Home Arts, Etc. ‘Clayfornia’ considers climate, social justice through sculpture

‘Clayfornia’ considers climate, social justice through sculpture

“The Three Winds” by Gary Lett, a Pomona resident, melds together musical instruments elements like reeds and horns into an abstract sculpture at the California Botanic Garden. This sculpture is part of an in progress series that Lett is calling “Kosmic.” / photo by Sarah Van Buskirk

Sarah Van Buskirk
Staff Writer

The California Botanical Garden in Claremont has 16 clay sculptures created by artists from the American Museum of Ceramic Art studios on display as part of the “Clayfornia” series, which represents California’s long history with clay.

Gary Lett, a Pomona resident, who is known for creating clay sculptures revolving around racial justice, has his sculpture, “The Three Winds,” exhibited in the garden. 

“I wanted to break away from my traditional realism in my sculptures and do something more abstract with geometric shapes,” Lett said.

Lett said he is a big smooth jazz fan and he wanted to incorporate musical instrument elements into his sculpture, such as reeds and horns. The sculpture had a glaze coating creating a metallic finish.

Lett said when he was working on “The Three Winds” and other sculptures, he could not figure out a name for the series.

“My friend Bryan saw me working on the series and he said ‘man that’s some cosmic stuff right there’,” Lett said.

Lett said he then named that series “Kosmic,” which he said represented his friend’s remark and the American saxophonist David Koz.

Mary Beierle, a Los Angeles resident, has a collection of four sculptures in the gardens named, “Memories of Vanishing Things: View from Harlequin Lake, 2019.” One of the sculptures titled “Vanishing” was a light blue iceberg and had the texture of ice.

“Vanishing” by Mary Beierle depicts a light blue iceberg with the texture of ice, inspired by her trip to the largest glacier in North America. This piece at the California Botanic Garden is part of a series called “Memories of Vanishing Things: View from Harlequin Lake.” / photo by Sarah Van Buskirk

Beierle said that before her art career, she worked with One Bowl Productions, a production company focused on giving a voice to underrepresented communities, in creating native documentaries. 

“Twenty years ago, I became friends with Chief Oren Lyons, who is a part of the Iroquois Confederacy, and he used to say to me ‘no one is taking care of the mother earth and the ice is melting’.” Beierle said. 

Beierle said she wrote grants to visit the largest glacier in North America and two dozen other glaciers in Alaska. Beierle’s sculptures represent what she saw when she visited the glaciers.

Beierle said her inspiration for these sculptures were to bring something important and impactful to humanity.

“The foundational inspiration for these sculptures is climate change,” Beierle said.

Beierle said, if people can look at her work and start thinking about important issues, that is her goal.

C.J. Jilek, born and raised in Chicago but currently residing in Southern California, is displaying her piece “Instinct 3” at the Botanical Garden.

“My work is based on metaphors of human sexuality and attraction,” Jilek said.

Jilek said she is always looking at both the human figure as well as plants and botanicals for her sculpture’s inspiration.

The “Instinct 3” sculpture by C.J. Jilek displayed at the California Botanic Garden is made to resemble plants in a human way. / photo by Sarah Van Buskirk

Jilek said this piece was originally created for an exhibition at The Maloof, an art museum created by the Sam and Alfreda Maloof Foundation, in Rancho Cucamonga.

Jilek said her whole inspiration for that series was based on human’s natural instinct and attraction.

Kim Lingo, an artist and also an animal lover, has three of her sculptures at the botanical gardens specifically located at the Benjamin Pond. Her sculptures, “Hanging With Mom,” “Watching You” and “Gardener’s Friend” are camouflaged into the scenery, allowing visitors to scavenge them out.

“Hanging With Mom” depicts a family of turtles with two baby turtles riding on the shell of the mother. “Watching You” is displayed on a tree stump and depicted an owl on a tree stump. The sculpture looks like wood and is camouflaged with the stump it was on. “Gardener’s Friend” is a skunk with its tail lifted and resembled a realistic skunk.

“I tried to bring the animals into their natural habitat as if they were actually there,” Lingo said.

Lingo loves animals and cannot have all of them so she makes them instead.

“My favorite sculptures to do are animals. There are so many, it is never ending.” Lingo said.

Lingo said that her foundation for creating these sculptures is to observe the animals in their natural state. Lingo goes to the pond to watch the turtles, looks in the trees around her house to find owls, and finds skunks helpful instead of harmful because they help out in her garden.

The “Clayfornia” exhibit is running through April 18. To see these sculptures in person, visit calbg.org, to purchase an admissions ticket.

Sarah Van Buskirk can be reached at sarah.vanbuskirk@laverne.edu.

“Gardener’s Friend” by Kim Lingo is a realistic looking skunk hidden in the foliage at the California Botanic Garden. / photo by Sarah Van Buskirk
The “Watching You” sculpture by Kim Lingo depicts a watchful owl on a tree stump and is painted to resemble the tree stump it is displayed upon at the California Botanic Garden. / photo by Sarah Van Buskirk
“Hanging With Mom” by Kim Lingo shows a family of turtles, including two babies on the back of their mother, at the California Botanic Garden. / photo by Sarah Van Buskirk

Sarah Van Buskirk is a junior journalism major and the Fall 2022 editor-in-chief of the Campus Times. She has previously served as sports editor and staff writer.


  1. Nice article! Thank you, Sarah, for considering Clayfornia as a feature in your campus’s newspaper. To have one of my “Kosmic Jazz” sculptures mentioned is a real treat!


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