The little-known studio of an amazing artist!

A small army of Japanese kokeshi fill the James E. Watts Studio in downtown San Diego.
A small army of life-size Japanese kokeshi fill the James E. Watts Studio in downtown San Diego.

I had an utterly amazing experience today.

I was walking through downtown San Diego, along Seventh Avenue, when I noticed a small table saw out on the sidewalk. It was set up in front of an unmarked door–one that I’ve passed many times over the years. When I peered through the open door my eyes nearly popped out of my head!

Through that mysterious door I saw a wonderland!

A friendly person told me that I might step inside. That very cool, funny and interesting guy was James E. Watts, a local artist who has been creating unique works of imagination for decades in San Diego. His pieces have appeared in a variety of exhibitions and at important museums, including both the San Diego Museum of Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.

Why the table saw? James Watts was just beginning a new sculpture of Quasimodo, and wooden blocks would be used to form the interior structure. Thin aluminum sheets nailed to the surface would produce the sculpture’s skin.

As you can see from the above photograph, his studio is dominated by a series of these large sculptures. They are based upon Japanese kokeshi, and his fun, symbolic pieces represent all sorts of characters from literature and history. He showed me a female Atlas, Don Quixote (with two small horses), Prometheus, Pandora, Jonah and Leviathan, and Joan of Arc. The humorous, collage-like skins were originally lunchboxes, signs, cans and other bits of colorful aluminum.

Another cool piece he showed me appears to be a combination of the Shroud of Turin, a horizontal religious shrine, and that wacky game Operation. Human anatomy is partitioned. Old age is contemplated. Bones fill box-like compartments. Colorful foam dots and dashes spell out a message in Morse code around the perimeter. The word BEAUTIFUL appears beneath the skull. (If you decipher the Morse code message, please leave a comment!)

And so I found myself standing in the middle of a fantasy world turning my eyes every which way. Rampant creativity jammed every wall, crammed every corner, was stacked high upon the floor. I could have happily lingered in that extraordinary studio all day long.

Thanks to James Watts for showing me around his artistic playground! There’s a special, little-known nook in the heart of San Diego, where one man’s imagination produces great treasures, and now I recognize the door!

James Watts near some artwork in progress. The wood blocks will fill the interior of a hunchbacked Quasimodo. I was told a bell will be placed atop the literary character's head!
James Watts near some artwork in progress. The wood blocks will fill the interior of a hunchbacked Quasimodo. I was told a bell might be placed atop the literary character’s head!
On the left a female Atlas holds up the world. To the right Don Quixote appears ready to tilt at windmills.
On the left a female Atlas holds up the world. To the right Don Quixote appears ready to tilt at windmills.
Many nudes also decorate the walls of the art gallery. They are done in various styles, reflecting famous painters of the past.
Many nudes also decorate the walls of the art gallery. They are done in various styles, reflecting famous painters of the past.
James Watts opens up a brain pan to reveal a brain!
James Watts opens up a brain pan to reveal . . . a brain!
So much cool artwork that I could barely take it all in.
So much amazing, cool artwork that I could barely take it all in.
Like a playground for a creator whose imagination seems to have no limits.
Like a playground for a creator whose imagination seems to have no limits.
I was told this abstract piece represents that brave person who stood in front of the tanks at Tiananmen Square.
I was told this abstract piece represents that brave person who stood in front of the tanks at Tiananmen Square.
An imaginative piece that represents the artist's contemplation of aging. Those colorful dots and dashes form a Morse code message!
A playful piece that has emerged from the artist’s contemplation of aging. Those colorful dots and dashes form a mysterious Morse code message!

I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk around with my camera! You can follow Cool San Diego Sights via Facebook or Twitter!

Sunlight, smiles, and colorful Urban Trees.

Cool public art is now located at Ruocco Park, right next to Tuna Harbor on San Diego Bay.
Colorful public art is now located at Ruocco Park, right next to Tuna Harbor on San Diego Bay.

During my early evening walk along the Embarcadero today I noticed that four Urban Trees sculptures owned by the Port of San Diego have recently been moved from the front of the Cruise Ship Terminal to Ruocco Park.

I was taking photos of the play of sunlight on boats and buildings, and snapped a few pics of these public sculptures as I walked past them. At the time it didn’t occur to me that I’d devote tonight’s blog post to these images. But I like how they turned out!

