The mythical Queen Califia is thought to be the inspiration behind the name of our state of California. She made her first appearance in a popular Spanish 16th century novel, Las sergas de Esplandián, as a brave black warrior Queen who ruled over an island paradise resplendent with gold and natural resources. When the Spaniards sailed along the coast of Mexico and came upon the Baja peninsula for the first time, they thought it was an island and named California in her honor.
When I learned about the story of the naming of California, I was struck by how right it seemed to me that the inspiration for California’s name was a strong and noble woman. I think one of the reasons Queen Califia so captured my imagination stems from my Mexican heritage. The cultural backdrop of my life has always included the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Patron Saint of Mexico and a powerful female symbol of motherhood, compassion, strength, and hope.
I see Califia in much the same way, encompassing powerful and enduring symbols for us as Californians—Abundance; Strength; Life; Beauty; Diversity, Stewardship--and I was inspired to create a piece that would be an expression of my love of California, and a tribute to the mythical Queen who graced our state with her name.
I began by imagining and sculpting the bust of Queen Califia in the style of a classical Goddess, thinking especially of the Roman goddesses Minerva and Diana, while emphasizing Califia’s image as a strong, black, woman warrior, in keeping with the legend.
I used Califia’s headdress to project her through the centuries and across the ocean to California, the land to which she would bestow her name and her blessings. The fields and rolling hills bordered by repeating designs of water and sun represent Abundance; the Live Oak tree represents Strength; the salmon represent our rivers, streams, and oceans, and the continuing cycle of Life; the encircling border design of stylized California Poppies represents the natural Beauty of our state. The hint of golden color washing over Califia represents not the gold of the miners, but the true riches the state has in the Diversity of its people and natural resources.
Implicit in the celebration of these gifts, I think, is the admonishment for Stewardship. Queen Califia calls on us to nurture and protect our extraordinary California.