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Volume 15, Issue 22  | March 17, 2023Subscribe

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Bringing wildlife to the streets: Artist to discuss process of creating natural sculptures in upcoming LOCA Art Talks


This story is a part of our Arts section. Visit for more arts stories as well as our arts calendars.

If you’re walking around Laguna and suddenly feel you’re submerged under sea, chances are you’re walking past a Casey Parlette sculpture. 

From beautiful kelp seaweed adorning the back of a bench to a bronze octopus overseeing the walkway by Diver’s Cove, his ability to bring the ocean onto land is unparalleled. 

“Most of my work is wildlife inspired,” said Parlette. “And around here, generally there’s a lot more interest in the marine life because we’re along the coast.”

Bringing wildlife Lifted Spirits

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Photos courtesy of Casey Parlette

Creating an authentic sense of movement is a trademark of sculptor Casey Parlette, seen here with his piece “Lifted Spirits” 

Keeping history alive 

Although he’s always been creative, Parlette’s route to becoming a professional sculptor was circuitous, including a degree in anthropology from UCLA and stints as a commercial diver and professional lifeguard. Now known for his many public sculptures, as well as private commissions, Parlette’s artistic process and inspirations are the focus of an upcoming LOCA Art Talks on March 22.

“I was always drawn to making stuff,” he said, starting with a pocketknife in childhood that he used to carve wooden items. Later, on his days off from lifeguarding, he would visit an artist who worked in metal and blacksmithing. 

“I just went and hung out and worked in his shop,” recalled Parlette. “I learned a lot about metal working – it opens your eyes to what’s possible. And as you do these things, you become more proficient. It just sort of expands and grows.”

Bringing wildlife shop

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Learning what happens in an artist’s studio will be part of the LOCA Art Talks presentation by Casey Parlette

Learning the possibilities of many mediums 

As a person who uses multiple media, including wood, metal and stone, he needed to master a variety of skills.

 “One of the things that’s important to understand is everything that goes into making a piece of art,” Parlette said. And developing and conceptualizing a piece is as much of the artistic process as the finished sculpture. He’ll explain, during his talk, the unique set of opportunities and challenges in creating public art. Knowing the back story behind the pieces will add a level of appreciation for not only artists, but also for folks who walk past the sculpture. 

“I’ll show how all these pieces come together – how the concept sketch relates to the actual piece – and how it evolves as it goes – the trial and error of some of these things.”

Bringing wildlife Tidepool Kraken

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The octopus sculpture in Heisler Park is one of the more popular public art pieces created by Casey Parlette

Parlette mentioned Strand of Life and Tidepool Kraken, the bench and octopus sculptures, on the north end of Heisler Park, overlooking Diver’s Cove, as examples of modifying an art piece. When the bench was originally planned, the area opened up, and then there was room to place another element, and he opted for the octopus. Ironically, that is often what people comment on, mostly because of its realistic capturing of movement. 

“I think it’s really important, with wildlife or human form or whatever it is, to understand the anatomy of all this, but if you’re capturing life, you capture the movement,” said Parlette. “That requires getting out, spending time in that environment and seeing these things move.” As a diver he knows that as an octopus moves it unfurls, it doesn’t reach. And so his sculptures reflect that. The same knowledge is reflected in his turtle, shark and seaweed sculptures, as well as the many insects, beetles and reptiles he’s created over the years. 

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Bringing wildlife Pelicans process

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A new sculpture featuring pelicans will be part of the renovations at the Coast Inn in Laguna Beach 

“If you have a feel for how it’s supposed to look, you know what looks right and what looks wrong.” 

The graceful shark bodies and tails he created for Migration, a temporary public art exhibit in front of City Hall, evokes the same movement and attention to detail. 

“I want to educate people about what goes into all these things. Knowing what goes into making the finished product adds a lot to appreciating the work.” 

While Laguna Beach’s many festivals offer a unique environment where people can engage directly with the artists, (Parlette has been showing at the Festival of Arts for 15 years) it’s rare to have an in-depth view of the process that creates the actual art. 

“We (artists) all have our little caves that we sort of function in, and then we emerge to show people the finished product,” said Parlette. “But I really love seeing artists’ studios and seeing how they make what they make. It brings a new appreciation to the art, and I look forward, in this talk, to sharing my process with the community.” 

The March 22 LOCA Art Talks program begins at 5:30 p.m. at the Community Center’s great room, located at 380 Third St., Laguna Beach. Advance registration is required. It is free to members, non-members are $20. For more information, click here

This story is a part of our Arts section. Visit for more arts stories as well as our arts calendars.

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