Once known as a community zoo, Waller Park in Santa Maria roared back to life Saturday through pieces of art.
The temporary exhibit near the Duck Pond displayed animal sculptures created by the late Santa Barbara County artist Morris Squire, and the public was invited to paint a ram. The event was hosted by the County Office of Arts and Culture with County Parks.
It was the first time these artworks have appeared at the park in a nod to the venue's history, when it also was a zoo, said Nicole Berry, Squire Foundation community artist, and Ashley Hollister, executive director.
"The County Arts Commission and our foundation work a lot together, and they actually approached us with this idea of paying homage to the zoo's history," Hollister said. "We brought in a tiger, eagle, ram and a jaguar, which were all created in Santa Barbara first, and have been on exhibition for the last decade at the San Diego Zoo. So now, they're back home in Santa Barbara County."
"We hope the kids get excited about painting their own piece of the ram, and it's nice because it'll stay right here in the park with the other animals until June," Berry added.
Afterward, the sculptures will travel to different parks throughout the city, but remain in the community.
Lisa Rea, 23, said she and her mom, Barbara Edwards, both of Santa Maria, were on their way home, but decided to stop at Waller to feed the ducks. When they arrived, Rea said she saw the exhibit, immediately grabbed a paintbrush and began painting the top section of the ram into "fire and ice" colors.
"The ram is going to be fierce and delicate at the same time," said Rea, as she dipped her brush into a pot of orange paint. "That's what a ram needs to be."
She added, "I do a lot of watercolor paintings, so I've painted a lot of animals, zombies and birds. You're never too old to paint with other artists years younger than you. It's inspiring. I love seeing little kids painting next to me, and together we can watch this ram unfold."
At one time, Waller Park hosted rabbits and native animals as well as a buffalo, camel and a bear, and the Duck Pond was once home to "Monkey Island," where monkeys roamed the little island in the middle of the pond.
Most of the animals were relocated to the Santa Barbara and Atascadero zoos.
The Office of Arts and Culture is a division of the Community Services Department, serving as the local governmental umbrella for arts and culture projects and programs within Santa Barbara County. It represents a long-standing partnership between the county and the city of Santa Barbara.
The Squire Foundation is a lending resource of contemporary art from the San Diego Zoo to children's museums and parks throughout Southern California.
Gina Kim covers crime and courts for Santa Maria Times. Follow her on Twitter @gina_k210
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