panelists were attracted to Hall’s experience as an iron worker and how his artwork related to the products fashioned at the historic Meridian Iron Works, which was in a building that now houses a museum next to the station.[7] 

Hall began working on his design under a 10 month contract on February 1, 1994.[8]  After reviewing his proposed installation and the station design on April 18, 1994, the CAC complained that the art and architecture were not integrated with each other while the station design neither reflected the historic nature of the area nor was compatible with the proposed Mission Street Historic District.[9]  As a result of that meeting and a meeting held a week later with the South Pasadena Blue Line Committee (SPBLC), the station was redesigned.  On July 11, the SPBLC accepted the new design.[10]  Late in 1994, another South Pasadena committee, the Design Review Board, reviewed the station design and concluded it was salvageable, though the architectural mix of craftsman and iron work did not represent the historic iron vernacular of South Pasadena.  Before additional work was done to address the Design Review Board’s concerns, however, construction of the light rail was suspended in late 1995 because of cost overruns and the following year Hall dropped out of the project.

With the resumption of construction of the light rail under the Pasadena Blue Line Authority (PBLA) in 2000, the City of South Pasadena initiated a process to commission a new artist for the station.  Lesley Elwood of Elwood & Associates, the PBLA’s art consultant, prepared a Request For Qualifications (RFQ) for the City of South Pasadena describing the project, budget, selection process, and project timeline.  Michael Stutz learned about the project from a website that lists opportunities for public artists.[11] The South Pasadena Art Advisory Committee (SPAAC), which was composed of city government and community representatives, reviewed the submissions of approximately 100 artists and then selected Stutz and three other artists as finalists.[12]  The artists were given a tour of the site in early 2001 and paid a design fee to develop a proposal that they were to present at an interview with the SPAAC a few weeks later. 

Stutz described the surrounding buildings that framed the plaza where the work was ultimately installed as looking like an Edward Hooper painting.[13]  The plaza, he felt, was defined by the “trees, grassy areas, and rustic monuments to the past” such as the Iron Works (that is now a museum) and a water trough.  During the tour Stutz learned that South Pasadena has preserved its unique character by a high level of civic involvement and an intense pride of place.   He saw that South Pasadena was “strongly aware of its identity and liked to think of itself as being counter to what is around it.”[14]  This contrariness is legendary in Southern California, an area known for its freeways, for having stopped the construction of the 710 freeway. 

From the time he began developing his work, Stutz wanted to integrate this sense of confidence and difference into his design.  He also wanted to create a work that responded to the trees in the park and the use of the site as a passageway for people rushing to catch a train.  Shortly after the tour of the area, Stutz conceived of a larger than life “walking man” in a rapid stride as a way of embodying these features.

With the concept out of the way, Stutz then worked on the scale of the piece and the “attitude” of the figure.  He sketched out various versions, including a slacker, a bald man, and a businessman in a suit.  The strut and proportions are based on photographs Stutz took of an 18 year old man who modeled in different poses. He prepared two variations of the walking man for the SPAAC—one standing upright, and the other upside down.  The upside down figure in particular symbolized South Pasadena as a place that moved counter to what is around it.  This design also related to the surrounding flora in which the splayed legs extended upward looking like branches of a tree.  Stutz incorporated granite blocks in both versions.  Each foot of the upright version was on a block, while the upside down version was balancing with its head on a block. 

At the time he was preparing his proposal for the SPAAC, Stutz named the work Astride-Aside.  “I liked the poetry of the two words. To be astride something is to be aside something” he said.[15]  The walking man, Stutz noted, is at once in the middle of a stride and aside the station.  He also felt the title captures the central concept of the installation--South Pasadena marches to its own drummer.[16]

In early February, Stutz was interviewed by the SPACC.  He told the committee that his prior work on the large figures for the Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans got him involved in creating public art in places where people live.  He also presented both versions of his work and described how the weaving of the figure brought a “sense of the handmade, the hand wrought into a more modern context” that related to the craftsman tradition that South Pasadena wanted incorporated in the work.  He also told the committee about the fabrication process.[17]  The committee selected Stutz based on his design, his personal interaction with the committee members, and the sense that his work was hand-crafted.[18]  At a later meeting, the SPAAC accepted by one vote the right side up version.

At the time of the interview in early 2001, Stutz intended to use two granite blocks, one under each leg.  A year later, he decided to add a third block.  Initially, he planned to place the additional block behind the sculpture but later decided to move it in front of the others because the installation is about moving to the future.[19]  These blocks were originally part of the foundation of the 700’ long Arroyo Seco Bridge.  Built in 1895 for the Santa Fe Railroad, this steel bridge is the oldest railroad bridge in Los Angeles County and the tallest with a track bed 100’ above the Pasadena Parkway.  When the bridge was modified to handle the trains of the light rail line, the granite blocks were replaced by a concrete footing. Paul Casebeer retrieved the granite blocks and Clarice Knapp obtained permission from the City of South Pasadena and the South Pasadena Preservation Foundation to store them next to the Meridian Iron Works Museum.  Both Knapp and Casebeer told the South Pasadena Art Advisory Committee that the blocks were available to the station’s artist.[20]  After deciding to use three blocks, Stutz was able to get the best after considerable negotiation with Casebeer.

The City let Stutz install the artwork “where he wanted it.”[21]  He placed it near the entrance to the park where it is close to the tracks so people can see it from the train and close to the road so people can see it while driving by.[22]  Stutz aligned the statue to create the impression it is walking into town.  The work is unique for being funded through the light rail line’s art budget yet is not on MTA property.  This unusual status is possible because the City of South Pasadena made a commitment to maintain the piece.  The setting for the work was enriched by over $866,000 in improvements made by the City of South Pasadena.  While the appearance of the park was enhanced by a clock, benches, and lighting, these improvements connected the park itself to the station and the surrounding streets with paving and landscaping.[23]

The design went through a thorough approval process by the City of South Pasadena.  It was first approved by the South Pasadena Art Advisory Committee, and then presented to the community at a meeting at the city library in July 2001.[24]  In December 2001 and January 2002, it was reviewed by the Mission Station Design Committee and on May 20, 2002, the South Pasadena Art Advisory Committee gave final approval of the design.[25]

The work presents a larger than life man on a vigorous walk across large granite blocks.  It combines a large scale, a familiar pose, and the human form.[26]  By creating “a dynamic use of the human form” Stutz felt it expressed the sense that the City of South Pasadena is moving ahead but at its own pace, style, and manner.[27]  He also felt “The image of a walking figure, in ordinary dress, relates to all who pass through the site, and accentuates the pedestrian nature of the Mission Street area.”[28]  It is, according to Stutz, “a celebration of everyday life, emphasizing movement and direction in an ever-changing urban world.  It reinforces the very human nature of the site, and symbolizes a community assuredly growing with proud individuality.”[29]  By placing the statue on the blocks from the bridge, he said his work “literally builds upon the foundation of the past.”[30]  The composition of the installation—a statue on a granite pedestal in a small town park, mimics the traditional monument.  But instead of an important figure in a static pose, this work portrays an ordinary person in movement.    

In its design, materials, and coloring, Stutz saw his work as relating to its surroundings.  “The outstretched arms and legs of the sculpture,” he wrote, “echo the trunks and branches of the adjacent trees, establishing a relationship between nature, the walker, and light rail that reinforces the positive ecological impact of the site.”[31]  Nature is also embraced by “The latticed quality of the construction [which] allows sun light to sparkle and dance through the sculptural spaces, shifting constantly between the internal and external realms, and imparting a yielding, open quality to the figure.”[32]

Stutz began the fabrication process by making a clay maquette.  He then made a detailed woven maquette out of paper.  Stutz brought both maquettes to the fabricator, Carlson & Co.  During fabrication, Stutz was at the factory supervising the placement of the irregularly sheared, annealed bronze strips because the weave is part of the aesthetic of the piece.  Though Stutz had created several public art pieces before this one, Astride-Aside was the first one that used an armature.[33]  On February 6, 2003, the artwork was installed[34] and on February 22, 2003, the station was the first of the Gold Line stations dedicated.[35]  

