Father Serra statue

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Father Serra statue
Father Junípero Serra Statue.jpg
Bronze cast in front of Ventura City Hall
ArtistUno John Palo Kangas
MediumClay, concrete, wood, and bronze
LocationVentura City Hall, Ventura, California

The Father Serra statue in Ventura, California, depicting Junípero Serra founder of Mission San Buenaventura, was commissioned by Ventura County through the Works Progress Administration as part of the Federal Art Project. The statue, sculpted by Uno John Palo Kangas, was placed in a small park in front of the Ventura County Courthouse in 1936. The Courthouse was repurposed as Ventura City Hall in 1972 and the original concrete Father Serra statue was designated as City of Ventura Historic Landmark No. 3 in 1974.[1] As deterioration of the concrete statue became a concern, a wood replica was created and has been displayed in the atrium since 1988. The replica was used to create a mold from which a bronze cast was made and replaced the concrete statue in 1989.

The statue, standing nine feet, four inches in height shows Father Serra standing with his head facing to the left and wearing a Franciscan cassock with cowl, sandals, and a rope belt (or cincture), a rosary hanging from the belt, a book in his left hand, and a walking stick (or staff) in his right hand. The public display of Serra statuary has been a source of controversy, particularly among those alleging that Father Serra was responsible for the suppression of the culture of Chumash people.

Junípero Serra[edit]

Junípero Serra was a Roman Catholic Spanish priest and friar of the Franciscan Order who founded nine Spanish missions in California. In 1782, Serra founded Mission San Buenaventura, his ninth and final mission, on a site that became Ventura, California. In September 2015, Serra was canonised as a saint by Pope Francis, drawing national attention to Ventura's Father Serra statue.[2]


In 1935, Uno John Palo Kangas (1904–1957), a sculptor born in Finland and raised in Michigan, was commissioned by Ventura County and the Works Progress Administration to create a statue of Father Serra as part of the Federal Art Project.[3]:2 Kangas was paid $5,000 for his work.[4] Kangas had gained some acclaim in 1935 for a heroic statue of a Civilian Conservation Corps worker titled "Conservation of Man and Nature" that was installed at Griffith Park in Los Angeles.[5]

The clay sculpture[edit]

Kangas posing in 1936 with his original clay sculpture

Kangas began by visiting the Santa Barbara and Ventura missions to study images of Serra and to learn about his life and style of dress. He also made multiple sketches in preparation for the work.[6] The sculpting process began with the creation of a full-size clay model; the clay model took four months to complete and was built at Kangas' studio at 3929 Fountain Avenue in Los Angeles.[7] The clay sculpture was built around a frame of wood and chicken wire which Kangas then covered with layers of clay.[3]:6 According to a contemporary of the artist, Kangas used Meiners Oak resident Gordon Douglas as a model for the face of Serra.[3]:3 In August 1936, the Los Angeles Times published on its front page a large photograph of Kangas posing with the clay sculpture.[7]

The disposition of the original clay sculpture is unknown. However, a newspaper story from April 1938 suggests that the original clay model may have been loaned to a museum in Butte, Montana, for an exhibition on scale models of sculpture. The story announced: "'Fray Junipero Serra', by John Palo-Kangas, one of the scale models of sculpture to be shown at the Butte Art Center, beginning on April 21st, is in the original at the Ventura county courthouse at San Buenaventura, Calif."[8]

The concrete sculpture[edit]

Kangas next built a breakaway mold of the clay sculpture using plaster of paris. The mold was placed in front of the courthouse, and a scaffolding was built around the mold.[3]:6 Kangas gathered sand and gravel from the Ventura River,[4] which he used to make a concrete aggregate material that he poured on location into the mold.[3]:6 After the concrete hardened, the mold was removed and Kangas smoothed the outer surface.[3]:6

