Queen Califia's Magic Circle

Niki de Saint Phalle  |  1930-2002  |  Escondido, CA

Mosaic environment


I am hesitant to call Niki de Saint Phalle an outsider, although she had a rich life surrounded by artists.  But she is definitely a visionary.  Tucked back in the Kit Carson Park, about 1/4 mile off the road stands her incredible tile mosaic environment.


An undulating 400-foot circular snake encompasses this tile mosaic maze masterpiece by Niki de Saint Phalle, wife and frequent collaborator of French “New Realist” Jean Tinguely. Although never formally trained, Niki was surrounded by art and artists. In the early 1950s, she suffered a nervous breakdown and found that painting helped her heal. Influenced by travels to Spain and the work of Gaudi, she was exposed to found object sculptures and the ways that diverse materials could serve as structural elements. The Magical Circle is her final project and only American sculpture garden, taking its name from the legendary Amazon queen who ruled an island paradise of gold and riches. The mosaic is made from a variety of materials: pebbles, mirror, tiles, agates, and turquoise to name a few. Queen Califia is astride a colorful eagle that doubles as a small temple. There are 10 freestanding sculptures as well, with symbology derived from the Native American, pre-Columbian, and Mexican cultures that settled California.