Perhaps you recognize these sculptures. I’ve shown them two or three times over the years on Cool San Diego Sights. The Port of San Diego acquired a number of these Urban Trees sculptures for their public art collection, and they are moved about every so often. Urban Trees was a series of public art exhibitions along the Embarcadero years ago, before I began to blog.

Smiley face on a pedicab heads toward four Urban Trees. The Port of San Diego public sculptures were recently moved from the Cruise Ship Terminal to Ruocco Park.
Smiley face on a pedicab heads toward four Urban Trees just before sunset. These unique Port of San Diego public sculptures were recently moved from the Cruise Ship Terminal to Ruocco Park.
Orange Tree, by artists Guy and Ellen Mayenobe, 2007. Originally exhibited on the Embarcadero during Urban Trees 4.
Orange Tree, by artists Guy and Ellen Mayenobe, 2007. Originally exhibited on the Embarcadero during Urban Trees 4.
Closer photo of late sunlight on A Different But Loving Pair, by artist Cecilia Stanford, 2005. Originally exhibited during Urban Trees 2.
Photo of late sunlight reflecting from section of A Different But Loving Pair, by artist Cecilia Stanford, 2005. Originally exhibited during Urban Trees 2.

For a more complete look at A Different But Loving Pair, click here.

A dog plays with someone near the base of Fish Tree, by artists Zbigniew Pingot and Toby Flores, from the Urban Trees 2 waterfront exhibition years ago.
A dog plays with someone near the base of Fish Tree, by artists Zbigniew Pingot and Toby Flores, from the Urban Trees 2 waterfront exhibition years ago.

You can see all of Fish Tree by clicking here.

Like crystals shining in the sun. The top of Tap Root and Growth, by artist Christopher Lee, originally exhibited during Urban Trees 3.
Like crystals shining in the sun. Looking up at Tap Root and Growth, by artist Christopher Lee, originally exhibited during Urban Trees 3.

I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk around with my camera! You can follow Cool San Diego Sights via Facebook or Twitter!

You can easily explore Cool San Diego Sights by using the search box on my blog’s sidebar. Or click a tag! There are thousands upon thousands of photos for you to enjoy!

Cool sights observed during several walks.

Sculpture of a winged cherub sits above a service entrance to the Horton Plaza shopping mall on Fourth Avenue.
Sculpture of a winged cherub sits above a service entrance to the Horton Plaza shopping mall on Fourth Avenue.

Whenever I walk around town, my eyes are constantly roving, searching.

During the past few days I spied a variety of cool sights. Many were familiar but observed with fresh eyes; others to my eyes were entirely new.

Almost all of these photographs were taken in downtown San Diego. If you read the captions, you’ll note that one photo was taken in Mission Valley.

Every day is a new voyage of discovery.

Late light on Pacific Soul, a fantastic new sculpture by Jaume Plensa.
Late light on Pacific Soul, a fantastic new sculpture by Jaume Plensa.
Light fixtures mingle with reflections. Magic in one window of Urban Lighting.
Light fixtures mingle with reflections. Magic in one window of Urban Lighting.
Magic Shop San Diego and a street lamp that seems to have mysteriously materialized inside their store.
Magic Shop San Diego and a street lamp that seems to have mysteriously materialized inside their store.
A colorful Rabbitville bunny inside a window of the Hilton Gaslamp.
A colorful Rabbitville bunny that celebrates San Diego inside a window of the Hilton Gaslamp.
Lucha Libre masks peer down from an upper level of Petco Park.
Lucha Libre masks peer down from an upper level of Petco Park.
Cool ornamentation on a building at the corner of Fourth Avenue and E Street.
Cool ornamentation on a building at the corner of Fourth Avenue and E Street.
Looking up at one of the geometrically fascinating, glass Pacific Center towers in Mission Valley.
Looking up at one of the geometrically fascinating Pacific Center towers in Mission Valley.
Ornamental detail at entrance to the elegant 1928 San Diego Trust and Savings Bank Building, now home to Courtyard by Marriott San Diego Downtown.
Ornamental detail at entrance to the elegant 1928 San Diego Trust and Savings Bank Building, now home to Courtyard by Marriott San Diego Downtown.
Late light on San Diego's iconic 1938 County Administration Building.
Late light on San Diego’s iconic 1938 County Administration Building.
Gazing straight up toward the roof of the 1929 Samuel L. Fox Building at Sixth Avenue and Broadway.
Gazing straight up toward the roof of the elaborate 1929 Samuel L. Fox Building at Sixth Avenue and Broadway.
A tangle of rope inside the window of Crab Hut on Broadway.
A tangle of rope inside the window of Crab Hut on Broadway.
Stained glass windows add character to the Goorin Bros. Hat Shop - Gaslamp.
Stained glass windows add character to the Goorin Bros. Hat Shop – Gaslamp.
Medallion-like relief sculpture of explorer Cabrillo's galleon San Salvador on a corner of the 1924 John D. Spreckels Building.
Medallion-like relief sculpture of explorer Cabrillo’s galleon San Salvador on a corner of the 1924 John D. Spreckels Building.

