Area artist uses sculpture skills to honor fallen heroes

Austin Casson with dog moose at his home studio. Meghan Taylor photo

The Temecula Duck Pond, known for having a wide variety of sculptures and artworks, will soon be welcoming another installation later this year: A memorial for Temecula residents who were killed while serving their country.

The Temecula Heroes Memorial, designed by La Cresta-based artist Austin Casson, will include a 17-foot-tall steel tower, life-size bald eagle forged in steel and a battlefield cross. On the ground in front of the tower will be five 12-inch bronze seals honoring each of the individual branches of the military.

“I was approached by the city and I was interested in it as soon as they told me what they had in mind,” Casson said outside of his La Cresta home last week. “It’s a wonderful project and I’m very proud to be involved. I’m proud to have them ask me.”

Erica Russo, a senior management analyst for the city, wrote in an email that the project was initiated following the death of 27-year-old Temecula resident and Marine Staff Sgt. Louis Cardin, who was killed in action while supporting Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S. military’s campaign against ISIS.

Following the incident, Russo wrote, the Military Ad Hoc Subcommittee consisting of councilman Jeff Comerchero and then councilman Michael McCracken asked city staff to coordinate an effort with community partners to discuss creating a memorial to honor Cardin.

Those community partners included Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4089, The Temecula Valley Woman’s Club, Commissioner Bob Hagel and Riverside County Supervisor Chuck Washington.

The group decided on the Duck Pond to complement the existing Letters Home Memorial, and Casson was invited to submit a concept for the memorial’s design.

Casson has been an artist for nearly three decades and began his career making small-scale replicas of world-famous golf holes that could be used as bookends and desk decorations. Those items sold in roughly 3,000 gift shops around the world.

“I tried to find someone to make them and I couldn’t find anybody to make them, so I started doing it myself and I found out that I was a sculptor,” Casson said. “It’s just that simple.”

From the miniature golf holes, Casson moved into making large scale stone and bronze sculptures and those are the mediums he still works in today.

At his home in the hills near Murrieta Friday, Casson was working on a metal sculpture of a winged lady.

He particularly enjoys sculpting birds, not unlike the life-size one that will top the memorial. That bird is currently sitting at city hall as the other pieces of the memorial are finished in studios in Temecula and Fallbrook that are helping Casson.

Temecula’s Fabwest Manufacturing, which does metal fabrication projects, is in the process of constructing the 17-foot tower on which the eagle will rest.

Austin Casson at his home studio in La Cresta. Casson was tapped by the city of Temecula to create a memorial for Temecula residents who were killed while serving their country. Meghan Taylor photo

The battlefield cross is being finished up by Brandon Roy of the California Sculpture Academy in Fallbrook. Casson described Roy as a “world class sculptor.”

Casson said that members of the California Sculpture Academy, some of whom are themselves veterans, helped in the creation of the very detailed cross

The boots located beneath the rifle are the same kind of boots that Cardin wore and a cast replica of Cardin’s dog tags will also be visible on the cross, Casson said.

Cardin, a 2006 graduate of Chaparral High School, joined the Marines in June 2006. He is not the only Temecula resident to have died while serving in the military.

Marine Corporal Christopher G. Singer, 23, another Chaparral High grad and a member of the 3rd Combat Engineer Battalion, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force died in Afghanistan in 2012.

Casson said he hopes people stop and take in the memorial as they pass by it at the pond.

“It’s a piece that I hope the design will make people think,” he said. “That’s all we can do.”

The city is moving forward on the project and is currently preparing to go out for bid on the site work, but Russo said an exact date for when it will be completed has not yet been decided.

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