He says only twice have the sculptures drawn public criticism. “Once was from creationists,” Avery says. “They were jamming my email and sending faxes because I said some of these creatures were more than seven million years old. Well, to them that’s blasphemy because there was no universe then, much less saber-toothed tigers.” Avery says his response was to make no further statements about the animals’ age and to avoid installing any explanatory placards.
The only other fracas involved statues depicting human beings. Avery explains that, as the population of prehistoric fauna statues multiplied, some people began urging him to pay attention to the humans who played important roles in the desert. Breceda thus created pieces that honored a native American (Salvador Palma) and a missionary (Father Francisco Garcés). When Avery was urged to commission pieces commemorating the grape-pickers who once worked in the Borrego Valley and were moved by Cesar Chavez’s urgings to strike, he was amenable. “You know, Chavez is like a godhead to these people.” But Breceda’s homage to the migrant workers included details that were criticized as being inaccurate. Some of the men were wearing sombreros, for example. “That was a no-no,” Avery says. (Migrant workers in the U.S. wore other types of headgear.) Avery says Breceda also included some female grape-pickers, as well as their babies. But he and his patron were told that women had never picked grapes. “There was even some criticism about our plants not being accurate!” Avery knew Breceda had never intended offense. Still, he removed the pieces and had Breceda come up with more politically correct ones that were installed in January.
Avery doesn’t voice irritation over these events, and he says they didn’t discourage him from commissioning additional works. It surprises him that he and Breceda took the project as far as they did. Avery also has other demands for his time. He and his wife, who is Chinese, run the Chinese School of San Diego. With a staff of 19 teachers and more than 200 students studying Mandarin and Cantonese, the Averys are in the process of adding a preschool to their operation. And Breceda appears to be busy with commissions from other fans of his work. Still, Avery adds that he and Breceda “have been done a couple of times. And then things have come up that undid the being done!”
— Jeannette DeWyze