Artist’s 'Big Foot' Project Highlights Human Impact on California’s Species in Peril

Sculptor Beverly Mayeri with "The Big Foot," her 68-inch tall photo collage sculpture inspired by California's federally endangered species. Credit: Steve Martarano/USFWS

By Steve Martarano
October 17, 2016

Beverly Mayeri’s clay pieces were once described in a 2003 New York Times review as evoking “something rare in contemporary art – a richly complicated human presence.”

Now, 13 years later, the Mill Valley-based sculptor is still showing how that human presence is affecting us. California’s endangered wildlife is the inspiration behind Mayeri’s “The Big Foot,” a 68-inch tall photo collage of vulnerable species in California pasted onto a paper mache foot.

Beverly Mayeri with "The Big Foot," her 68-inch tall
photo collage. It will be on display at the environmentally-
based Bioneers Conference, on Oct. 22-24 at the Marin
County, Calif., Civic Center.
Credit: Steve Martarano/USFWS

The project, which weighs 40 pounds, took two years to conceive and build in her studio, and the collage was finished by Mayeri while she was Artist-in-Residence at the de Young Museum in San Francisco earlier this year.

The Big Foot, with photos of species varying from the California condor, blue whale, Delta smelt, the Bay Checkerspot, Lange’s Metalmark and El Segundo Blue butterflies, and the Salt Marsh Harvest mouse, to name a few, has been seen at only a couple of places outside her studio and the de Young Museum. But it will be on display at the environmentally-based Bioneers Conference, on Oct. 22-24 at the Marin County Civic Center.

“Why use a big foot?” asks Mayeri, speaking from the studio she shares in the Industrial Center Building in Sausalito with two other artists. “I like it because it suggests we are trampling on the earth like oversized giants. It’s also a reference to the carbon footprint of the environmental movement. We use far too much of the earth’s resources.

“Since these species are located here in our own state, we may be in a position to help some of them survive. People are capable of making a difference.”

Once Mayeri, who has often featured environmental themes, decided on the Big Foot project for her de Young residency, she went to work. Taking a list of the state and federal listed species in California, Mayeri began meticulously finding associated photos on the Internet and from other sources.

Each of the 164 photos on the Big Foot is numbered so the name of each species on the list can be researched, as well as the photographer credited for the photo. There is a water line at the top of the foot which depicts the rise in sea level expected in the future if humans don’t cut down on fossil fuel use. The collage of plant, animal and fish images goes up to this water line.

"The Big Foot," by Bay Area artist and scupltor Beverly Mayeri, features photos of California's endangered wildlife.  Credit: Steve Martarano/USFWS

Mayeri said this sculpture details that our carbon and environmental footprints — our human footprints – are too big for a healthy planet.

“The inspiration for this project came from a ceramic foot I had done in 2010,” Mayeri said. “That project had waterlines suggesting the rise in sea level, and scratched into the dark water or oil stain are scenarios of human caused problems for life at sea.”

Mayeri hopes the Big Foot sculpture, which won’t be sold, will eventually find its way into the lobby or other public viewing area of an environmentally conscious company. She’ll also be open to showings where requested, like the upcoming Bioneers Conference, where she will be available to discuss the project.

Mayeri earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from UC Berkeley in the 1960s and an Master of Arts degree in sculpture from San Francisco State University, where she studied with Stephen de Staebler and Karen Breschi. She has had solo exhibitions at the Dorothy Weiss Gallery (San Francisco), Garth Clark and Franklin Parrasch Galleries (New York), Duane Reed Gallery (St. Louis), and Perimeter Gallery (Chicago).

Her work is part of the Smithsonian Archives of American Art, and in private and public collections such as Los Angeles County Museum of Art, High Museum of Art, Racine Art Museum, Museum of Modern Art in Honolulu, and others.

Mayeri’s resume and other work can be seen at


Steve Martarano is the public affairs officer for the San Francisco Bay-Delta Fish and Wildlife Office located in Sacramento.