The Center of the World welcomes Mona Lisa
The Center of the World, a collection of granite engravings telling a narrative of world history located north of I-8 and a few miles from Yuma, unveiled on Thursday its most recent addition to its collection: a granite engraving of Leonardo DaVinci’s Mona Lisa.
“We’re putting together a major project of 35 engravings showing great works of art from the Renaissance,” said the Center of the World’s founder, Jacques-Andrés Istel. “We wanted to present the Mona Lisa as a group because it is a particularly well-known work, and we wanted to whet the appetite of the press and public for the bigger accomplishment of the (35) major works from the Renaissance.”
Istel has been commissioning a collection of engravings on long smooth dark-red granite triangular prisms since 1989, three years after he founded the city of Felicity. So far, he’s filled several of the individual prisms with collections of text and picture engravings that belong to sets like “The history of Arizona,” and “L’histoire de l’humanité.”
Istel commissioned this most recent engraving, the Mona Lisa, to his collaborator of almost six years, Shelly Evans. Evans comes from Elberton, Georgia.
“It’s the granite capital of the world,” Evans said about her hometown. “Back there, everybody does what I do, so no one’s impressed with my work, but here, Jacques makes me feel like a celebrity.”
Evans said she’s been engraving for 26 years, and visitors of the event said her replication of the Mona Lisa impressed the crowd that came to support Jacques’ progress in his grand endeavor.
“To me, it seems more fitting of what I think the Mona Lisa should be,” said Phoebe Dunson, Istel’s granddaughter who attended the unveiling. “I remember the first time I saw the actual Mona Lisa, I thought it was so much smaller than I expected. I think from what I read about it in textbooks, we tend to build it up in our mind and expect it to be this big thing when in reality it’s a small painting. This work has the grandeur that seems more fitting with how we think about the Mona Lisa.”
More or less, Istel said, that’s the intention. The point of the Center of the World engravings isn’t simply to replicate the works for preservation but also to proportion them relative to their place in our history, he said.
“The summaries and the engravings are designed to make visitors, students and scholars alike in the present and future understand and learn about what matters to us now and in our history,” he said. “If you know nothing about the Mona Lisa, and you see its place on the panel, you, at the very least, know that it’s important and that it matters.”
In attendance at the unveiling were local leaders from Yuma, long-time former Yuma County Supervisor Lenore Stuart and the commanding officer of Marine Corps Air Station Col. David Suggs.
“I always support Jacques’ events,” Stuart said. “He’s always informed about the community and hosting wonderful events. It was great to come out here and be a part of this.”
Istel honored Col. Suggs with a scroll thanking MCAS for their continued support, and Istel personally thanked the Marine Color Guard for their continuing presence. Four Marine Color Guards were in attendance at this event.
Istel also brought other officials and friends from nearby cities and towns to serve as officials for the town of Felicity, a town Istel founded in 1985 and which inhabits 2 residents, himself and his wife, Felicia, after whom he named the town. Included as a Felicity town official was Lt. Cmdr. Scott Laverty of the California Highway Patrol, whom Istel calls the town constable, “In his spare time he’s a Highway Patrolman,” Istel said.
The Mona Lisa of the Center of the World sits in the middle of a stretch of one of the triangular prisms among blank spaces for future works and engravings of other Renaissance art like Michelangelo’s “Pieta”. Istel, who turned 95 the day of the unveiling, said he plans to spend the year seeing to the completion of the other major works surrounding the Mona Lisa.