I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk around with my camera! You can follow Cool San Diego Sights via Facebook or Twitter!

Photos inside the San Diego Chinese Historical Museum.

The San Diego Chinese Historical Museum is a cultural gem in downtown's small Chinatown.
The San Diego Chinese Historical Museum is a cultural gem in downtown’s small Chinatown.

I recently enjoyed a visit to the San Diego Chinese Historical Museum. It’s located downtown in San Diego’s Asian Pacific Historic District. I was graciously allowed to take some photos of the indoor exhibits and the peaceful outdoor garden.

Built in 1927, this Mission Revival style building was originally the Chinese Community Church in San Diego’s Chinatown. It was saved from demolition in the 1990’s, and relocated to its present location.

The museum might be small, but it overflows with an important slice of San Diego history. Its many colorful artifacts representing Chinese culture will fascinate your eyes at every turn! I recommend a visit!

Visitors enter the San Diego Chinese Historical Museum during the San Diego Architectural Foundation's OPEN HOUSE 2017.
Visitors enter the San Diego Chinese Historical Museum during the San Diego Architectural Foundation’s OPEN HOUSE 2017.
Many colorful sights await inside the historical and cultural museum.
Many colorful sights await inside the small historical and cultural museum.
Someone looks at old photos of San Diego and Chinese residents who helped to build and grow our city.
Someone looks at old photos of San Diego and Chinese residents who helped to build and grow our city.
The museum building was originally a mission, which was moved to its present location in San Diego’s Asian Pacific Historic District.
The museum building was originally a mission, which was moved to its present location in San Diego’s Asian Pacific Historic District.
Extensive archaeological work has been performed in this area, including the block south of the museum. Many artifacts from old Chinatown have been recovered.
Extensive archaeological work has been performed in this area, including the block south of the museum. Many artifacts from old Chinatown have been recovered.
Old photos show archaeological digs in the neighborhood.
Old photos show archaeological digs in the neighborhood.
Some of many artifacts recovered include glass bottles, ceramic bowls, utensils.
Some of many artifacts recovered include glass bottles, ceramic bowls, utensils.
Objects used in everyday life include a rubber ball, marbles, mahjong tile, Chinese dice and go pieces.
Objects used in everyday life include a rubber ball, marbles, mahjong tile, Chinese dice and go pieces.
Historical photograph of Chinese fishing junks anchored in San Diego Harbor around 1887.
Historical photograph of Chinese fishing junks anchored in San Diego Harbor around 1887.
Portrait of the Ah Quin family, one of the most prominent, influential early San Diego Chinese families.
Portrait of the Ah Quin family, one of the most prominent, influential early San Diego Chinese families.
Chinese laundries in San Diego utilized irons, counter bells, an abacus, and other useful objects.
Chinese laundries in San Diego utilized irons, counter bells, an abacus, and other useful objects.
A bridal carriage from the late 1800s made of rosewood, found in Yun Cheng.
A bridal carriage from the late 1800s made of rosewood, found in Yun Cheng.
The limestone Buddha head of the Northern Qi Dynasty, was originally carved into a cave in Shanxi Province.
The limestone Buddha head of the Northern Qi Dynasty, was originally carved into a cave in Shanxi Province.
A temple guardian, from Ming Dynasty. The carved wooden idol has a dragon headdress, robes, glass eyes and a real hear beard and mustache.
A temple guardian, from Ming Dynasty. The carved wooden idol has a dragon headdress, robes, glass eyes and a real hair beard and mustache.
A palm raincoat, called so yee, worn by fishermen and farmers for centuries in China.
A palm raincoat, called so yee, worn by fishermen and farmers for centuries in China.
Colorful woven art, and Chinese shoes and slippers for bound feet.
Colorful woven art, and Chinese shoes and slippers for bound feet.
