The Surfing Madonna Foundation Proposes Funding 18’ Mosaic on Avo Playhouse


By Kelly Moncure
On Tuesday, March 5, 2019, Surfing Madonna Foundation president Robert Nichols and his board members presented a proposal to the Vista Public Arts Commission for the funding of an 8’ x 18’ glass mosaic based on a 1974 photograph by former Vista Press staff photojournalist Don Bartletti. The photograph depicts a farm worker in an agricultural area of Vista popularly known as “Strawberry Hill”. The young man holds red ripe berries neatly filling boxes emblazoned with the words “Vista Calif Strawberries”. The glass mosaic is proposed for permanent display on a west facing wall of the Avo Playhouse at 303 Main Street in heart of downtown Vista. It’s lofty 2d story position will make it visible from blocks away and will compliment Vista’s annual strawberry festival and be an authentic reminder of the city’s farming history. The life span of the artwork is estimated to be 100 years or more.

Crafting of the mosaic will be done by Don Myers Studio, a stained glass artist in Oceanside. Myers was commissioned by the Surfing Madonna Foundation to create a mosaic wall for the Moonlight Beach Marine Life Center that was unveiled in November 2016. For the proposed “Vista Strawberry” mosaic mural, Myers plans to host several workshops at his studio for any volunteers from the community who would like to have a hand in putting the mosaic pieces in place. His studio is approval of this Public Art proposal, renderings of the mosaic as it will appear on Main Street will be available to citizens and downtown merchants during for a 30 day vetting period.

Internationally acclaimed photojournalist Don Bartletti has been a resident of Vista since 1961. The Palomar College graduate began his professional newspaper career at the Vista Press in 1972. Over the next 43 years he moved on to the Oceanside Blade-Tribune, the San Diego Union-Tribune and retired in 2015 after 32 years with the staff of the Los Angeles Times. He was awarded the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography for his Los Angeles Times photo essay Enrique’s Journey. That 6-part series chronicled Central American child stowaways riding freight trains through Mexico on their quest to reach the United States.

He was also a 2015 Pulitzer Prize finalist for his documentary about migrant farm worker exploitation on Mexican ranches that grow produce for export to the U.S. Mr. Bartletti’s photographs have been exhibited at the San Diego Museum of Photographic Art, The Oakland Museum of California and at major museums across the U.S. and Mexico.

L-R Robert Nichols-Surfing Madonna Foundation President, Don Bartletti-Photo Journalist, Don Myers-Mosaic Artist

He is frequently invited to show and speak about his immigration and border related photo essays at universities, colleges, high schools, journalism conferences and civic organizations nationwide. His work and complete CV can be found at Surfing Madonna Foundation is a 501(c)3 headquartered in Encinitas. It was founded by Mark Patterson and Robert Nichols, creators of the iconic mosaic titled “Surfing Madonna” that is on permanent outdoor display on Encinitas Blvd. just east of PCH. The Surfing Madonna Oceans Project is dedicated to bringing the communities of North San Diego County together to “Save the Ocean” and preserve our coastline. They have donated over $500,000 to local ocean, beach, park and related projects including several art projects, most recently the 7’ x 13’ tall glass mosaic, “Pacific Playground” at the Moonlight Beach Marine Safety Center. Their website is


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