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Going for the Gold: California Stories on the Los Angeles Metro Gold Line: Communities, Public Art, and Placemaking.: 03. Roberto L. Delgado, El Quetzalcoatl, Heritage Square Station

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


El Quetzalcoatl de Xochicalco & La Gente del Pueblo

Roberto Delgado

Two distinct artistic features capturing three epics in the history of the largely Latino population living near the Heritage Square/French Avenue station are represented in Roberto Delgado’s installation.  Referring to pre-Columbian Mexico, El Quetzalcoatl de Xochicalco consists of a twisting Quetzalcoatl figure spread out in each embankment that flanks the two station platforms.  These two figures mimic the Toltec deity for knowledge and fertility, Quetzalcoatl, as it appears at the eighth century A.D. Toltec site of Xochicalco in the state of Morelos in Mexico.  Delgado made these figures at the Gold Line station look like ancient artifacts by composing them of disconnected parts of carved limestone and partially covering them with plants.  La Gente del Pueblo is a horizontal gallery of 57 12” square pavers on each platform that captures all three epics of Delgado’s installation.  Each paver is painted in a faux Talavera style of the Spanish colonial period and has 3 or 4 images that are a mix of pre-Columbian motifs taken from the Borgia Codex and photographs of local people in different surroundings.  Among the images are photographs of a World War II ration drive at the nearby Loreto Elementary School, the 1935-36 city-wide football champion team at nearby Lincoln High School, a low-rider show on Figueroa, a community meeting in Cypress Park, and people in the neighborhood going about their daily business.[1] 

In the Spring of 1993, Metro Art, the public art program of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), held two meetings in the communities surrounding the planned stations at Avenue 26 and French Street.  At these meetings, Alan Nakagawa from Metro Art described the two stations that were planned for their communities, outlined the role that the community could play in the art creation process, and invited people to join the Community Advisory Committee (CAC) that was being established for their area.  He told the people that the CAC would first prepare a Community Profile that would help guide the artists in creating art that was relevant to their community and would elect two of its members to a five member artist selection panel.  After its initial meeting in July 1993, the CAC met regularly during the rest of the summer writing a Community Profile.  It then elected two members to the artist selection panel, which first met on October 8.  At that meeting, the panelists reviewed slides from Metro Art’s Artist Slide Registry and selected a short list of 21 artists who were looked at more closely at the panel’s next meeting.  After reviewing the background and qualifications of 21 artists at its second meeting, the panel selected seven finalists for the two stations.  On October 28, the panelists interviewed the artists, discussed their ability to created art that would respond to the character of the communities around the two stations, and then selected Cheri Gaulke for the Avenue 26 Station, and Roberto Delgado for French Street. 

When Delgado began working on his design in early 1994, the French Street station was planned to be constructed closer to the Figueroa/Marmion Way intersection.  He initially designed a concrete mural with silhouettes of a variety of people for a wall at the station.  He then considered a 435 square foot tile mural near the station’s platform.[2]  But after safety concerns were raised about having trains pass through the intersection at street level, the station was moved to French Avenue and a subway was constructed underneath the intersection.  With the change in location of the station and changes to the design of the station, Delgado discarded the mural and proposed a long concrete serpent of disconnected segments suggesting an archaeological ruin,[3] be placed on the slopping embankments flanking each platform.[4]  These embankments reminded Delgado of ball courts that were ubiquitous in large population centers of pre-Columbian Meso-America.  When construction of the light rail stopped in late 1995 because of cost over-runs, Delgado’s proposal for the station consisted of the two concrete serpents.     

Delgado did not do any further work on the station until he was rehired for the project in early 2001.  But during the “containment” period, when no work was done on the light rail line, he learned how to make artistic ceramic tiles.  When he rejoined the project he proposed placing pavers in the platforms,[5] in which each would be painted in a faux Talavera style and contain two or three images.[6]  Among the approximately 150 images he used for the pavers were from photographs he took of the students and staff at the nearby Loreto and Hillside Elementary Schools and people going about their daily business on Figueroa.  Delgado also obtained photographs from the archives of nearby elementary schools and incorporated pictures from his mother’s 1935 and 1936 Lincoln High School yearbooks.  Using these photographs, Delgado felt was “a great way of binding the neighborhood with the station.”[7]  Delgado put these images on the pavers by silkscreen and airbrush techniques.

In addition to installing the pavers on the platforms, Delgado also wanted to put them in the station’s parking lot and in the adjacent city-owned sidewalk.  However, he could not install them in the parking lot because it was paved over with asphalt,[8] and he could not put them in the sidewalk because of a jurisdictional conflict over the right-of-way between the MTA and the City of Los Angeles.  Restricted to the platform, Delgado was advised by the MTA to place the pavers in areas that were not heavily trafficked, were not in front of benches, trash cans or map cases, and were more than 4’ from a light pole or canopy column base.  The MTA also recommended that few pavers be placed under the canopies.[9]  Within these guidelines, Delgado randomly placed the pavers but clustered them around the French Avenue entrance and in the curved section of the platform.     

