Such was the case two years ago when the city wanted to tear out the terra cotta-colored concrete benches to replace them with wooden ones along La Jolla Boulevard. Wheeler had the vision to recycle the benches by tiling them into colorful mosaics.
Wheeler finished her third bench along the boulevard near the Lupi Italian Restaurant on Jan. 3, and she has plans to create two more.
The latest bench mosaic is themed “Children are the Future,” and was sponsored by two Bird Rock residents in honor of their grandchildren.
“Bird Rock” is spelled out in large letters across the bench in 1,000 small pieces of glass beads, rocks and tile. Small mirrors reflect the sun, and cross-sections of Brazilian agate resemble tree stumps. Wheeler wrote the couple’s mantra for raising children across the bench in tiles: “Tend to your children so they grow up kind, respectful, healthy and joyful.”
She imbedded small objects of family memorabilia across the sides and legs of the bench: children’s handprints, a bar mitzvah cufflink, a banking money clip and a wild parrot inscribed “Sofia and Leon.”
Wheeler called the project a game of “eye spy.”
“It’s a treasure hunt. First you see the visual and then you see the words,” Wheeler said. “The whole idea is that there’s a lot of depth going on.”
Pedestrians sit on the benches, run their hands over the smooth pieces of tile, pebbles and beads to find little messages. Wheeler believes the positive messages inspire people subliminally.
“I believe in making art come alive in the community,” Wheeler said. “People see something beautiful and it makes them want to do something for the community in any way.”
Each bench will also feature these lyrics from one of Wheeler’s favorite childhood songs: “By the sea, by the sea, by the beautiful sea.”
Bird Rock Community Council President Joe Parker and his family sponsored the second bench outside Bird Rock Coffee Roasters in honor of his father, who loved music and was seen as a pillar of the community.
Donors pay $1,500 to re-tile a bench, which takes Wheeler more than 100 hours to complete.
“Like an alchemist, I spread out a whole bunch of colors and textures and play around with them until the right combination appears,” Wheeler said. “It is definitely a work of divine inspiration.”
A resident of Bird Rock for 16 years, Wheeler is a self-taught artist who retired from a career in event planning to raise her two children and devote more time to her art projects. She calls her husband her patron.
Now, the artist has her eye on painting the utility boxes in Bird Rock. Currently, she is working on a mosaic sundial for Bird Rock Elementary, and had led students in the after-school club at Muirlands Middle School to paint the “Peace, Love and Change” mural across the retaining wall on Nautilus Street.