Michael Stutz (1964 - ), was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  After receiving his BFA from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, he attended Ulster Polytechnic in Belfast, Northern Ireland.  Stutz later moved to New Orleans where he created his first sculpture designing and building large figures for the Mardi Gras parade.  After three years, he moved to San Francisco and worked as a display artist and prop builder for the film and fashion industry.  In 1999, Stutz completed his first permanent public art piece, “Pneumatic Dreamer” at the W hotel in San Francisco.   Since then he has also completed public art projects in Portland, Oregon, Salt Lake City, Jacksonville, Florida, Richmond, Virginia, and West Hollywood.       

[1] Letter from Kenneth C. Farfsing to Jessica Cusick, November 25, 1992.

[2] Letter from Kenneth C. Farfsing to Jessica Cusick, January 18, 1993.

[3] Letter from Kenneth C. Farfsing to Jessica Cusick, February 22, 1993.

[4] Letter from Jessica Cusick to Ken Farsing, March 16, 1993.

[5] Notice of Public Meeting for the Mission Street Pasadena Light Rail Transit Project, May 1, 1993.

[6] Preface to Community Profile, September 30, 1993.

[7] Alan Nakagawa, interviewed by Michael Several, May 28, 2008.

[8] Contract between Richard Hall and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, February 1, 1994 through November 30, 1994.

[9] Letter from Dorothy M. Cohen to Jessica Cusick, Alan Nakagawa, Blue Line Committee, April 23, 1994.

[10] Memorandum from John Sparano to Rob Ball, re: South Pasadena Blue Line Committee comments on Mission Station and submission schedule for Contract C6475, August 25, 1994.

[11] Lesley Elwood, interviewed by Michael Several, August 28, 2008; Michael Stutz, interviewed by Michael Several, May 26, 2009.

[12] Elwood interview, August 28, 2008.

[13] “Astride-Aside” A Sculpture for the Mission Street Light Rail Station, Michal Stutz, no date.

[14] Stutz interview, May 26, 2009.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Elwood interview, August 28, 2008.

[19] Stutz interview.

[20] Letter from Clarice Knapp and Paul Casebeer to Mayor Dorothy Cohen, January 25, 2001.

[21] Email from Lesley Elwood to Maya Emsden, June 26, 2001.

[22] Stutz interview, May 26, 2009.

[23] City of South Pasadena Official Report from Sean Joyce to City Council, re: Design and Funding of Mission Street Blue Line Station, September 5, 2001; City of South Pasadena City Manager’s Office Memo from Sylvia Kim to Mission Station Design Committee, et. al., re Mission Station Design Committee Meeting, January 29, 2002; City of South Pasadena Official Report from Sylvia Kim to City Council re: Betterment Agreement between the Los Angeles to Pasadena Metro blue Line Construction Authority and the City of South Pasadena, March 20, 2002.

[24] Mary Schubert, “Plans for Blue Line décor sprint ahead: Sculpture may be ready at station in 2003” Pasadena Star News, July 4, 2001.

[25] Meeting Minutes, Los Angeles to Pasadena Metro Blue Line Construction Authority, re: South Pasadena Art Advisory Committee Final Art Review, May 20, 2002.

[26] Michael Stutz, Mission Street Station-Project Description, Astride-Aside, no date.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Statement in description of Astride-Aside, Metropolitan Transportation Authority, no date.

[30] Description of Astride-Aside on Stutz’s website,

[31] Ibid

[32] Ibid.

[33] Stutz interview.

[34] “February 6, 2003 Michael Stuz (sic) Artwork is Installed at the Mission Station,” press information, Los Angeles to Pasadena Construction Authority, February 10, 2003.

[35] Flyer, “February 22 is South Pasadena Metro Gold Line Dedication Day!” no date; Mary Schubert, “Gold Line rail station dedicated”