On November 27, 1936, Kangas' concrete sculpture (Original Statue)[9] was unveiled in front of the Ventura County Courthouse (later converted to Ventura City Hall). The unveiling ceremony was attended by Kangas, Governor Frank Merriam, Mayor George A. Newell, Jr., and other notable persons. In his speech, Gov. Merriam said: "A beautiful statue is about to be made visible, exemplifying the spirit of this pioneering priest – noble, brave and holy – a patriot of patriots."[10]

The concrete Father Serra statue in April 2018 stored outdoors in a wooden crate at the OST yard

Kangas' concrete statue remained in front of the courthouse/city hall from 1936 to 1989. By the 1980s, it had deteriorated from years of exposure to Ventura's salt air and from the pooling of rainwater in the collar of the statue's robe, which formed a basin. In addition, the statue was vandalised with paint and the City sandblasted the statue, damaging the statue's smooth outer layer and accelerating the decay.[4]

The statue was removed from its pedestal in September 1989 to make room for installation of the bronze cast.[4] The City planned to store the concrete statue until the completion of a planned farm implements museum, where the concrete statue was to be installed.[11] The farm implements museum was delayed when its chief proponent, Bob Pfeiler, became ill.[12] In 1996, the concrete statue was discovered by a reporter for the Los Angeles Times in a scrap yard operated by Oilfield Service & Trucking Company (OST) along Ventura Avenue.[13] A crane from OST had been used to remove the statue in 1989 and the statue was to have been temporarily stored at the OST yard.[13][3]:53 As of April 2018, the concrete statue remained at the OST yard in a decaying wooden crate.[12][14]

The wooden replica[edit]

Close-up of head from wooden replica

Ownership of the concrete statue passed from Ventura County to the City of Ventura in 1971.[3]:11 In 1983, Ventura City Councilman Russell Burns, a mechanical engineer, presented a report to the City Council describing the deterioration of the statue and concluding that the statue "in the not too distant future will fall apart."[3]:12 The City in 1984 commissioned studies of the statue by an art conservator, an engineering firm, and a concrete expert.[3]:13 The studies reached the conclusion that the statue should be moved inside and that the statue was too fragile to be copied by molding.[3]:13[15]

Based on the findings, Councilman Burns proposed the creation of a wood replica of the statue which could then be used as a mold for a permanent bronze cast to be displayed in place of the decaying concrete statue.[3]:13 In 1986, Burns' proposal was unanimously adopted by the Ventura City Council. The City fronted an initial sum of $15,000 to begin the process, and local boosters also raised more than $100,000 through the sale of limited edition 18-inch bronze replicas (hand-tooled by Charles Kubilos),[16][17] posters/lithographs,[18][19] and T-shirts, hats, and pins bearing the phrase "I Support the Serra Statue".[20][3]:17–19[21][22]

The reproduction process began by taking precise measurements of all aspects of the concrete statue, using 1,782 points of reference.[15][3]:24 According to a book written on the process, "more than 4,000 charts, drawings, grids, and photographs were made from the measurements."[3]:28 Master carver Wilbur Rubottom and a team of 16 carvers from the Channel Islands Carvers club then painstakingly created the wood replica in a studio at the old livery building on Palm Street in Ventura.[15][3]:28–39[23][24] The carving began with large strips of basswood from linden trees in a Great Lakes forest that were glued together to form a 1,200-pound block.[3]:2 The carvers' studio was open to the public, and busloads of schoolchildren, senior citizens, and tourists visited the studio to observe the process.[15] During the 1987 Ventura County Fair, the wood block was temporarily moved to the county fairgrounds where the carvers' work became an attraction for visitors.[3]:37

The carving took 14 months from April 1987 to June 1988. In all, 10,000 man hours were dedicated to creating the wood replica.[3]:2 The wood replica was installed at the atrium of Ventura City Hall on October 7, 1988.[25]

The bronze cast[edit]

