Moorpark’s Ruben Castro Human Services Building is coming along. The beams have long since risen above the fence line, so residents have been able to notice progress as they pass by. But very soon, they’ll get a chance to see other developments up close as well.
In what will be the center’s outdoor courtyard, a new 10-foot sculpture will be erected as a tribute to the many families who will seek help there and the public will be welcome to drop in and see its progress.
The sculpture will be the work of noted artist John Fisher.
Fisher, along with his wife, artist Sandy Oppenheimer, has spent the last 20 years or so working out of Pietrasanta, Italy, home to an international artist colony. Oppenheimer has accompanied Fisher here and will work as his public relations assistant.
Centuries ago, Michelangelo worked in Pietrasanta. More recently, its residents have included such noted sculptors as Henry Moore and Jean Arp.
When the city of Moorpark put out a call to artists last year for this project, Fisher was carving a similar piece in Norwalk. He and Sandy received an e-mail from a friend about this job and decided to apply.
What is unique about this particular art project is that it’s being created publicly. The community is welcome to come and watch the work while it’s ongoing. The approach is deliberate for Fisher and Oppenheimer.
“We’re trying to change the whole paradigm of public art,” Fisher said.
Oppenheimer believes that having the public involved makes people more appreciative of the art.
“We feel that if the public can witness the creation,” she said, “they will take ownership of it.”
Fisher cut the particular piece of limestone from which he’ll sculpt Moorpark’s artwork from the Continental Cut Stone quarry located in Florence Texas, about 30 miles north of Austin. It’s from the same stockpile of limestone being used to build the George W. Bush Presidential Library.
“I’m always looking for the best that I can get,” he said, “and in this case, it’s Texas.”
The large wall of limestone from which this piece originates is cut directly from the mountain, then sliced up into tall rectangle blocks. Fisher spent considerable time looking for just the right piece. It needed to be 4 feet square and 10 feet high. Even more important, for Fisher it “needed to be something completely perfect.”
In his eyes, he found just the right piece.
“When I saw it in the quarry,” he said, “everybody agreed that was it.”
Fisher believes that Texas limestone fits well both with the design and the deadline for the completion of the Castro building.
“Texas limestone is a nice cream color,” said Fisher, “that goes well with the architecture here. Also, Moorpark had a time line to do this project, so there wasn’t enough time to go to Italy and ship a piece of marble back.”
The unique nature of limestone has to do with its malleability and durability.
“This limestone has been buried in the ground for millions of years,” said Fisher, “so it’s soft and I can carve it. After I’m done carving, the moisture will enter the stone and harden it up. It will make a hardened skin that will protect it.”
Fisher considers his style to be classical, but his approach to sculpting is very modern.
“I think my style of work would not have been done in the Renaissance,” he explained. “In the classical world, you always made a model and you followed it. But in my work, I’m always carving without a model, and that is totally contemporary. I may start somewhere, but, within the theme, I may end some place completely different. I need that freedom to change.”
For Oppenheimer, the sculpting itself is a search for the final piece.
“It always makes for an interesting composition,” she said, “looking within and finding the figure, and there’s an interesting component in that he’s also doing this in public.”
The sculpture is being funded through a city program called “Art in Public Places,” in which developers in Moorpark put in 1 percent of their development costs specifically for the funding of public art.
The theme for this work is What a Family Looks Like Today and the statue will be a tribute to local families.
“We want to honor those people who might be coming to this place to ask for help,” Oppenheimer said.
The carving begins Sunday and is scheduled to run through April 15, or whenever the sculpture is completed. Fisher will be working daily from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., weather permitting. Engineers will create a safe zone with a walkway. A fence will be around Fisher and a designated path will run from the parking lot to his work site.
The public is welcome to visit. For groups, Fisher and Oppenheimer recommend calling ahead of time at 707-367-9386 so they can consult with the site’s main engineer and coordinate the visit. Fisher and Oppenheimer are also open to speaking to local groups.
The site itself is behind the Moorpark police station at the corner of Fitch and Minor. It is located directly next to Catholic Charities at 609 Fitch St. in Moorpark.
At the 1 p.m. “chip off” Sunday, Fisher will invite members of the public to try their hand at chipping a piece of stone off the block.
For Oppenheimer, the chance to watch an artist at work is unique.
“This is an opportunity to witness the magic of a stone taking shape, to learn about art history, to learn about geology and to meet two really nice people,” Oppenheimer said. “It’s our hope to inspire others to follow their passions and dreams.”