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Pop Art Wall Socket Sculpture Draws Powerful Attention In Petaluma

May 06, 2023May 06, 2023

PETALUMA, CA — The Petaluma PG&E building asked a local artist to construct something "larger than life" on the outside of their substation building on 1st and D Streets. Though there is no artist's plaque that explains the Pop Art electrical outlet and plug installed in 2015, the out-of-proportion sculpture invokes a feeling, a laugh, or even outrage in passers-by. It also has become one of the most social media-shared backdrops in the city.

The sculpture, locally known as "Outlet, Plug & Cord" is featured on Roadside America and may not be considered a must-see visit when you go to Petaluma, but perhaps it should be one. It stands over ten feet high and over six feet wide and is constructed from steel, fiberglass, wood, automotive paint and a clear coat but what it does is spark the imagination of passers-by. A small plaque explains its presence, naming the artwork was conceived by Basal Ganglia Studio in partnership with Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and Shawn Thorsson.

Thorsson discussed his role with Patch, looking back at the magnitude of the construction.

"For me, that project was an opportunity for me and my crew to add another element of quirkiness to downtown Petaluma," he said. "As a local native, it was great to build something that seems to bring genuine joy to the community.

The backdrop of the building is a forest of electrical towers and power lines that drift on for miles, and yet the giant-sized outlet just shows what it's all about: "This is where your power comes from." It adds levity to an industrial part of Petaluma and is one of 30 outdoor public art pieces in Petaluma, according to Sonoma Magazine.

"PG&E wanted to give the building a face lift so they did a fantastic job giving it a clean coat of paint," according to a previous Patch article. They worked with artist Joel Jones of Basal Ganglia Studio, known for creating art out of everyday objects in a way that makes you think. Fabricator Shawn Thorsson of Thorsson & Associates Workshop constructed the larger-than-life design.

Thorsson blogged his process of creating the large fiberglass outdoor structure. His first question? How large was large?

"My role: fabricate a giant rendition of a household electrical outlet with a cord plugged into it and leading into the ground," he wrote on his blog. "No problem." He had the space to design and build proper molds for the cover plate, receptacles, screws and plug that would be "plugged in" on the side of the building, the entire process pictured on his site. For the cord, Ryan at Kertz Fabrication welded specialty pipe that simulated the "sweep of the dangling cord." Lastly, they constructed a bracket to hang the heavy plug and cord that is buried in the ground.

See the full blog post regarding the fabrication of the design.

With the help of the PG&E team, the outlet was mounted to the nearly 100-year-old substation walls. The cord was held in place with concrete at the base.

According to the artists and fabricators, the outlet and plug are outlandish and enormous that everyone can relate to. Not just a vacant wall outlet, but one with something plugged into it, drawing power for something unseen. Something enormous.

Since 2015, residents and passersby have taken the time to photograph the outlet and share it on social media.

Though whimsical in appearance, the giant outlet holds a deeper symbolism within the Petaluma community.

By sheer scale, it shows a deeper history of Petaluma as an electrical hub, as well as showing the importance of electricity in our day-to-day lives. The shape of a practical electrical outlet transformed into a ridiculously out-of-scale sculpture challenges viewers to reconsider their perception of everyday objects and appreciate the beauty in unexpected places.

It may also give them a laugh.

Ashley Ludwig See the full blog post regarding the fabrication of the design. Related: