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Mission Viejo’s Mosaic Bears

rainforest bear

In 2012, the City of Mission Viejo launched an art project called “Bears About Town,” designed to be a collaborative art adventure involving the entire community.

To bring this vision to life, the City of Mission Viejo, the Mission Viejo Cultural Arts Committee, and the Mission Viejo Friends of the Arts collaborated with artists Joy Aldrich and Aileen May.

Between 2012 and 2015, using studio space provided with the Kaleidoscope center, Aldrich and May guided over a thousand community members of all ages to add mosaic tiles to nine life-size bear sculptures, each representing a different cultural theme. 

Mission Viejo’s spirit of volunteerism and collaboration were at the core of this project as friends, neighbors, students and strangers came together over the course of weeks, months, and years to create a lasting artistic legacy and honor the cultural diversity of Mission Viejo one tile at a time. 

Once completed, the mosaic bears went on tour with exhibits at UC Irvine, Saddleback College, and the San Juan Capistrano Friends of the Library Bookstore before they returned home to Mission Viejo. 

Today, you can visit the bears in various locations throughout the City by parking at the Potocki Center for the Arts, Norman P. Murray Center, or Oso Creek Golf Course.

The Potocki Center for the Arts is located at 27301 La Paz Road. 

The Upper Oso Trail is a paved walking path that links the Potocki Center for the Arts with the Norman P. Murray Center, located at 24932 Veterans Way. 

The Oso Creek Golf Course is located at 27601 Casta Del Sol. 


Meet The Bears

Folklorico Bear

folklorico bear

This bear reflects the vibrant beauty of Mexican culture, honoring Mexico’s art, architecture, music, dance, and traditions.

The heritage and history of Mexico is woven into the fabric of California, as this state was a Mexican territory before its admission to the United States in 1850. The imagery here transcends borders to celebrate the richness of our shared cultural landscape.

Location: Potocki Center for the Arts


Liberty Bear

liberty bear

This bear is dedicated to the European immigrants who came to the United States through Ellis Island. 
From 1892 to 1954, more than 12 million immigrants passed through Ellis Island before beginning their new lives in the United States.
People left their homes due to war, drought, famine and religious persecution, and all had hopes for greater opportunity. 
These courageous people are represented here by the languages they spoke; materials they left behind; and the talents they brought with them. 

Location: Potocki Center for the Arts

Pacific Island Bear

pacific bear

The oceanic motifs on this bear reflect the connection between Pacific Island cultures and the waters that surround them. 
For ancient Pacific Islanders, the ocean was a path to exploration and connection. Long before the invention of the compass, these seafarers navigated from island to island by observing natural phenomena.
Today, the ocean remains the most significant natural resource in the Pacific Island region, providing food and livelihood for many, and it is central to cultural and spiritual traditions that have been passed down through generations. 

Location: Upper Oso Trail

Juaneño Bear

juaneno bear

Representing the local indigenous people, this bear was designed in collaboration with members of the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation to honor their rich cultural heritage and strong connection to nature.

Soft browns and greens evoke the colors of Southern California’s native flora and fauna, and facets of everyday life are illustrated with plants, animals, and items such as feathers, shells, and beads. 
Archaeological evidence shows an Acjachemen presence in this region dating back 10,000 years to the present day.

Location: Upper Oso Trail

Rainforest Bear

rainforest bear

This bear celebrates the beauty and diversity of South America. 

From bustling cities to picturesque mountain towns, the population of South America comprises a variety of cultures, ethnicities, and languages, while natural wonders like the Amazon river and Andes Mountains exemplify the continent’s varied terrain. 

The design of this mosaic bear was inspired by South America’s lush Amazon rainforest, the largest rainforest in the world. Boasting unparalleled biodiversity, the Amazon rainforest is home to several million species of plants, animals, and insects and is an invaluable natural resource.

Location: Oso Creek Golf Course


Jazz Bear 

jazz bear

This bear celebrates the vibrant legacy of jazz as a distinctly African American music style.

Developed by Black musicians in late 19th century New Orleans, jazz draws from both African and European influences. Its unmistakable sound is characterized by complex harmonies, syncopated rhythms, and improvisation.

By the 1920s, jazz was a full-fledged cultural phenomenon, influencing nearly every aspect of American life from fashion to social movements.

Jazz has inspired generations of musicians and continues to evolve today.

Location: Upper Oso Trail

Lion & Sun Bear

lion sun bear

This bear was designed to honor the heritage, culture, and history of Mission Viejo’s Persian population. 

The traditional Persian paisley design represents life and fertility and was a major textile pattern during the Qajar and Pahlavi dynasties.

The saffron flower produces a vivid crimson spice that plays a significant role in Persian cuisine. 

The lion-and-sun motif echoes the original flag of the Persian Empire, beloved by many among the Persian diaspora as a symbol of their homeland. 
Location: Upper Oso Trail

The following bear sculptures are currently awaiting installation. Please watch this space for updates.

Year of the Dragon Bear 

The dragon on this bear represents Lunar New Year, a holiday that has expanded beyond its origins in Asia to be celebrated around the world. 

California is home to the largest Asian American population in the United States, and Lunar New Year has become a joyful and familiar part of our shared cultural landscape. Festivities include fireworks, family gatherings, and exchanging red envelopes filled with lucky money. 

Each year of the lunar calendar cycle is assigned one of 12 animals. This bear was created in the year of the dragon, considered to be the calendar’s luckiest animal. 

Marguerite Bear 

This bear is a loving tribute to Marguerite M. O’Neill, the matriarch of the family that owned and managed Rancho Mission Viejo from the early 1900s to the 1960s. 

Fiercely protective of her family’s land, she refused to sell until she found a developer who aligned with her motto: “Take care of the land, and the land will take care of you.” 

In 1963, the O’Neill family reached a deal with the Mission Viejo Company. Together, they created a community with controlled growth and respect for the land. 

The City of Mission Viejo we know today exists thanks to the tenacity and dedication of Marguerite O’Neill.

About the artists 

Joy Aldrich founded her own art school in the early 1980s and was inspired by the effect of her students discovering their own creative genius. Committed to arts education and known for her holistic perspective, she worked on many collaborative art projects including mixed-media canvases and collages that hundreds of students took part in creating. 

In 2008, Aldrich became a member of the Dana Point Coastal Arts Board of directors and met Aileen May. Three years later, the two began their first project together, a mosaic community art piece dubbed the “Whale Tale” in Dana Point Harbor. She was also instrumental in the Artes de la Vida collaborative art project in Mission Viejo before she and May teamed up once again to lead the “Bears About Town” project . 

Aileen May is a talented and passionate artist known throughout the country for her dedication to fine art exhibitions. Throughout the years, her talents have as a member of countless academies and boards including the Art Academy Alumni Association and Dana Point Coastal Art Board of Directors. Her outstanding support to the arts has garnered many grants, awards, and accolades. 

May’s impressive career includes serving as an artist in-residence for 20 different schools and working with at-risk youth. She moved to Orange County in 2000 and has since created exquisite collaborative public art mosaics along Mission Viejo’s Oso Creek Trail, Crown Valley Parkway, and Dana Point Harbor with fellow artist Joy Aldrich. 

About the Mission Viejo Cultural Arts Committee 

Established by the City Council in 1992, the Cultural Arts Committee promotes knowledge, enjoyment and appreciation of the performing, literary and visual arts through community interaction with the arts, in order to strengthen the quality of life in Mission Viejo.

Learn more here


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