The core of Delgado’s plan for the station when he was rehired remained the twisting and disconnected serpents cast in concrete.  In mid 2001, he decided to substitute limestone for the concrete[10] because limestone would last longer, was less expensive, and more authentic since it was the material of the original serpent.  He looked at limestone from Indiana, Texas, Oaxaca and Zacatecas before deciding to obtain it from Ojuelos, Jalisco State, Mexico[11] because it was easy to carve and had the same color as the limestone at Xochicalco.[12]  Delgado investigated and evaluated a number of different possibilities for carving the sections.  He considered using people in the Arts in Corrections Program at the California Correctional Facility in Wasco and carvers at the quarry in Zacatecas, Mexico.  He also considered having one artist carve the head sections and guest sculptors carve the other sections.  After deciding to use a carver in Mexico, he obtained samples from carvers in Ojuelos, Guadalajara, and Zacatecas.[13]  After evaluating the quality of work, Delgado decided to use a master carver in Ojuelos, the same area where the limestone came from.[14]  The carver prepared the sections from full size sketches Delgado prepared on butcher paper.[15]

Before the sculpture was installed, Delgado brought five carved samples to the project’s conservators, the Sculpture Conservation Studio, to get their evaluation.  The conservators were concerned about the porous nature of the limestone and had reservations about deterioration caused by moss that was planned to grow on it.[16]  Shortly after the work was installed, the limestone began scaling and disintegrating.  Delgado told the MTA, which was responsible for maintaining the work after it was installed, that the limestone had to be kept dry.  He approved of a proposal to elevate the limestone sections on a 6” platform so they would not lie on the wet ground and plants,[17] which was being watered three times a week.  The platform was not constructed but the watering was reduced.  The limestone is slowly taking on the appearance of an archaeological ruin as it deteriorates. Though not pleased by this, the MTA looked at the deterioration as an artistic statement and after replacing some of the sections, accepted the work in time for the dedication of the station on April 7, 2003.[18]

Roberto Delgado (b. 1944 in Los Angeles) attended the Academy of Fine Arts, Rome following his service in the US Army service in the late 1960s.  After receiving his MFA from UCLA in 1976, he was awarded a Brody Arts Foundation Grant, a Ford Foundation Fellowship, and two Fulbright Fellowships.  His public art includes murals at the Hartsfield International Airport in Atlanta, the Federal Courthouse in Pocatello, Idaho, North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, Salt Lake City, and the North Valley Police Station in Los Angeles.  In addition to the Gold Line, Delgado was selected to be an artist for the light rail project in Minneapolis-St. Paul.  His gallery work has been exhibited in galleries in Alaska, France, Mexico, Scotland, Germany, Costa Rica, and South Africa.

[1] Statement for French Avenue Station Plaque, Robert Delgado, Artist, no date.

[2] Budget with note that it is to accompany invoice dated January 4, 1995 from Roberto Delgado, .

[3] Memo from Robert Delgado, re: Blue Line French Avenue Station Public Art Project – The Design Phase: Preliminary Review of Conceptual Designs, April 9, 2001.

[4] Alan Nakagawa, interview by Michael Several, June 4, 2008.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Fax from Roberto Delgado to Mark Chmielowiec, re: City of Los Angeles Public Works and DOT Revocable Permit for paver installation for the Pasadena Blue Line French Avenue Station Public Art Project, sent December 10, 2001.

[7] Fax from Roberto L. Delgado to Brian Ahn and Lance Oishi, re: City of Los Angeles Public Works and DOT Revocable Permit for paver installation for the Pasadena Blue Line French Avenue Station Public Art Project, no date.

[8] Consultation Report from the Sculpture Conservation Studio re: review of proposed fabrication and materials, September 18, 2001.

[9] Memo from Lesley Elwood to Monica Borrn, re: notes of meeting with Roberto Delgado & Ralph Wanlass on placement of the platform pavers, August 6, 2002; Review of French Station Paver Placement, items discussed at August 6, 2002 meeting.

[10] See Memorandum from Lesley Elwood to Jack Clapp, May 7, 2001, with attached Scope of Work for Phase 1 Art Design – 35% completion.

[11] French Avenue Station KWJV Job No. 298-1735 Written Specifications, faxed September 10, 2002.

[12] Delgado, Op. Cit.

[13] Memo from Jose Antionio Aguirre to Roberto Delgado, November 10, 2001.

[14] Pasadena Gold Line Public Art Project Budget 100% Submittal, Proposed Fabrication Schedule, no date

[15] Service Contract Change Order, May 4, 2002.

[16] Consultation Report, Sculpture Conservation Studio, re: Review of proposed fabrication and materials, September 18, 2001.

[17] Roberto Delgado, interview by Michael Several, March 3, 2009.

[18] Lesley Elwood, August 7, 2008.