Freeway art in Nipomo is designed for quick look

Special to The TribuneNovember 6, 2012 

Cheryl Weiss of Nipomo designed the freeway art for the recently opened Willow Road interchange in Nipomo. She donated that design and those found on three freeway interchanges in Santa Maria.

“I really believe in the importance of public art … really enjoy working on the freeway projects because of the visual challenges,” Weiss said. The Willow Road interchange has three aspects:

1. Two large walls that depict rolling hills on the northbound off-ramp and on-ramp.

2. The “bridge rail” that is located along the bottom edge of the bridge crossing Willow Road.

3. The retaining walls on either side under the freeway.

Weiss designed the rolling hills, which represent the Temettate Ridge east of Nipomo. Barbara Westfall, also of Nipomo, designed images of quail at the interchange.

Weiss created the hills in panels with different lines and thicknesses, to give viewers a sense of motion as they pass by. Although the walls are one color, the different lines and thicknesses create a sense of color variation.

The project took three years from conception to completion.

The other freeway interchange art projects Weiss designed are on the Betteravia, Stowell and Donovan freeway overpasses. They are ceramic tile murals.

“The difference between my freeway art and my personal work … is the slow eye versus the fast eye,” said Weiss, who teaches film and ceramics at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria.

She grew up in New York City and studied journalism at UC Berkeley. Though she discovered clay in school, she was on an academic track and couldn’t find much time to explore the medium.

Later, she worked as a journalist at newspapers and magazines and was a publicist.

Weiss also worked in the film industry in Los Angeles, getting a master’s degree in television, but found it too commercial. She didn’t want to make mainstream movies.

In 1987, Weiss was hired as the director of publicity and literary manager for PCPA Theaterfest in Santa Maria. She moved to Nipomo 10 years ago.

About 15 years ago, she finally took an opportunity “to do what I want to do” and get back to clay with a ceramics class at Hancock.

“My life is about different threads continuing to reweave themselves,” explained Weiss, whose personal (rather than public) art is nonrepresentational and often associated with natural things. “I’m interested mainly in abstracted forms that allow the viewer to engage in the work and create the associations with the work.”

Added Weiss, “I want the audience to be able to experience the work rather than label the work. I love the moment when someone looks at the work and then they . . . dive into the surface (and see) multiple levels of depth.” Weiss has done a series of large pieces that she calls “soul vessels.”

She is a founding member and vice president of the Nipomo Arts Commission, which raises funds for arts scholarships for high school seniors and also does arts outreach in the community.

Gayle Cuddy’s column is special to The Tribune. She and Cynthia Lambert write the South County Beat column on alternating Wednesdays. Reach Cuddy at 489-1026 or

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