Sculptor dives into the deep end for bronze map of La Jolla canyons

Carl Glowienke works at his Lakeside studio on his massive bronze model of La Jolla's geographical features.
Carl Glowienke works at his Lakeside studio on his massive bronze model of La Jolla’s geographical features above and under water.
(Provided by Carl Glowienke)

Carl Glowienke’s 4,000-pound creation will be a geographical model ranging ‘From the Heights of Mount Soledad to the Depths of the Grand Canyons of La Jolla.’


Sculptor Carl Glowienke likes to take deep dives into his work, spending hours making sure his creations are accurate in every detail.

And if he’s going to create something, he wants to do it in a medium that will last a long, long time.

Glowienke’s latest work-in-progress is an in-depth bronze model of La Jolla’s topography (forms and features of land surfaces) and bathymetry (the shape of the bottom of the ocean). The sculpture, commissioned by the Walter Munk Foundation for the Oceans and titled “From the Heights of Mount Soledad to the Depths of the Grand Canyons of La Jolla,” will be at the heart of The Map of the Grand Canyons of La Jolla Educational Plaza at Kellogg Park in La Jolla Shores.

As its name implies, the model depicts a range from 1,000 feet below sea level to 823 feet at the top of Mount Soledad.

A traveling version of the model is in the lobby of the La Jolla/Riford Library.

A traveling model of the bronze sculpture "From the Heights of Mount Soledad to the Depths of the Grand Canyons of La Jolla"
Before the bronze sculpture “From the Heights of Mount Soledad to the Depths of the Grand Canyons
of La Jolla,” the Walter Munk Foundation for the Oceans had artist Carl Glowienke build a smaller traveling model, which is in the La Jolla/Riford Library.
(Walter Munk Foundation)

Glowienke, the owner of Lakeside Sculpture, said his passion is the ocean and sea creatures, which he replicates with exacting accuracy.

“If you can portray the animal as accurately as possible, that provides more of a realistic view for the general populace,” he said. “If you’ve ever had the opportunity to dive with dolphins or whales, it’s transformative — you are right there, just another animal on the planet.”

His bronze and steel pieces range from ornamental gates and fountains to abstract wall sculptures. Many of the works incorporate his love for marine life and the natural world.

“Carl is beyond professional. His attention to detail is above and beyond what anyone could ever expect,” said Mary Coakley Munk, president of the Walter Munk Foundation, which is named after her late husband, a famed scientist at UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla. “I don’t think I’ve ever worked with anyone so patient, so incredibly talented, so kind or so thoughtful.”

Sculptor Carl Glowienke stands with Mary Coakley Munk, president of the Walter Munk Foundation for the Oceans.
Sculptor Carl Glowienke stands with Mary Coakley Munk, president of the Walter Munk Foundation for the Oceans, which commissioned his bronze sculpture that will be at The Map of the Grand Canyons of La Jolla.
(Provided by Carl Glowienke)

Walter Munk studied ocean geophysics for decades. Under his wife’s guidance, the foundation continues his legacy of exploration and discovery through scientific research, education and ocean conservation.

The foundation opened The Map at Kellogg Park in 2020. Covering 2,200 square feet of the plaza floor, it is considered the largest LithoMosaic in the world. LithoMosaic is a method of creating mosaics and installing the work into concrete.

The Map contains more than 100 life-size mosaics of creatures found just offshore, as well as markers of significant underwater canyons, information panels, QR codes and varying shades of blue to mark ocean depths.

Munk said she first met Glowienke when he did some bronze work for The Map. She said a foundry originally was going to make the canyons model, but both it and the foundation were behind schedule on completing the work.

The delay gave the foundation time to rethink what it wanted. The scope of what would be included in the model expanded, and Glowienke was chosen to create it.

“We took the opportunity to turn the model into an even greater educational tool,” Coakley Munk said. “It was a wonderful way for us to realize we could do more with the sculpture.”

Glowienke estimates the model will weigh close to 4,000 pounds when finished. It will consist of 30 levels of half-inch-thick bronze plates stacked on a stainless steel base. The plates are cut with a computer-guided plasma cutter.

There also are individually cast nameplates for each layer of the model. Words for the plates also have to be cut and attached.

At approximately 4 feet wide by 10 feet long, with varying depths, viewers will be able to walk completely around the sculpture, which will be installed on a large frame.

“For the model, Mount Soledad will be about 36½ inches above the ground, and sea level will be about 30 inches,” Glowienke said. “The lowest point of the canyon will be 16 inches above the ground.”

Though the model covers the area 1,000 feet down into the ocean, Glowienke said the canyons actually continue to more than 2,000 feet deep.

