ENCINITAS — The Surfing Madonna is back where it started — well, almost.
On Tuesday, Mark Patterson, the artist behind the Surfing Madonna, along with the help of four others, installed the mosaic on a Leucadia Pizzeria wall facing Encinitas Boulevard. That’s a stone’s throw from the rail underpass where the piece was first placed two years ago.
“This was put here so the entire community can check it out,” Patterson said. “It’s such a good spot for people to view it.”
As Patterson and crew pieced together the 10-foot-by-10-foot stained glass work, drivers honked in support. A few rolled down their windows and yelled, “Save the Ocean,” which is inscribed in large letters on the mosaic. A man strolling by on the sidewalk had one question for them — “is the Madonna staying here or going on tour?”
Given how much the mosaic has moved around, it’s a fair question.
About a year ago, the Surfing Madonna was relocated from the underpass to Café Ipe in Leucadia. Bob Nichols, who has helped Patterson with each of the mosaic’s installations, said the coffee shop was a “nice transition.” But ultimately, they wanted a spot in Encinitas with more eyeballs.
“We knew we wanted to move it someday to a more visible location,” Nichols said, noting that traffic figures show 18,000 cars pass by the current spot per day.
He added that he expects the mosaic to stay there for “quite a while.”
“The place just has a really good vibe about it,” Nichols said.
Leucadia Pizzeria owner Chip Conover, who heard the Surfing Madonna was looking for a more permanent home, approached Patterson and Nichols with the idea of affixing the mosaic to his restaurant’s wall, which is on private property.
“It looks really great here,” Conover said.
While in proximity to its original location, the Surfing Madonna is unlikely to draw as much scrutiny as it did in the past. This time around, the mosaic received the OK from the city, according to Nichols.
After the mosaic went up two years ago at the underpass, the city said it didn’t go through the proper approval process. Consequently, the city considered the Surfing Madonna graffiti, ordering its removal. Many flocked to the piece before it was taken down, worried they might not see it again.
Later, when the Surfing Madonna was in storage, the state denied a request from Encinitas to put the Surfing Madonna at the entrance of Moonlight Beach State Park, arguing the piece could potentially violate the constitution’s separation of church and state.
This time around, Nichols said city staff members worried walkers preoccupied with gazing at the Surfing Madonna might walk into the road. But ultimately, the city decided the sidewalk in front of the piece affords enough space for viewing.
Nichols also said added traffic was brought up by the city as another concern. He believes the mosaic might bring more cars to the area, but not for long.
“Maybe there will be traffic during the first two weeks, but after a while everyone will say, ‘OK, there’s the Madonna,’” Nichols said. “It’s the same thing with the Cardiff Kook.”
Patterson, Nichols and others spent nearly seven hours taking down the Surfing Madonna from Café Ipe. During the removal, portions of the mosaic cracked and were later rebuilt. As an additional challenge, repairing it required finding the right kind of iridescent glass in Los Angeles, Patterson said.
Plus, it took eight hours to reassemble the mosaic, which is now bordered by a yellow frame. To improve the ambiance, plans call for landscaping and building a patio in front of the piece.
In 2010, while on vacation, Patterson studied mosaics for a few weeks at a school in Italy. After returning home, he quit his job at Microsoft, and spent the next nine months piecing together the mosaic.
Little did he know, not long after its debut, the Surfing Madonna would spur a tribute song, a wine label and even a 5-10K run on Nov. 16.
Nichols explained that the 5-10K will benefit the nonprofit Surfing Madonna Oceans Project, which Nichols and Patterson founded.
Following the event, the nonprofit will present $20,000 in youth scholarships to low-income students studying marine biology and oceanography.
After that, ocean and beach-related projects will compete for $20,000. In a twist, registered participants can cheer for their favorite project. The project that registers the most noise on a decibel meter will receive funding.
The 5K is $39, and those who choose to do the 10K will pay $49. Register at surfingmadonnarun.org.
Between the run and mosaic’s move, Nichols said he hopes the nonprofit’s message spreads.
“This is the perfect time for us to deliver the message of how important our oceans are to our community,” Nichols said.