A late bloomer to the sculpting world

Former plumber Nicholas Hernandez' sculptures are finding their way into prominent places. He credits Laguna Beach with turning him into an artist.

March 03, 2011|By Joanna Clay,
  • The carving tools of sculptor Nick Hernandez in his Laguna Beach studio.
The carving tools of sculptor Nick Hernandez in his Laguna… (DON LEACH, Coastline…)

Laguna Beach artist Nicholas Hernandez didn't start sculpting until he was 46, but it didn't take long for him to get noticed.

Almost 10 years later, in 2001 he was creating artwork for former President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton. The framed sculpture of their daughter, aptly titled "Chelsea," now hangs in the Clinton's New York home, Hernandez said.

Now 65, Hernandez celebrated the unveiling of his sculpture at Chapman University on Feb. 25. A friend of Presidential Fellow Ruebén Martinez, Hernandez was introduced to Chapman during a special chancellor's art exhibit in October. Shortly afterward he was commissioned by Chapman President Jim Doti to create a sculpture named "Emergence," which now sits in university's Escalette Plaza in Orange.

However, Hernandez is no stranger to recognition.

In 2008, he won the Lorenzo il Magnifico de Medici award at the Florence Biennale international art fair in Italy, which he describes as "the Olympics of art." Hernandez represented the United States among 890 artists — 160 of whom were sculptors — from 72 countries.


The self-proclaimed hippie who grew up in Santa Ana came to Laguna in the late '60s after spending time in San Francisco.

"I always loved Laguna," he said. "I was thinking I want to live in Laguna, but what will I do?"

The only practical career Hernandez had known was plumbing construction, a trade he learned from his father.

He walked into Sound Spectrum, the iconic music store on South Coast Highway, hoping to make friends and find some work. They said they needed a faucet fixed.

Then the work just kept coming.

More than 20 years later, Hernandez was introduced to sculpting by Thomas Richard Garcia, who was known as one of the best artists in the city, Hernandez said.

"I was just mystified by his art," he said. "I remember one day a light bulb just went off. I went to him and asked, 'Would you teach me to carve?'"

Garcia taught Hernandez the basics and the former construction worker became obsessed.

"With the very first strike I had an epiphany," he said. "Right that instant I knew I'd do it for the rest of my life."

Hernandez believes Laguna had a big role to play in introducing him to his calling.

"Being around all the artists turned me into an artist," he said. "Laguna does that to people."

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