Public Art in Pasadena: 12 Must-See Sculptures and Murals
Art is embedded in Pasadena's DNA. One of our city's defining features is the prominent role it played in North America's Arts & Crafts movement, a legacy that lives on today in pristinely preserved historic landmark Craftsman homes.
Pasadena has long been an incubator for all forms of visual art. Many noteworthy artists and art collectors have called Pasadena home over the centuries. Legends like Ansel Adams and Paul Frank taught at the prestigious ArtCenter College of Design, where the next generation of artists still come to hone their creative talents today. While there's plenty of fabulous artwork to be seen inside the walls of noteworthy museums and galleries like The Huntington and Norton Simon Museum, nearly 100 public works are on display all over town, too. Here's a round-up of 12 public art pieces well worth planning a DIY art crawl around. The best part beyond the prolific photo ops? It won't cost you a dime to see these sculptures and murals, and you're bound to make some discoveries of your own along the way.
KEITH HARING MURAL
The ArtCenter's Hillside Campus features a Keith Haring mural located on a wall across from the Fogg Library entrance. Painted in 1989, the work exemplifies Haring's signature pop art, graffiti-style and the social activism he was renowned for. The ArtCenter invited Haring to create the permanent tribute to members of the art community lost to AIDS—the artist himself died of AIDS-related complications just two months after completing the piece. You don't need an appointment to visit the serene 165-acre campus located just above the Rose Bowl. While you're there, be sure to check out the striking main building, a modernist steel-and-glass bridge structure, which has been designated a local historic landmark.
AUGUSTE RODIN SCULPTURES
If you're not going into the Norton Simon Museum, you can still stop by to admire several Rodin sculptures. Rodin's most famous, The Thinker, overlooks Colorado Boulevard and can be seen from the sidewalk. During the museum's operating hours, you can enter the parking lot area or walk onto the exterior grounds to see seven more Rodin sculptures near the main entrance including The Burghers of Calais, Saint John the Baptist and Monument to Balzac.
PASADENA ROBINSON MEMORIAL
The Robinson brothers were boundary-breaking American athletes who spent their formative teenage years in Pasadena. The Pasadena Robinson Memorial is located across from City Hall. The large bronze sculptures by artists Ralph Helmick and John Outterbridge pay tribute to Jackie and Mack, with each brother's head looking in a different direction representing where their respective life journeys took them. The more famous of the two, Jackie broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball as a player for the Brooklyn Dodgers. His older brother Mack made history of his own competing in the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games. He won a silver medal and broke an Olympic record in the 200-meter track and field race, finishing only 0.4 seconds behind Jesse Owens. Mack came home to little fanfare and was an active member of the Pasadena community until his death in 2000.
FORK IN THE ROAD
The fork in the road at the intersection of Pasadena and St. John Avenues on Bellefontaine Street is marked with an 18-foot tall wooden fork sculpture. Artist Ken Marshall originally placed the piece on the island to honor his friend Bob Stane's 75th birthday in 2009. The city removed the "guerilla" art installation since it wasn't permitted, but it was such a hit with the community that they were able to get permits to reinstall it. Now—beyond its popularity as a selfie prop—the fork is often used as a place for food drives and other philanthropic activities. Be sure to look both ways when you cross the street if you get up close for a photo op!
KNEELING MAN WITH HAMMER
Artist Viola Frey created Kneeling Man with a Hammer, a large eight-foot tall ceramic statue residing in One Colorado's historic Smith Alley. The piece has actually been installed in this location since 1992, long before the shop opened. It's nearly impossible to resist stopping to take his photo.
The recently installed Enduring Heroes cast bronze sculpture depicts a combat soldier standing on a rock and holding the American flag. Placed in Defenders Park on the corner of Colorado Boulevard and North Orange Grove Avenue, the sculpture joined Pasadena's public art collection during a Memorial Day dedication ceremony in 2017. Created by Los Angeles artist Christopher Slatoff—an accomplished sculpture and teacher at the ArtCenter—the piece memorializes 11 area soldiers who lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.
WHEN IT COMES TO DREAMS AND VISIONS
Flower power takes on deeper meaning in a mural by Mark Venaglia entitled When It Comes to Dreams and Visions, I've the Soul of a Millionaire (Per sogni e per chimere, l'anima ho millionaria). The 7 x 12-foot acrylic mural was installed in 2002 on the wall of a building at 325 East Cordova Street facing Euclid Avenue. Commissioned by the City of Pasadena, the work depicts Pasadena's natural world and features large white Matilija poppies with representations of the Arroyo Seco Bridge and San Gabriel Mountains.
PASADENA, THE CITY OF ROSES
Flowers also feature in an elaborate 2,500-square foot tile wall in the courtyard of Plaza Las Fuentes, a public garden on Raymond Avenue next to the Westin and across from City Hall. Designed by artist Joyce Kozloff in 1990, the vibrant Pasadena, The City of Roses decorative installation was inspired by Pasadena's flora, architecture and culture. The plaza also features several playful sculptures Michael Lucero.
THE DALTON TILE MURALS
Three hand-screened ceramic tile murals make up what's known as The Dalton Tile Murals conceived by artist Bob Zoell and installed on The Dalton residential building at South Arroyo Parkway and Del Mar. The whimsical graphic pieces with red, yellow and blue backgrounds depict the domestic life within through exuberant linear representations of people, pets and furniture. (The yellow mural offers an unobstructed backdrop for portraits and selfies.) The artist's work is in many other public spaces as well as in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's permanent collection. His illustrations have also been featured on New Yorker covers and children's books.
MEMORIAL PARK METRO STATION
All of Pasadena's stations on the Metro's Gold Line have public art. The Memorial Park Station that serves Old Pasadena and the Rose Bowl features a large scale piece by Californian artist John Valadez. It pays homage to indigenous artists whose ancient pictures and carvings have been discovered throughout Southern California. Stylized figures and reptiles are brought to life in aluminum cut outs that evoke Native American tribal designs. They hang high, suspended from columns, filling the cavernous space with an intricate, 100-foot undulating composition. It's a very compelling reason to #lookup.
Film buffs will appreciate Countdown Leader, a 20 x 6-foot ceramic tile mural on the exterior of a residential building at 217 South Marengo Avenue. Artist Brady Houghton installed the piece in 2007. A countdown leader is the length of film attached to the beginning and end of a reel to feed into the projector, a nostalgic visual any cinema fan will recognize.
And that brings us to the end of our public art tour. Keep your eyes peeled as you wander around town because there are so many more gems like these. In fact, you can stop by the Pasadena Convention & Visitors Bureau's Visitors Center in the Civic District to pick up a public art tour map featuring eight different walkable itineraries or download it here.