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Encinitas Highway 101 banner program thrives thanks to volunteer

Danny Salzhandler with one of his sculptures.
Danny Salzhandler with one of his sculptures.
( / Courtesy photo)

“Art is not a necessity of life, it is a necessity of civilized life,” said Encinitas resident and sculptor Danny Salzhandler.

The City of Encinitas agrees. It embraces its artists and has long supported the display of one-of-a-kind banners that decorate North Coast Highway 101.

Salzhandler — described by friend and colleague Jim Babwe as “the most tenacious proponent of the arts you will ever meet”— has for many years been the silent volunteer working behind the scenes distributing the banners and organizing everyone’s efforts, including the hanging, unveiling and auctioning of the banners after their three-month display.

“Whether you know him or not, whether you painted a banner or not, this would be a good time...to be thankful we have people like Danny around,” said Babwe.

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The Arts Alive banner program has given opportunity for those connected with the 101 Artists’ Colony to showcase their talent. Salzhandler is currently president of the 101 Artists’ Colony, although without a fixed location official membership is on hiatus, he said

He got connected with the artists group when its home was in a small gallery in the Lumberyard Shopping Center in 1999. Since then it has been itinerant.

“Property gets sold, or gets torn down so now we are truly the 101 Artists Colony because we are represented in the city through the artwork attached to light posts all the way down the highway through Leucadia, Encinitas and Cardiff,” Salzhandler said.

A Vietnam veteran – born and raised in Houston, Texas – Salzhandler toured the country, after his discharge, in a VW bus. He diverted his trip to stay overnight with a fellow serviceman in Dallas who introduced Salzhandler to his girlfriend’s sister, Norma Jayne.

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“We’ve been married for over 30 years and my best friend became my brother-in-law,” recalled Salzhandler of that fateful introduction.

And his overnight stay in Dallas turned into 25 years as Salzhandler started a business designing and installing conveyor systems, soon becoming an expert welder.

Prior to that Salzhandler had been a zookeeper working with reptiles, an endeavor that sparked a new invention, he said.

“I’d always been fascinated about doing an enclosure that wasn’t a square box, so I welded up these things that were little tropical rain forests inside steel sculptures and I called them bio sculptures.” That later became the name of his art company.

Some of his commissioned works include a five-ton steel woolly Mammoth that still stands in a courtyard of a San Juan Capistrano-based office complex; a sculpture of a banzai tree held inside a bronze clam shell – designed for the Encinitas’ sister city in Japan; and stainless steel dolphins that adorn an Encinitas office building.

In addition to his volunteer work in the fine arts, Salzhandler has helped organize events through the Full Moon Poets, named because the group gathers on the night of a full moon.

“It started as a quiet read-around,” Salzhandler recalled, then the Poetry Slam was created. “Which is the opposite, it’s performance poetry, loud and in your face.”

The Poetry Slams are held twice a year at La Paloma Theater and are free to attend. Anyone who wants to enter shows up on the night, puts their name in a bucket and performs if they are one of the 17 names pulled out.

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Whether it is poetry or fine art, Salzhandler has a strong opinion on the importance of the arts.

“I truly believe that art is something that can really enhance the community, it’s a point for people to start conversations whether they like it or not,” he said.

“I’d like to see Encinitas become an arts district where local artists can display and sell their art, that’s what we are trying to do,” Salzhandler stated. Until then the 101 Artists Colony will keep looking for a permanent location.

“It’s our goal to find something in the next two years,” he said.

Salzhandler’s passion for art is reflective of mankind’s prehistory, he said.

“Art has been around as long as people have been around and is the most basic form of communication. It’s something that people tend to overlook, but art is everywhere, it’s so important.”

Visit www.biosculptures.com to learn more about Danny Salzhandler’s sculptures. Also visit www.101artistscolony.com.


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