Glowienke started the project in October 2020, but due to the research and planning that had to be done, construction began the following January.

Glowienke hopes to have the model installed by Oct. 15, with a dedication planned for sometime between Labor Day and the installation date. No work is allowed in the park in the summer.

Geologists at Scripps Oceanography provided the original information for the sculpture and made small corrections as needed during the modeling process.

According to the National Centers for Environmental Information, nearly 80 percent of the world’s oceans are unexplored and unmapped.

“Knowing the depth and shape of the sea floor is fundamental for understanding tides, tsunami inundation forecasting, fishing resources, ocean exploration, cultural heritage, environmental change, underwater hazards, infrastructure construction and maintenance, cable and pipeline routing and much more,” according to NCEI.

Glowienke’s team includes lead fabricator Russ Richmond and sculptor Fred Briscoe.

“I want to make something that will be around long after I am gone. Part of environmental education is making things of lasting value.”

— Carl Glowienke

Up to a dozen steps are needed to cast a piece of bronze. Planning is crucial, Glowienke said, because mistakes at any step are very difficult to rectify.

Signage on three sides of the model will provide information on the local area, such as the cultural connection between the Kumeyaay Native American tribe and La Jolla’s water resources and cave system.

The fourth side will include names of donors and others involved in the project.

“My favorite part of the work is the problem-solving,” Glowienke said. “This project requires engineering and artistic acumen. The welding and polishing are a lot of fun, but it can be tedious. But it’s all part of the process.”

He said he finds the environmental education part of the piece personally appealing. “The model is a chance to ... get people to wake up and look at the world around them,” he said.

His least favorite part of the project, he said, will be moving the massive piece. “When you are making something this heavy and dense, you have to consider every aspect: assembly, transportation and installation,” he said.

He plans to use a forklift to move the model from the studio onto his specially modified flatbed truck. Once onsite, a crane will lift the piece from the truck onto the framework.

“What’s really fun is that the model ... will last for hundreds of years,” Glowienke said. “I want to make something that will be around long after I am gone. Part of environmental education is making things of lasting value.”

Glowienke had firsthand knowledge of the canyons long before he imagined he would be sculpting them, having made many diving trips in the area since he was young.

He said he’s loved the ocean all his life. Even at 6 years old, he couldn’t stay out of the deep end.

“I’d go out too far and the lifeguards would have to get me out,” he said, describing his trips to the seaside as a child growing up in Los Angeles.

In his 30s, from 1983 to 1989, he studied dolphin and whale anatomy at the Hubbs-Sea World Research Institute in San Diego, where he worked with the now-late marine biologist and educator Stephen Leatherwood.

“It allowed me to have direct access to the world’s expert on sperm whales and allowed me to refine them in my work,” Glowienke said.

Simultaneously, from 1985 to 1990, he apprenticed with Guillermo Castaño, a master bronze sculptor from Mexico.

Glowienke’s sculptures have helped him become better known in the scientific world, he said.

Cabrillo National Monument is home to three of his sculptures, including a Pacific gray whale and calf, a tactile
model of the Old Point Loma Lighthouse and outbuildings and a tactile model of the Point Loma Peninsula.

Two of Glowienke’s better-known pieces — a hawk and a rabbit — are at Mountain Hawk Park in Chula Vista.

He has received the Design Merit Award from the National Park Service, the People’s Choice Award from the
American Cetacean Society and the Artist of the Year honor from the San Diego Oceans Foundation.

His work also can be found in collections worldwide, including his sculpture of a pair of baiji, or Chinese river dolphins, commissioned by The Grand Aquarium at Ocean Park in Hong Kong.

“In 1997, I was privileged to go over there and see the last surviving Chinese river dolphin,” Glowienke said. “I was able to study it and model mine from life.”

The project took two years. In 2006, the baiji were declared extinct. Glowienke’s life-size sculpture is the closest thing to
the real animal most people will ever see.

A mermaid sculpture by Carl Glowienke decorates the La Jolla home of Kevin and Jane Villani.
(Kevin Villani)

Glowienke’s work also is in private collections.

Kevin Villani of La Jolla described how, some 20 years ago, he stood in line before the first day of a home show and headed straight to Glowienke’s booth.

“We live on Dolphin Place, so we’re partial to dolphins everywhere,” Villani said. “When I saw [Glowienke’s] gate with dolphins on the advertisement for the show, I knew I had to have it.”

Villani and his wife, Jane, continue to collect Glowienke’s art, including a couple of privacy shields, a door and some
sculptures. Subjects range from a pelican to a pair of rays to a mermaid.

For more information about Glowienke, visit or call (619) 818-8619.

To learn more about the Walter Munk Foundation for the Oceans, visit ◆