Looking past the Buddha head at a fantastic, ornate alcove bed.
Looking past the Buddha head at a fantastic, ornate alcove bed.
The gilt red-lacquered alcove bed, or babu chuang, was made of southern elm in the Sichuan province in the late 19th century.
The gilt red-lacquered alcove bed, or babu chuang, was made of southern elm in the Sichuan province in the late 19th century.
Clay Chinese opera figurines represent different scenes. The characters are from local theatrical traditions, and utilize a complicated set of symbolic gestures.
Clay Chinese opera figurines represent different scenes. The characters are from local theatrical traditions, and utilize a complicated set of symbolic gestures.
Display case contains memories of military service.
Display case contains memories of military service.
Punching devices used for the Chinese Lottery of San Diego, which was popular in the Stingaree District and Chinatown. Technically illegal, the lottery was tolerated by the authorities.
Punching devices used for the Chinese Lottery of San Diego, which was popular in the red-light Stingaree District and Chinatown. Technically illegal, the lottery was tolerated by the authorities.
A scene from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. The elaborate wood carving depicts the battle that Zhao Yun fought to save the sun of Liu Bei.
A scene from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. The elaborate wood carving depicts the battle that Zhao Yun fought to save the sun of Liu Bei.
Manjusri altar table, from the late 19th century. Manjusri is the Bodhisattva of wisdom--he holds a sward that cuts through ignorance and illusion.
Manjusri altar table, from the late 19th century. Manjusri is the Bodhisattva of wisdom–he holds a sword that cuts through ignorance and illusion.
Terracotta horse and general are replicas from the Terracotta Army unearthed at Xian, China. They occupy a corner of the museum's outdoor Chuang Garden.
Terracotta horse and general are replicas from the Terracotta Army unearthed at Xian, China. They occupy a corner of the museum’s outdoor Chuang Garden.
Statue of Confucius, donated by the generosity of the Ministry of Education, Taiwan, Republic of China.
Statue of Confucius, donated by the generosity of the Ministry of Education, Taiwan, Republic of China.
A granite courtyard scene, 1800-1840. In this wall panel, three children representing prosperity, peer out at the street.
A granite courtyard scene, 1800-1840. In this wall panel, three children representing prosperity, peer out at the street.
A tranquil path runs beside water along the north side of the San Diego Chinese Historical Museum.
A tranquil path runs beside water along the north side of the San Diego Chinese Historical Museum.
Ornamental carving along the peaceful path.
Ornamental carving along the peaceful path.
Another warrior statue in the cool shade.
Another warrior statue in the cool shade.
Behind the horse is a tombstone made in 1796, the inaugural year of the Jia Qing Emperor. It lacks in inscription, perhaps expressing a power that no words can describe.
Behind the horse is a tombstone made in 1796, the inaugural year of the Jia Qing Emperor. It lacks in inscription, perhaps expressing a power that no words can describe.

This blog now features thousands of photos around San Diego! Are you curious? There’s lots of cool stuff to check out!

Here’s the Cool San Diego Sights main page, where you can read the most current blog posts.  If you’re using a small mobile device, click those three parallel lines up at the top–that opens up my website’s sidebar, where you’ll see the most popular posts, a search box, and more!

To enjoy future posts, you can also “like” Cool San Diego Sights on Facebook or follow me on Twitter.

Two cool sculptures at a National City marina!

This old rusty steel skeleton of a ship is actually one of two cool sculptures near the Pier 32 Marina in National City.
This old rusty steel skeleton of a ship is actually one of two cool sculptures near the Pier 32 Marina in National City.

Check out these two very cool sculptures! I spotted them as I walked from a National City trolley station to Pepper Park yesterday, on my way to the big International Mariachi Festival.

