The Sea Lion and the Sculptor

The Tale of a Vagabond Bohemian Artist

By Terence Clarke, 2014

Reviewed by Rick Seymour, Sausalito Author

Finally, there is a book that can sit beside Jack Tracy’s Sausalito: Moments in Time. Not only is The Sea Lion and the Sculptor: The Tale of a Vagabond Bohemian Artist, written by Terence Clark and edited by Bill Kirsch, roughly the same size as Tracy’s book, it carries forward the bohemian history of Sausalito, presenting it vividly through the life and environment of its vagabond artist, creator of the Sausalito Sea Lion, Al Sybrian.

The sea lion of the title is cast in bronze and sits offshore from Sausalito’s bayside thoroughfare, Bridgeway Boulevard, opposite the massive foundations of William Randolph Hearst’s never to be built castle. Often accompanied by a lone sentinel seagull, Al’s seal lion has been compared by many to Copenhagen’s famous harbor mermaid. Ceramic copies of his classically simple creation are always on sale at Sausalito’s annual Art Festival and at the down town Ice House information and exhibit center.

In their book, Clark and Kirsch show graphically that the sculptor, though a true vagabond, who has lived his life in many places, is every bit as emblematic of Sausalito as is his creation. Bill Kirsch, a life long friend of Sybrian and a fellow artist, opens the book with this summation: "Al Sybrian spent his artistic life with absolutely no desire for fame or money. His blue-collar attitude about work, his disdain for politics, and his love of argument endeared him to friends and acquaintances throughout his life. This book is written largely in his own words—thoughts and observations extracted from the meticulous notebooks he kept and letters he sent to and received from his friends."

Over the next 103 pages, the author and editor reproduce the sculptor’s life and surroundings through narrative, photographs (including those of Al’s many fine sculpture pieces), reproduced sketches, letters, hand drawn Christmas cards and other materials. Chapters in this book cover his childhood across the bay in Oakland, his military experience in World War II, where he fought in some of the European theater’s most horrendous battles, and his return to school and artistic life here by the bay. The vibrantly creative and bohemian world of Sausalito in the 1950s and beyond is presented through chapters on Al’s friends, on the town itself, on "booze" and on the No Name Bar, which became a meeting place and center for the creative, the literary, the famous and the enthralled. Here you will find a portrait of a true artist, a man of great complexity, humble and proud, joyous and angry, written as he was in life and beautifully illustrated, mostly by the artist, himself. The meticulously prepared narrative, based on his many notebooks and memorabilia, is well spiced with quotations from Al and others responsible for Sausalito being and becoming what it is.

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