Serra statue from City Hall

In 1988, the City of Ventura accepted a $17,000 bid from a group of student artists at the California Sculpture Center at College of the Desert in Palm Desert to create a bronze cast of the sculpture using the wood replica.[26] A group of the student artists visited the wood statue at the old livery building and made latex molds in multiple sections.[3]:57 The bronze figure was then cast in 20 pieces using the "lost wax" method.[27][28][3]:58–59

The bronze cast (Replacement Statue)[9] was unveiled in front of Ventura City Hall at a ceremony on October 20, 1989, attended by more than 500 persons.[4][29] The bronze cast stands on a concrete base with an outer layer of polished black granite from the Andes Mountains.[3]:59

Since 1989, the bronze cast has been on display in a small park at the top of California Street overlooking downtown Ventura and the Pacific Ocean. A plaque at the base of the statue states: "The citizens of the City of San Buenaventura gratefully recognize the extraordinary efforts of Councilman Russell Burns (1918–1994) and master carver Wilbur Rubottom (1914–1993) to replace the decaying concrete 1936 statue of Father Serra by John Palo-Kangas with this cherished bronze copy dedicated on October 20, 1989."[30]

Controversy and vandalism[edit]

Chumash petroglyph murals and wooden Father Serra statue at Ventura City Hall

The City's plan to display the wooden replica in the atrium of Ventura City Hall was met with objections from the city art committee and the Candelaria American Indian Council. Members of the art committee felt the statue was too large to be placed in the atrium, and the Indian Council objected due to Father Serra's alleged abuse and enslavement of the Chumash people. Members of the Padre Serra Parish in nearby Camarillo offered to display the wooden statue in a place of honor but were turned down.[20] The City had already commissioned a series of murals reproducing local Chumash petroglyphs in the atrium so the wooden Serra statue was placed in a corner of the same space.[31][25]

Ventura's Serra statue has also been subjected to vandalism over the years. In May 1980, primer paint was poured over the concrete statue; city workers sandblasted the paint from the statue.[32] In January 1991, four glass jars full of orange and blue paint were thrown at the bronze cast; the words "Spirit of Crazy Horse" and an image of a clenched fist were also spray-painted on the sidewalk at the base of the statue.[33] In May 1992, the bronze cast's hand was painted with red paint, and a message was stenciled on the concrete below accusing Serra of having failed to honor God and claiming that Serra was a symbol of slavery to Native Americans.[34]

Some continue to object to the public display of Serra statuary, citing the mistreatment of the Chumash people. Following Serra's canonization in 2015, Serra statues were vandalized at Carmel Mission (smeared with green paint, "Saint of Genocide" written on a headstone),[35] Monterey's Lower Presidio Historic Park (decapitated),[36] San Fernando Mission (hands painted red and word "murderer" scrawled),[37] Mission Santa Barbara (decapitated and covered in red paint),[38] and San Gabriel Mission (cut with electric saw and splashed with red paint).[39]

In August 2017, amid the controversy over public display and vandalism of Serra statue, the Ventura County Star published an Op-ed calling for the removal of Serra statues. The author, Rellis Smith, wrote: "To have statues such as the one in front of Ventura City Hall is a direct slap in the face of all Chumash and other Native American cultures."[40]

The mayor of Ventura, the pastor of Mission San Buenaventura and the tribal chair of the Barbareño/Venureño Band of Mission Indians issued a joint statement in June 2020 agreeing to take down the statue and have it “moved to a more appropriate non-public location.”[41] Other statues of Junípero Serra were concurrently damaged as the George Floyd protests expanded to include monuments of individuals associated with the controversy over the genocide of indigenous peoples in the Americas. A statue in Los Angeles and another statue in San Francisco were toppled on Juneteenth.[42] A statue in Carmel was removed for safekeeping.[43] The Mission San Luis Obispo also removed their statue from public display.[44]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "City of San Buenaventura Historic Landmarks & Districts". City of Ventura. May 3, 2016. Retrieved April 15, 2018.
  2. ^ Santos, Fernanda (September 15, 2015). "Latino Catholics See Reflection in a Friar Set for Sainthood". The New York Times. Retrieved June 25, 2020.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v Catherine Antolino Mervyn (2002). The Replication of the Father Serra Statue: A Community Volunteer Project. Catherine Antolino Mervyn. ISBN 1403309884.
  4. ^ a b c d e Bob Pool (October 19, 1989). "Father Serra's Statue Gets New Life – in Bronze". Los Angeles Times. pp. J1, J5 – via Newspapers.com.
  5. ^ "Sculptor Will Depict C.C.C. Youths in Camp". Los Angeles Times. August 26, 1935. p. II-2 – via Newspapers.com.
  6. ^ "Comparison of Three Statues", a paper by Shirley Week (Kangas' daughter), October 9, 1990, p. 3, contained in Serra Statue ephemera file at the Research Library of the Ventura County Museum.
  7. ^ a b "Fra Serra Clay Statue Finished by Sculptor". Los Angeles Times. August 26, 1936. p. 1 – via Newspapers.com.
  8. ^ "Art Center To Show Sculpture". Montana Standard. April 17, 1938. p. 5 – via Newspapers.com.
  9. ^ a b "Historic Preservation Committee Agenda". City of Ventura. July 1, 2020. Retrieved July 6, 2020.
  10. ^ "Merriam Pays High Honor to Father Serra". Los Angeles Times. November 28, 1936. p. 7 – via Newspapers.com.
  11. ^ Jim McLain (July 2, 1989). "Father Serra ending tour of duty: 53-year-old Downtown statue being replaced". Ventura Star-Free Press – via Research Library at the Ventura County Museum (clippings file for the Serra statue).
  12. ^ a b Kim Lamb Gregory (June 1, 2001). "A tale of the three Father Serra statues". Oxnard Star. pp. E1, E6 – via Research Library at the Ventura County Museum (clippings file for the Serra statue).
  13. ^ a b Hilary E. MacGregor (October 17, 1996). "Buried Treasure: Original Statue of Father Junipero Serra Found in Scrap Yard". Los Angeles Times. p. B1.
  14. ^ Wenner, Gretchen (June 28, 2020). "Two meetings on fate of Ventura's Father Serra statue slated as emotions run high". Ventura County Star. Retrieved 2020-06-29.
  15. ^ a b c d Jesse Katz (October 29, 1987). "Transformation: Retired Cabinetmaker's Rendering of Father Serra Helps Resurrect a Statue Ravaged by Sea Air, Time". Los Angeles Times. p. IX-1, IX-6 – via Newspapers.com.
  16. ^ Brett Pauly (November 3, 1989). "Former engineer creates Serra replicas". The Ventura County Star-Free Press – via Research Library at the Ventura County Museum (clippings file for the Serra statue).
  17. ^ "Serra statue stands tall". The Ventura County Star-Free Press. May 23, 1988. p. A1 – via Research Library at the Ventura County Museum (clippings file for the Serra statue).
  18. ^ Michael Marlow (August 17, 1987). "Father Serra posters added to drive: $20 commemorative will help pay for statue repair". The Ventura County Star-Free Press – via Research Library at the Ventura County Museum (clippings file for the Serra statue).
  19. ^ "Lithographs available of Junipero Serra statue". The Ventura County Star-Free Press. October 14, 1989 – via The Museum of Ventura County ("Junipero Serra Statue" biographical file).
  20. ^ a b Tracy Wilson (November 1, 1995). "Church Members on Mission to Get City's Serra Statue". Los Angeles Times. pp. B1, B4 – via Newspapers.com.
  21. ^ Michael E. Hoffman (May 27, 1988). "Kids, corporations back Serra statue fund drive". The Ventura County Star-Free Press. p. A3.
  22. ^ "A City Treasures Its Serra Heritage". The Tidings. July 1, 1988. p. 1 – via The Museum of Ventura County (biographical file for "Junipero Serra statue").
  23. ^ John Krist (April 23, 1987). "Wooden Serra statue replica taking shape Downtown". The Ventura County Star-Free Press. p. D1 – via Research Library at the Ventura County Museum (clippings file for the Serra statue).
  24. ^ Michael E. Hoffman (June 4, 1988). "Serra statue reborn sans fanfare". The Ventura County Star-Free Press. pp. A1, A6 – via Research Library at the Ventura County Museum (clippings file for the Serra statue).
  25. ^ a b Michael E. Hoffman (October 21, 1988). "New Serra no longer homeless: Dedication marks placement at City Hall". The Ventura County Star-Free Press. p. A5 – via Research Library at the Ventura County Museum (clippings file for the Serra statue).
  26. ^ Jim Schultz (March 22, 1988). "Father Serra Pact OK'd". Oxnard Press Courier. pp. 1–2 – via Research Library at the Ventura County Museum (clippings file for the Serra statue).
  27. ^ "Father Serra sculpture being recast at COD". Desert Post. May 26, 1989. p. 6 – via Newspapers.com.
  28. ^ "Palm Desert Sculpture School to Cast Bronze Copy of Junipero Serra Statue". Los Angeles Times. March 24, 1988. p. IX-5 – via Newspapers.com.
  29. ^ "Bronze statue of Fray Serra in place". The Ventura County Star-Free Press. October 21, 1989. p. A3 – via Research Library at the Ventura County Museum (clippings file for the Serra statue).
  30. ^ Plaque displayed at the base of the Father Serra statue.
  31. ^ Jesse Katz (September 29, 1988). "Serra Statue to Be Shown Over Protests of 2 Groups". Los Angeles Times. pp. IX-1, IX-14 – via Newspapers.com.
  32. ^ "Fouled figure". unknown. May 22, 1980 – via Research Library at the Ventura County Museum (clippings file for the Serra statue).
  33. ^ Jim McLain (January 16, 1991). "Vandalized statue of Serra unscathed". The Ventura County Star-Free Press. p. A4 – via Research Library at the Ventura County Museum (biographical file for the Junipero Serra statue).
  34. ^ "Scarlet letters". The Ventura County Star-Free Press. May 24, 1992. p. A3 – via Research Library at the Ventura County Museum (clippings file for the Serra statue).
  35. ^ "Mission statue of Serra sustains damage". Los Angeles Times. September 28, 2015. p. 4 – via Newspapers.com.
  36. ^ James Herrera (February 28, 2017). "Head reattached to St. Junipero Serra statue in Monterey". The Mercury News.
  37. ^ "St. Junipero Serra statue vandalized in Mission Hills". Los Angeles Times. August 20, 2017.
  38. ^ "Decapitated and doused with red paint: Vandals target St. Junipero Serra statue at Santa Barbara mission". Los Angeles Times. September 24, 2017.
  39. ^ "Vandal damages Padre Serra statue in San Gabriel". Ventura County Star. November 3, 2017.
  40. ^ Rellis Smith (August 15, 2017). "Remove Serra statues". Ventura County Star.
  41. ^ Campa, Andrew J. (2020-06-19). "Junipero Serra statue to be moved away from Ventura City Hall". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2020-06-19.
  42. ^ KABC (2020-06-21). "Demonstrators topple statue of Junipero Serra, who helped found missions in California, in DTLA". ABC7 Los Angeles. Retrieved 2020-06-23.
  43. ^ "Serra statue removed in Carmel for safekeeping, local cities deciding fate of others". Monterey Herald. 2020-06-24. Retrieved 2020-06-25.
  44. ^ Avalos, Gina (2020-06-24). "Junípero Serra statue removed from San Luis Obispo Mission". KSBY. Retrieved 2020-06-26.