Surfing Madonna Oceans Project announces new mosaic

The Surfing Madonna Oceans Project has unveiled its plans for a giant kelp forest mosaic that’s proposed to go on one side of the city’s new lifeguard tower at Moonlight Beach.

The design, which foundation members showed to the city’s arts commission in mid-July and released to the media on Tuesday, features diverse creatures found in the underwater forests just yards from the San Diego County’s coastline.

In the upper part of the rendering, a harbor seal gazes directly at viewers, while at the base, an octopus creeps along the seafloor, and in the midsection, bright orange Garibaldi fish swim among the kelp fronds.

“It does bring attention to our oceans and the need to protect them,” Surfing Madonna foundation board member Francine Filsinger said Tuesday, adding that she hopes people who walk by the mosaic years from now will be inspired to remove any trash they find at the beach so it doesn’t wash out to sea. “I think it’s a great ambassador.”

Jim Gilliam, Encinitas city arts administrator, said the mosaic is planned for the northwest corner of the city’s long-planned lifeguard tower near the first-aid station. Construction on that tower is expected to begin later this year after the summer beach season ends.

“(The mosaic) is a massive installation— eight by 15 feet— it’s going to make a significant statement,” Gilliam said. Leucadia artist Mark Patterson created the famous Surfing Madonna mosaic. The kelp forest project will be a collaborative effort, Filsinger said.

Ocean artist Peggy Sue Florio Zepeda did the rendering, artist Scott Walt will do the mosaic, Peggy’s husband Bob Zepeda will do the finishing work, and Patterson will assist as needed, she said.

The city’s Arts Commission unanimously endorsed the design last month, and the rendering is now continuing its way through the city’s art review process, he said. The next stage will be a 30-day display of the plans at City Hall and the library, Gilliam said, adding that the process will likely begin next week.

The City Council is expected to review the proposal this fall, he added. Gilliam said the city arts commissioners were particularly impressed by the mosaic’s proposed clear surface coating, which he called “ingenious.” It will both cover the piece and act as invisible grouting between the individual mosaic tiles, allowing light to flow through the entire piece, he said.

No city money will be used for the project— the Surfing Madonna foundation is creating and donating the estimated $20,000 needed to bring it to life, Filsinger said.

The nonprofit foundation, which was established in the wake of the controversy over the Surfing Madonna mosaic, has become a major fundraiser for coastal programs in the region. It has contributed $200,000 to the community since 2013, foundation figures indicate.

Patterson’s piece that inspired the foundation’s creation — a giant mosaic featuring Our Lady of Guadalupe on a surfboard with the words “Save the Ocean” along one edge — was deemed religious in nature after it was covertly installed on a downtown railroad bridge support. Its removal was ordered, and it’s now on display on private property nearby at the intersection of Encinitas Boulevard and Coast Highway 101. For more information, visit

Barbara Henry is a freelance writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune.