Prominent citizens are often described as “towering figures” in the community.
Robert Ellison left an enduring mark on Sonoma County by forging towering steel figures that stand in public places from Petaluma to Santa Rosa — and places as far away as Providence, R.I. and Anchorage, Alaska.
Ellison, who died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis at his Sonoma Mountain home on Sept. 9 at age 65, is among the county's notable residents who passed away this year.
Among the departed are two prominent jurists, three Pearl Harbor veterans and a woman who survived the San Francisco earthquake of 1906.
Some endured for decades, like wine pioneer Louis J. Foppiano who died in March at 101, while others passed prematurely, like rodeo star Broc Cresta, who died in July at 25.
Ellison's name may be unfamiliar to many, but his art is practically unavoidable. “Sun Zone,” a 14-foot-tall, three-legged piece reminiscent of ice cream cones, stands in front of the Sonoma County Administration Center.
“Arch Tworain,” a 28-foot cream-colored structure that weighs 8 tons, stands along the entry road to the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts. The scissored “Renaissance” rested for years in Old Courthouse Square and is now at Cornerstone Sonoma.
Public art like Ellison's welded steel abstractions serve a purpose, said Harvey Charnofsky of Sebastopol, board president of the Arts Council of Sonoma County.
“It raises the awareness that art has a place of importance in our community,” he said.
It also translates into revenue for the local economy, Charnofsky said, asserting that visitors stay longer and spend more in art-rich places like Sonoma County.
Ellison, an ebullient and energetic man, offered a simpler explanation for why he shifted to steel after first working in ceramics.
“Every sculpture I've ever built is still in existence,” he said in a 2010 interview. “If I'm going to spend a lot of time and effort making these pieces, I want them to last forever.”