Co-founder of the Fallbrook Land Conservancy Vince Ross chuckled as he recalled a day in late 2002. He and his late wife Joy flew to Seattle to pick up a life-sized bronze sculpture of a mountain lion at the studio of artist Duncan McKiernan, a good friend of local artist Les Perhacs.
“The mountain lion was to be the first sculpture to be installed at the Palomares Sculpture Garden, devoted to paying tribute to the wildlife in our region,” said Ross. “To avoid traveling back to Fallbrook in a truck, we rented a van and squeezed in the five-foot long sculpture, but with limited room.”
Ross said that the lion was wrapped in a blanket, except the head had to fit in between the two front bucket seats to ride in the car with us
“On our way back to Fallbrook, we stopped for gas in Oregon. Customarily, gas station attendants up there are required to work the service area pumping gas. When the only guy on duty got to our car, he froze at the sight of the realistic beast. Only after much coaxing would he fill our tank.”
Today, “Tukwut,” the local Native American word for big cat and McKiernan’s name for the sculpture, is the centerpiece in the middle of Palomares Park, the public one-acre sculpture garden at the Fallbrook Land Conservancy’s headquarters on South Stagecoach Lane. Permanently mounted on a rock in the center of the garden to look like it stalks its next meal, “Tukwut” is strategically placed among shrubs, trees and grasses to replicate native habitats.
The most recently installed sculpture is by Les Perhacs. Named “The Chase,” it is a three-piece unit of a fox chasing two rabbits. Donated by Linda and Otis Heald in late 2013, “The Chase” sits at the front of the sculpture garden.
Some sculptures, like “Family Gathering,” a depiction of a family of California quail, were originally located in Fallbrook as part of the Art in Public Places division of the Fallbrook Village Association. “Family Gathering” was relocated to the Palomares Park in 2004.
According to Fallbrook Land Conservancy chairman Gary Beeler, “Plaques placed near each of the seven sculptures and among the native plants identify the artist and donors. Brick tiles lining the pathways honor the scores of private parties, local companies and other non-profit organizations who have generously paved the way for development and maintenance of the park.”
Beeler said that in early May 2015, 12 more tiles, signifying donations of $300 or more to the Fallbrook Land Conservancy, will be placed along the pathway that enters and winds through the sculpture garden at Palomares Park.
In addition to Palomares Park and adjacent Palomares House, the non-profit Fallbrook Land Conservancy operates and maintains more than 2,000 acres of land within 11 local preserves in North San Diego County. While some of them are open to the public year-round as part of a network of 20 miles of trails and parks, other parcels are closed and set aside as mitigation land and wildlife habitats for endangered species.
Originally published in Village News, April 30, 2015