The Leo Politi Garden started as an idea about 10 years ago to honor the friendship between a Fresno State professor and a renowned children’s author and illustrator. Its completion is now within sight.
Fresno native and Caldecott Medal-winning artist and writer Leo Politi was friends with professor Arne Nixon, who taught children’s literature and storytelling for more than 30 years at Fresno State.
“Politi would visit Arne’s classes,” said Arne Nixon Center curator Jennifer Crow. “When Arne would have children’s literature festivals, he would invite Politi and he would come up from Los Angeles.”
Inscribed near the garden on the east side of the library is a quote from Politi’s acceptance speech for the Caldecott Medal in 1950.
“In all my books, I try to embody certain universal things—the warmth and happiness of family life; my love for people, animals, birds and flowers.”
Those story elements are represented in the five mosaic tiles placed in the garden this week.
How those tiles came to be in a Fresno State garden took years of patience and fundraising.
In 2002, Denise Sciandra, founding president of the Arne Nixon Center Advocates, was on a tour with Leo Politi’s children. They showed her their old home and where their father placed illustrated mosaic tiles he designed himself.
Politi’s children took the tiles with them when they sold the house and were looking for a new home for the tiles.
Two years later, when the Henry Madden Library remodel began, Sciandra said the idea formed to have a garden with the tiles and bronze replicas of some of Politi’s statues. However, the Politis said they were too fragile to move them to Fresno and an artist had to recreate them.
Six years passed before enough money was raised to build the garden and all the various approvals were obtained. By the time the garden was dedicated in June 2010, there was not enough money for the artwork.
In 2011 fundraising efforts began with the help of the Politi family, who donated lithographs Leo Politi created. People who donated $1,000 could choose a lithograph. In 2012, Sciandra said they got approvals for the two artists to go to work.
“It definitely took a lot of patience to get this done,” Sciandra said. “If you were working on a project for 10 years, and the end was in sight, you’d be excited. I’m thrilled.”
Sciandra said the mosaic tiles and the sculptures will bring the garden to life.
“It’s a perfect place for it,” she said. “When I go by the garden, I see the loveliness of it. I see people eating and reading. One day I saw preschool kids enjoying the garden.”
The statues will be completed by March, Crow said. On April 13, the garden will be rededicated during its annual fundraising event called the “Secret Garden Party.”
Crow said the Politis will be at this year’s event and there will be a granite commemoration tile detailing the friendship of Nixon and Politi.