Jun 9, 2023

Penguins? Dolphins? Teardrops? (Who Cares? It’s Art!)

A new triptych sculpture lights up a campus

By Ed Goldman

A state university’s Welcome Center just got a little more welcoming with a luminous three-part sculpture called “Tributary.”

It’s a somewhat impudent Fiberglas, resin and steel piece that stands 14 feet high with a 10×10′ footprint. It looks like three dolphins, or penguins, or teardrops, while its creators say it’s a triptych denoting the region’s confluence of waterways. Whatever. In daylight, it’s a sweet pie of outdoor installation art. At night, it glows in a variety of colors and almost seems to shape-shift before your eyes. Can you guess I like it?

Edgy Cartoon


“Tributary”—which you can see more of and learn more about here—was created over a three-year period by students, then a few former students (they’d graduated to professional-artist status) under the direction of Sacramento State University art Professor Andrew Connelly. This makes it a sort of pro-am project.

Two of the pros who started out as students to create the piece, Zala Mahshour and Andrew Rosas, joined me for coffee recently. They’ve been heralded and introduced to me by a dear friend, multiple-award-winning arts educator, children’s entertainer and Sacramento State University professor Francie Dillon. Dillon herself is an artist and also the mother of an artist (Lindsey M. Dillon, a ceramist and sculptor). She had met the two young artists at one of their day jobs, selling and stocking supplies at University Art in midtown Sacramento. A lifelong enthusiast and arts promoter, she’d rushed to tell me about them and their work

I love doing pieces on a large scale,” says Mahshour, who also makes ends meet working for an optometrist. “I started out as a painter but 2-D work just didn’t satisfy me.”

Rosas says he also likes the grandeur of doing larger works, though both artists lament that art collectors, at least in the Greater Sacramento region, are less inclined to buy sculptures than paintings. “Maybe people don’t realize that sculptures don’t have to be large,” he muses. 

Mahshour agrees, adding, “One of the things I like about doing sculpture is that it’s art you can see the back of, not just the front. It’s meant to be enjoyed at all angles.”

The original “Tributary” team included Rosas, Isabella Flanagan and Janelle Marcione on the concert/design team, while Mahshour (and Rosas) were part of the fabricator group, which included April Arnold, Denise Benitez, Julie Crumb and Matthew Pugh.

Both artists, who are in their 20s, say that art is considered “more of a hobby” (Mahshour) than “a real career” (Rosas) by their families, but Rosas says, “This is probably a cultural thing. Nobody has been discouraging.” 

The eldest of five children, Rosas is a first-generation U.S. citizen, his family hailing from Aguascalientes, which is roughly 300 miles from Mexico City. Mahshour, a native of Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, was raised in Seattle. Like Rosas, she has four siblings—but she’s the youngest.

Edgy Cartoon

Andrew and Zala; photo by Edgy.

The two artists say they enjoy working together on public art projects. “We know how to do things that are beautiful and stay within a budget,” says Mahshour.

Since a number of U.S. cities have public art requirements for both private and public developments, I’m hoping that readers in those cities will let this column know of any pending projects. We’ve just got to get these kids onto the streets. 

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).