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News online for Encinitas, Calif.

North Coast Current

News online for Encinitas, Calif.

North Coast Current

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Surfing Madonna artist remembered for creation that led to a movement

Mark Patterson, the artist behind the Surfing Madonna mosaic and co-founder of Surfing Madonna Oceans Project, died on Sept. 20 at age 70 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. (Surfing Madonna Oceans Project photo)

Mark Patterson, the artist behind the controversial Surfing Madonna mosaic and cofounder of Surfing Madonna Oceans Project, died on Sept. 20 at age 70 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

A celebration of life for Patterson took place at Leucadia Pizzeria on Oct. 8. Friends and family gathered to share cherished memories of Patterson and honor his positive impact on the world, highlighting his modesty and compassion.

Mike Redman, a friend of Patterson and the vice president and aquatics director of the Surfing Madonna Oceans Project, expressed a strong commitment to preserving Patterson’s legacy. The organization intends to achieve this by actively supporting the growth of art within the community, carrying forward Patterson’s vision.

The Surfing Madonna mosaic serves as a testament to Patterson’s talent. It portrays Our Lady of Guadalupe riding a surfboard with the message “Save the Ocean” along its side. Today, it resides on the outer wall of Leucadia Pizzeria, overlooking Encinitas Boulevard.

Patterson created his initial sketch of the Virgin of Guadalupe in 2005. When he revisited it in 2009, he had the realization that “there (was) something important going on.”

In 2010, Patterson took vacation time in Italy. After two weeks of instruction at Luciana Notturni Mosaic Art School in Ravenna, he completed the face of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Patterson returned home with his mosaic in hand, and he promptly quit his Microsoft job to pursue what would become the “Surfing Madonna.”

“My time in Italy has tapped into a newly re-discovered creative side in a very powerful way,” Patterson said on the Surfing Madonna Ocean Project’s website. “I was turning 55 that year and after my trip to Italy, I finally felt inspired again about what my work could be.”

The Surfing Madonna mosaic now resides on the north wall of Leucadia Pizzeria in downtown Encinitas. (Surfing Madonna Oceans Project photo)

Following nine months of work, Patterson and his best friend, Bob Nichols, discreetly installed the piece underneath the train bridge at the crossroads of Encinitas Boulevard and Coast Highway 101 on April 22, 2011, disguising themselves as construction workers.

Unintentionally, the mosaic’s first public appearance was on Good Friday and Earth Day.

The following morning, news stations swarmed the city, eager to identify the individuals responsible for the mosaic and their motives. The mosaic attracted worldwide attention.

City officials deemed the piece as graffiti since it did not go through the required public-review process, and they immediately began the removal procedure.

It was then that Patterson decided to come forward. He paid a $500 fine and a significant amount for the costs of its removal and associated damages.

But the support from North County residents was strong.

Community donations covered all the fees and more. The surplus funds supported the establishment of the 501c3 nonprofit.

To preserve the presence of the mosaic in a public space, Patterson and his legal team submitted it through the Encinitas public-review process, proposing that it be displayed near Moonlight Beach.

The location was unanimously approved by the city’s Art Commission and City Council. However, the state attorney general’s office rejected the request, citing a violation of California’s no preference clause in the state’s constitution, despite Patterson’s repeated emphasis that his creation of the mosaic was not inspired by religious vision.

The Surfing Madonna was temporarily relocated to Patterson’s garage before undergoing some relocations before finding her home. As word spread about the search for her permanent location, Madonna began to acquire nicknames, including the “Wandering Madonna,” sparking curiosity as the community anticipated her next appearance.

The perfect spot was eventually discovered. Located across from her initial unveiling beneath the bridge, her presence now graces the north wall of Leucadia Pizzeria.

She is beautifully framed and surrounded by an eco-friendly park. Local muralist Kevin Anderson added an underwater seascape at Surfing Madonna Park in 2019.

“This (art piece) is what he is really known for — in this town lately — but he really was a contributor to humanity worldwide well before this ever took place,” Redman said.

Redman enthusiastically recommends closely examining the mosaic and enjoying the park, paying special attention to the blue glass and its ocean-like depth. In addition, books for the Little Free Library are always appreciated.

Alysse Dodge is a local freelance writer.