Eagle-eyed observers of the changes in our small town may have noticed a new public art installation on the Eastern side of the Shell Station on the 600 block of Ojai Ave. Mere pigeon-eyed observers might possibly have noticed it too, for it is an imposing 3-panel work of some 11 feet, in homage to Ojai’s majestic Chief’s Peak mountain on the North side of the valley.
Local metal artist, Bernard Collin, was commissioned to create “The Chief” by the Shell Station as part of the City of Ojai’s Public Art Program, which is a public-private partnership with developers in town to enrich the built environment of the city and help keep Ojai a visually vibrant and unique town.
Wealthy Ohio glass mogul, Edward Drummond Libbey, creator of Ojai’s Arcade, the Post Office bell-tower, and the pergola, is arguably the most famous of our town fathers. He moved to Foothill Road in 1909, having fallen in love with the valley, and turned Nordhoff (as Ojai was then called) from a dusty cow-town into an attractive city befitting its beautiful natural surroundings. Libbey was a great believer in “The City Beautiful” movement of the early 20th century and the City of Ojai continues to champion these founding principles as an important part of our heritage, through its Public Art Program.
Collin, a native of Burgundy in France, favors natural materials and has decades of experience as a professional artist working exclusively in metal. Eschewing routers, he prefers to use a hand-held plasma cutter to shape his designs: “It is important that every detail be my own, cut with precision and love. Each piece has its own personality.”
He describes the plasma cutter as a “modern marvel” that has helped him express himself in finer detail than when he started out in metalwork with the torch, welder, and forge. When the piece is cut out, he bevels the edges for a softer, more free-flowing look, adding fluidity to solidity by using the flame and compressed air of the plasma cutter to get there. In this way, through material, construction, and effect, he incorporates all the phases of matter into his work.
“The Chief” is coated in bronze particles and a strong weatherproof coating to ensure it will endure many years of the outdoor elements.
Collin’s stylistic range runs from the inspiration of the temples of Angkor Wat to light, more whimsical works, and complex botanical designs. He designs and creates functional art too and regularly receives commissions to make railings, lighting, furniture, sculptural garden works, and wall art. His work is found in many private homes and gardens, and in numerous commissioned pieces he has created for businesses, public buildings and squares throughout both the US and Europe.
Photos by Ray Powers.