Tag Archives: niki de saint phalle

Inspiration: Queen Califia’s Magic Circle


Several years back, I was visiting a friend in Los Angeles and dragged her, kicking and screaming a bit, onto I-5 South to sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic on a very hot Saturday in June. We were headed to Kit Carson Park in Escondido, about a half hour north of San Diego. When we got there, LA freeway aggravation gave way to joy. We had arrived at the amazing Queen Califia’s Magic Circle, a gorgeous mosaic sculpture garden created by French artist Niki de Saint Phalle that is rich with magic and myth. The garden takes its name from a fictional warrior queen.

The entrance to the garden is a maze with walls covered in black, white and mirrored mosaic tiles. The mirrors reflect the colors of the sculptures and the greenery and the blue southern California sky. A 400-foot snake wall surrounds the courtyard, which contains a powerful, magnificent Queen Califia and eight totem-like figures covered with symbols, creatures, and animals that played important roles in the mythologies of the indigenous peoples that are part of California’s history.

The sculptures are covered with hand-cut glass, ceramic, and stone mosaic tiles. Queen Califia herself is embellished with hand-cut mirrored glass. The movement of light, wind, color and reflection continually transforms the garden.

This is a place for people of all ages. The works are playful, and children are welcome to explore and climb on the sculptures. Underneath the Queen, a deep blue, starry mosaic sky covers an area lined with benches, a place to meditate and dwell in the beauty and myths that have been brought to life here.

If you find yourself in southern California, don’t miss it. It’s well worth the bumper-to-bumper traffic. In the meantime, scroll through these and have a look:

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Hark, the herald angels

So many images of angels all over the place at this time of year. An angel is a lovely symbol of hope, goodness, purity, protection, comfort and consolation. I see a fallen angel as lost soul, a Lucinda WIlliams song. I like this online find:

Angels descending, bring from above,
Echoes of mercy, whispers of love.
– Fanny J. Crosby

So Fanny J. Crosby turns out to be an American mission worker, poet, lyricist, and composer, 1820–1915. A lifelong Methodist, and blind almost from birth, she was one of the most prolific hymnists in history, writing over 8,000 hymns and gospel songs with over 100 million copies printed.

I am a lover of Italian Renaissance art, and thus a big fan of angels. Here are two of my favorite angel images, very non-Renaissance. I love the first, Jean Michel Basquiat’s Fallen Angel, for the way it invites us to think about how it might feel (in living color, and we can even see into his insides) to be a fallen angel. I love the Guardian Angel on high in the Zurich train station by Niki de Sainte Phalle for its color, joy, and love, as she watches over passengers traveling their roads.


Recently retired after 23 years as an art therapist in a foster care agency, I find myself with more time on my hands. So here’s a blog! I’m looking forward to making more art, finding opportunities to continue practicing my profession, staying connected with colleagues and others, celebrating creativity, spreading the word about art therapy, and sharing my own experiences. Some of the things you can expect to see addressed on this blog: the healing power of art • art therapy  with children and adolescents •  foster care and adoption  •  things my clients have taught me   •  parent art therapy workshops  •  community art-making with kids and families  •  my life as an arts & crafts counselor at Camp AmeriKids  •  the power of groups  •  outsider art  •  great and inspiring art discoveries  •  recycled and found art materials  •  art ideas for kids  •  my own art processes  •  and more.


The photo was taken at Niki de Saint Phalle’s magnificent mosaic sculpture park, Queen Califia’s Magical Circle, in Escondido, CA. More on that to come. Please go there immediately if you happen to be in the area! You won’t be disappointed.