Thomas Marine employees Jody Lofton and Marcos Biard apply finishing touches to the Sea Gods sculpture on Newport Avenue. / PHOTO BY MARK-ELLIOTT LUGO
Sea Gods, a colorful-but-aging sculpture that vanished months ago from its site at the foot of Newport Avenue in Ocean Beach, returned home this week after receiving a major facelift. Conceived in the mid-1990s by San Diego-based artists Matthew Welsh and the late Jill Moon as part of the San Diego’s effort to enhance neighborhoods with original art, Sea Gods depicted a colorful and whimsical array of mythical sea creatures. The 28-foot-long painted steel sculpture became an instant landmark when it was installed on a landscaping strip bordering the OB Pier parking lot.
Over the years, the stylized figures representing King Neptune and Queen Mermaid, surrounded by their court of imaginative beings, offered beach visitors a light-hearted visual distraction from the drabness of the parking lot and provided a backdrop for countless snapshots and selfies. Children, especially, were attracted to the sculpture’s bright colors and Seuss-like forms. Climbing it (not recommended) was irresistible.
While gods may be immortal, the sculpture was not. As time passed, the corrosive effects of salt air, harsh sunlight, vandalism, and everyday wear and tear devastated the art. Rust was literally eating away parts of Sea Gods and its vibrant, inventive color scheme was fading badly, as well. To the distress of locals, the sculpture was becoming an eyesore.
Restoring Sea Gods was no easy task, requiring five months of labor by specialists from several local companies, including Thomas Marine, a custom metal fabricator based in Point Loma, and RW Little, noted for its expertise in epoxy and urethane coatings.
Coincidentally, Brian Thomas, owner of Thomas Marine, and Jody Lofton, a foreman with the firm, were members of the original crew that manufactured the sculpture in 1995. “Giving Sea Gods life again is an amazing feeling,” Thomas said.
Lofton, who recreated several of the sculpture’s disintegrating steel components, expects the restoration to last another generation. “Paint, anti-graffiti coatings, and welding technologies have improved substantially since the 1990s,” he explained. “The restored art should be much more durable than the original.”
The $39,000 cost of the project was funded by the City of San Diego’s Commission for Arts and Culture, the same agency that commissioned Sea Gods two decades ago. According to senior public art manager Christine Jones, the commission’s responsibilities include maintaining public works of art that, like Sea Gods, are part of San Diego’s vast Civic Art Collection.
Locals agree that the restoration was masterfully done and improves the neighborhood. Michael Amaya, an amateur photographer, praises the sculpture as he views it at various angles through his lens.
“It’s representative of OB and the merging of the land and the water. It reflects the quirkiness of Ocean Beach,” Amaya said.
Art Raya, seated on the sea wall and accompanied by his sunglasses-wearing Chihuahua, echoes Amaya’s sentiments. Sea Gods “embodies the goofy, serendipitous nature of OB,” he says. “It’s great that the sculpture has lasted as long as it has.”