Plaster plaque on S-2, Crying Wolf on Stonewall Peak

Unauthorized public art on San Diego trails

“Crying Wolf,” atop Stonewall Peak
  • “Crying Wolf,” atop Stonewall Peak

Coming soon to a vandalized scenic overlook or trailside destination: public art of ambiguous intent and questionable legality. Art scaled to the exact dimensions of missing historical plaques and interpretive markers. Art with a cynical, wry, or whimsical message — depending on who's viewing it.

Last autumn, a shiny gray plaque suddenly appeared on the site of the forlorn and long-vandalized Imperial Highway (County Highway S-2) historic marker at the San Diego-­Imperial County line. Where once there resided a heavy bronze plaque commemorating the opening of a paved link to the Imperial Valley in the '60s, there now rests a graphite-rubbed plaster replacement, with words solemnly proclaiming, "This is the desert. There's nothing out here. Nothing"

Ironically, this unauthorized expression of a local artist's creative impulse may prove more resistant to opportunistic vandals than the original bolted metal plaque. A rift now runs through the middle of the replacement plaque — probably the result of a vandal who tried to pry a seemingly valuable piece of metal out of its frame, only to hear the disappointing crack of plaster beneath the plaque's shiny gray patina.

Another unauthorized piece of art is (was?) found on Stonewall Peak in the Cuyamacas, perched squarely atop a stone-and-mortar pillar that once held a direction-finder. "Crying Wolf," as the artist calls it, a welded-rod sculpture of piled-up houses reminiscent of the voracious new construction on San Diego's fringe, uneasily looks out over thousands of acres of pristine woods and meadows. "Development could never happen here," the artist states (or asks?) on a Plexiglas-coated sign next to the sculpture. Echoing further comments about overpopulation is a single word scratched into the plastic: "rabbits."

The artist's "canvas" also includes a number of trailside or mountaintop locations where small, vaguely female figures ("female action figures," according to the artist), derived from a twisted piece of tree root and duplicated in the form of gray concrete casts, have been placed conspicuously or inconspicuously amid their surroundings. The artist hopes that passersby might notice the odd material, neither stone nor wood, and that they will appreciate in each figure the qualities of strength and femininity. Some casts have been picked up right away, while others have remained in situ for weeks or even months.

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