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Laguna Beach

 Volume 14, Issue 76  |  September 23, 2022

“Art in Public Places” – Grace by Terry Thornsley


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Some of the art you see around Laguna Beach is the result of two city programs: “Public Art and Murals” and “Art in Public Places.” The goals of the Public Art and Murals and Art in Public Places (adopted in 1986) initiatives are to create diverse art installations of the highest quality that will, over decades, reflect the city itself and its citizens, and improve the quality of life; and to be a source of pride to all Laguna Beach residents.

Created by Laguna artist Terry Thornsley, Grace was installed in 2014 just outside the lifeguard station at Main Beach. It was funded by the City for Arts in Public Places. 

art in panorama

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Schools of fish and waves with a patina of greenish blue hues and topped by silvery heads depicting foam bring the mural to life

Comprised of bronze, copper and stainless steel, this powerful mural/sculpture honors the bravery of the Laguna Beach lifeguards, as well as paying homage to the ocean and sea life which surround their work. 

Thornsley was well-known for his intricate bronze sculptures. Grace was built in six sections, each weighing about 150 pounds. When the lights hidden in the design elements turn on at dusk, it’s a breathtaking sight to behold. At the time, Thornsley estimated that he put in 2,500 hours of work on the mural/sculpture.

It is said that after his proposal for the commission was selected, he traveled to Hawaii for inspiration and studied Japanese woodblock prints. 

When Grace was completed, Thornsley said, “It’s a thank you for the opportunity to the City and a gift to the community I live in.”

art in rowing boat closeup

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Intricate details

Thornsley, who passed away in May 2015, was a prolific artist. Beginning at 14, with his first art show in Coronado, Calif., he was immediately committed to a life of making art. The son of a Navy family, he traveled extensively throughout his youth, all the while, sketching and painting. 

Working in bronze, stone, marble and mixed media, he produced hundreds of paintings and sculptures, many of them sea creatures such as sea lions, dolphins, turtles and fish. 

Thornsley moved to Laguna when he was in his early 20s and was a longtime exhibitor at the Festival of Arts (22 years) and occasionally participated in the Sawdust Art Festival. He lived in the canyon and had a studio next to artist Randy Bader.

art in closeup boy

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Thornsley has many public art installations in Laguna 

Including Grace, Thornsley has six public art pieces in town: Peacescape at the Montage; Laguna Locals at Crescent Bay Point Park; Pacific Patinas at 1191 N. Coast Highway; Laguna Kelp Beds at 31852 S. Coast Highway and Water Puppy at the Festival of Arts.

Thornsley said of all his works – these sculptures will be still here long after I have gone. I will leave a little bit of myself behind and know I contributed to my community.

Cultural Arts Manager Siân Poeschl said, “In his handwritten will, Terry left a pelican sculpture to the City. It’s on display in the lobby of the Lifeguard Headquarters.”

This is the 77th article in our weekly series featuring Art in Public Places. Since there are more than 100 pieces of public art scattered throughout Laguna, it will take a while to cover them all.

For a map of Art in Public Places (not every piece is listed), click here

To apply for the Arts in Public Places program, click here.


Shaena Stabler, President & CEO -

Lana Johnson, Editor -

Tom Johnson, Publisher -

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor.

Michael Sterling is our Webmaster & Designer.

Mary Hurlbut and Scott Brashier are our photographers.

Alexis Amaradio, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Marrie Stone, Sara Hall, Suzie Harrison and Theresa Keegan are our writers and/or columnists.

In Memoriam - Stu Saffer and Barbara Diamond.

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