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A Rolling Art Tour in Palo Alto

Original post made by Janet Lafleur, Rex Manor, on Aug 2, 2013

Public art can awe-inspiring, moving, perplexing or shocking, sometimes all at the same time. It can be the pride of a community or a target of scorn from critics. When it's doing its job right, art provokes a reaction.

Art is best savored at a slower pace, by walking through a gallery or through a sculpture garden. When public art is sprinkled all over town, the whole city becomes an art museum and your bicycle lets you wander from gallery to gallery at a leisurely pace. On a bike, it's easy pull over, hop off and reflect.

One of my favorite art tours by bicycle rolls all over Palo Alto sampling public art and then heads into Stanford University, home of an extensive Rodin sculpture collection. Below are the highlights, but there's much more to see. In the resources section at the end you'll find a link to a Google Map that you can download to your smartphone to navigate on your tour. Click on the pushpins to see photos of the art.

“The Avenue of the Arts” (California Avenue)
The California Avenue business district is only a few blocks long and a few blocks wide, but it packs in 14 pieces of public art in a broad range of styles. Be sure to stop at the award-winning "Sun Flowers", a sculptural seating on the sidewalk in front of Country Sun Natural Foods. Seven tall bronze California poppies spin slowly in the wind while hidden solar panels harvest the sun's energy to light up after dark.

Another popular sculpture is "Body of Urban Myth", a classic nude holding a washing machine that cascades water as the centerpiece fountain of Sheridan Square. The square serves as the patio dining area for Caffe Riace, so unless you're dining with them, I recommend visiting the sculpture in the off hours.

Rodin Sculpture Garden (Stanford University Campus)
Did you know that the world's second largest collection of Rodin sculptures is right next door at Stanford University? The Cantor Center for Visual Arts holds over 400 pieces, with 20 large bronzes outside in their sculpture garden, including the massive "The Gates of Hell" that Auguste Rodin spent two decades perfecting. The garden is open all hours, with lighting for viewing after dark and picnic tables overlooking the garden.

If you're visiting during museum hours, it's worth locking up your bike and going inside to see his most famous sculpture "The Thinker." Bike racks are available under the palms trees on Lomita Drive. Admission is free.

Papua New Guinea Sculpture Garden (Stanford University Campus)
For a completely different sculptural experience, ride to the other side of Stanford's quad to the Papua New Guinea Sculpture Garden. Under the shade trees you'll find wood and stone carvings of people, animals, and magical beings that a team of master carvers created on-site in the summer of 1994.

Palo Alto Art Center (Embarcadero & Newell Roads)
Home to the Clay & Glass Festival every July, the Palo Alto Art Center has several large sculptures on its grounds, including the impressive "Albuquerque" that's a highly visible landmark for those traveling down Embarcadero Road. Also at the Palo Alto Art Center is the equally grand in scale, but less permanent, sculpture by Patrick Dougherty. Constructed in January 2011 with the help of local volunteer artists, the work bends and twists saplings into a curious structure that evokes a magical row of houses. The sculpture still stands strong today, albeit with vines sprouting from its north end.

On your way back to Mountain View, a shortcut through Mitchell Park will bring you past two bold art pieces that are surprisingly located in a park more oriented toward more active recreation. Now that I discovered the mighty woman of "Push" I make a special loop through for a quick art fix that makes me smile every time.

Bike Fun Sculpture Tour Map: Web Link
More Outdoor Sculpture at Stanford: Web Link

Comments (6)

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Posted by ingress
a resident of another community
on Aug 2, 2013 at 5:09 pm

Google has a fun GPS-based smartphone game called "Ingress" that encourages you to bike or walk around town to find public art and historic sites (shown on a map in the app). I was surprised how many art pieces there in Palo Alto that I had not seen before, including many along roads that I use all the time (like El Camino). You don't notice these from a car, but if you know where to look you can really appreciate them on foot or on a bike.

Like this comment
Posted by Janet Lafleur
a resident of Rex Manor
on Aug 2, 2013 at 10:28 pm

Janet Lafleur is a registered user.

@Ingress Ugh. I have an iPhone not an Android phone so no Ingress for me. It sounds interesting though. And yes, when you're riding or walking you notice a lot more than when you're driving by.

Like this comment
Posted by Janet Lafleur
a resident of Rex Manor
on Aug 2, 2013 at 10:58 pm

Janet Lafleur is a registered user.

BTW, I forgot to include the link to the art tour photo album. It's here: Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by ingress
a resident of another community
on Aug 3, 2013 at 9:23 am

Google has a another GPS-based smartphone app called "Field Trip" that also maps and describes public art and historic sites. This one is a simpler, less intensive app and may work on lesser phones.

Like this comment
Posted by No apps while riding
a resident of Rex Manor
on Aug 5, 2013 at 2:43 pm

I enjoy riding my bike for the fun and discovery WITHOUT having my face buried in a screen for once. I think a lot of us need to rediscover the fun of getting lost.

Like this comment
Posted by Janet Lafleur
a resident of Rex Manor
on Aug 5, 2013 at 3:06 pm

Janet Lafleur is a registered user.

@No apps while riding If you want to get lost on the bike and discover things, I recommend Stanford campus. I had to pull over and check the map more than once to find the Papua New Guinea Sculpture Garden, and found several more pieces of art in the process.

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