Both of these sculptures are located at the Pier 32 Marina. And both are a lot of fun!

This huge metal sculpture by the marina flags is called Le Bateau Ivre, by artist Alber De Matteis, 2008.
This huge metal sculpture by the marina flags is called Le Bateau Ivre, by artist Alber De Matteis, 2008.
Close look at a work of very cool nautical art!
More detailed photo of this work of awesome nautical art! Looks like a ghost ship!
The second sculpture, just down a pathway, is School of Blue Bottle Noses, by artist David Boyer, 2008. It was part of an Urban Trees exhibition on San Diego's Embarcadero.
The second sculpture, just down a pathway, is School of Blue Bottle Noses, by artist David Boyer, 2008. It was part of an Urban Trees exhibition on San Diego’s Embarcadero.
Those blue Bottlenoses are actually bottles! Like a pod of turning dolphins, they shift direction in the wind!
Those blue Bottlenoses are actually bottles! Like a pod of turning dolphins, they shift direction in the wind!

I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk around with my camera! You can follow Cool San Diego Sights via Facebook or Twitter!

You can easily explore Cool San Diego Sights by using the search box on my blog’s sidebar. Or click a tag! There are thousands upon thousands of fun photos for you to share and enjoy!

Cool street art in a Mission Beach alley!

Cool street art faces in a Mission Beach alley peer from behind trash bins.
Faces in a Mission Beach alley peer from behind trash bins.

During my walk down Mission Boulevard through Mission Beach, I discovered an alley just south of Pismo Court that’s overflowing with super creative street art! A friendly dude named Vinny told me he created the scrap metal sculptures, and his buddy painted the walls. Check it out!

Some awesome street art can be seen in an alley off Mission Boulevard just south of Pismo Court. Local guys have painted walls and created cool metal sculptures.
Awesome street art can be seen in an alley off Mission Boulevard just south of Pismo Court. Local guys have painted walls and created cool metal sculptures.
A spray painted sea lion near a door in the alley.
A spray painted sea lion near a door in the alley.
A sea turtle and dolphin swim across a wall.
A sea turtle and dolphin swim across a wall.
The sculpture with American flag was created by Vinny after 911, who used scrap metal that he found discarded in the neighborhood.
The sculpture with American flag was created by Vinny after 911, who used scrap metal that he found discarded in the neighborhood.
Loads of creative art and fun beachy stuff in front of Vinny's place, an example of the cool Mission Beach vibe.
Loads of creative art and fun beachy stuff in front of Vinny’s place, an example of the happy, laid-back Mission Beach vibe.
This alley is like a treasure chest full of street art gold!
This alley is like a treasure chest full of street art gold!

I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk around with my camera! You can follow Cool San Diego Sights via Facebook or Twitter!

Valeiras Sculpture Garden at San Diego’s Central Library.

The Valeiras Sculpture Garden includes several works. It's located near the front entrance to the San Diego Central Library's Art Gallery on the Ninth floor.
The Valeiras Sculpture Garden includes several works. It’s located near the front entrance of San Diego Central Library’s Art Gallery on the Ninth floor.

Head up to the Ninth floor of San Diego’s downtown Central Library and you’re likely to see the small Valeiras Sculpture Garden, just outside the Art Gallery. Several lattice-like metal sculptures attract and interest the eye. They were created by local artist Christoper Puzio, who incorporates a variety of geometric patterns into many of his pieces.

Just in case you can’t see them in person, here are a few photos.

Jacob's Staff, by artist Christopher Puzio, 2015.
Jacob’s Staff, by artist Christopher Puzio, 2015.
Morocco, by artist Christopher Puzio, 2015. This piece hangs on a wall just inside the Art Gallery's front door.
Morocco, by artist Christopher Puzio, 2015. This piece hangs on a wall just inside the Art Gallery’s front door.
Bishop, by artist Christopher Puzio, 2015.
Bishop, by artist Christopher Puzio, 2015.
The small Valeiras Sculpture Garden at San Diego's Central Library is located on the Ninth floor, adjacent to the Art Gallery.
The small Valeiras Sculpture Garden at San Diego’s Central Library is located on the Ninth floor, adjacent to the Art Gallery.

Do you like to read? You might enjoy a short story that I’ve written. Final Real Magic is its title.