The town of Los Gatos takes its name from the mountain lions that roam the foothills. Now, one of the city’s busiest entry and exit points will pay homage to the big cats even more with a new art installation.
The soon-to-be-installed metal sculpture bears the town’s name and depicts a prowling mountain lion perched atop a green peak. Seattle artist Matt Babcock created the piece, and in keeping with his signature style, the cat is depicted in a slightly abstract manner, but his resemblance is clear.
The installation marks the first of several “gates” that the Los Gatos Arts Commission provides for entry and exit points to the city. The first site will be the median at the intersection of Saratoga-Los Gatos Road and Alberto Way.
City arts commissioner Maureen Cappon-Javey, now in her third three-year term, remembers when the project was first conceived in 2014. The commissioners wanted to revamp the city’s signage to better reflect the rich artistic scene. They began to research the best places to place the new signs, narrowing them down to five locations across town.
In 2017, the commission secured funding of $ 25,000 from Los Gatos for the project. One-fifth of the budget was spent recruiting artists to submit options and paying them for the work required to develop ideas for consideration. The extra funds went to Babcock.
The official request for submissions produced 14 submissions from various artists; a proposal came from as far away as Argentina.
“We were surprised because we’re a small town and it’s a small commission,” Cappon-Javey said.
Three finalists traveled to Los Gatos to present their work. Mockups were displayed in the local library so residents could weigh in on the options. According to Cappon-Javey, Babcock’s design was clearly the winner.
Babcock’s design was unique, reflecting his background as an architect and welder. He said his slightly abstract style was influenced by Chinese and Japanese art and writing.
“The kind of distillation process, trying economically to reveal something about the subject, led me to this kind of calligraphic style,” Babcock said. “It’s based on lines – lines and spaces rather than lines on paper.”
Babcock lives in Seattle, but has been specializing in public artwork since 2008, so he has developed a way to tailor each piece to where it will ultimately be displayed. He did as much research as possible on Los Gatos before starting his conception. He was particularly inspired by the origin of the name of the city and he wanted to incorporate the image of the mountain lion in his design.
“I make an effort to reflect something special in the communities I design things for,” Babcock said.
While the arts commission has yet to secure funding for the four additional sculptures members hope to see installed, Cappon-Javey is hopeful that the city’s recent pledge to further fund the arts will help bring them to fruition.
She also said that she hopes that what she hopes will be a positive public reception will encourage the city to allocate more funds to the project.
“I really believe that once this cat gets up, we’re going to have a lot of good reactions and excitement around him,” Cappon-Javey said. “I hope enough to say, ‘Hey, let’s go ahead and complete the other four locations! “”
The Los Gatos Public Works Department is scheduled to install Babcock’s piece on June 7.