Posted on October 8, 2004

Art Meets Spell-Check

Rebecca Dellagloria and Brooke Prescott, Miami Herald, October 7, 2004

Before Miami artist Maria Alquilar completed a $40,000 ceramic mural recently installed outside a Livermore, Calif., library, she might have wanted to step inside to consult an encyclopedia.

Of the 175 brightly colored words in the mosaic — a testament to literary and historic figures such as Einstein, Shakespeare and Van Gogh — 11 were misspelled.

“This work is a fantastic work,” said Alquilar, perplexed and frazzled by all the fuss. “It was meant to bring particularly young people an understanding of the interlacing of cultures.”

Though the artistic faux pas was noticed within days of the installation in March, the city of Livermore — a suburb outside San Francisco — agreed this week to pay an additional $6,000 plus travel expenses for Alquilar’s return to fix the errors.

No, thank you, says the artist. She’s not about to fly to California until the museum issues an apology.

“Quite frankly, I’m really upset about this,” Alquilar said. “Nobody at the library has said what a great work it is.”

Indeed, the folks at the Livermore library can’t quite overlook the mosaic “typos”:

Einstein sans one “n”; Shakespeare minus one “a;” Van Gogh with a “u” in it; Michelangelo plus an extra “a.”

“Our library director is very frustrated that she has this lovely new library and it has all these misspellings in front,” Livermore City Councilwoman Lorraine Dietrich told The Associated Press.

“I wasn’t concerned with the words, they were signposts,” meant to stimulate an interest in learning, Alquilar told The Herald on Wednesday night.

“People that really love art, they wouldn’t even have noticed it if they hadn’t pointed it out,” she said.

Alquilar, a former schoolteacher, was among four artists who applied for the job. It took her a year to create the mural.

She says that shifting the focus to an “inconsequential” oversight and away from the work misses the point entirely.

“I didn’t go to the book and flip it open, because you don’t do that when you’re sculpting,” explained Alquilar, whose works have been displayed in the Smithsonian Institution and the Rockefeller Collection, among other museums and galleries. “And I didn’t even think of checking because I thought they were right.”

And, she added, during the installation process there were “a million” other people around who could have caught the errors. Although Alquilar finished the project in 2002, it wasn’t installed until this spring.

Livermore Assistant City Manager James Piper agreed: “I think everyone feels there had been an opportunity to have noticed [the mistakes] before and did not.”

Alquilar, who has lived in Miami for eight years and has a studio in the Design District, wished that her critics were a bit more enlightened themselves.

Said Alquilar: “Wasn’t it Shakespeare” — with both a’s — “who wrote: ‘That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet’?”