K.J.’s gift to the arts: ‘Pie-gate’ inspires sculpture as second trial approaches

Sculpture artist portrays activist Sean Thompson as a messianic figure

Six months after leaving office, former Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson is still helping local artists. Well, at least one.

Laura Harling recently completed a 15-by-19-inch sculpture that depicts Johnson and current Mayor Darrell Steinberg celebrating the completion of the Golden 1 Center as activist Sean Thompson approaches with a pie.

In the new sculpture “Let Them Eat Pie,” Harling opts for a straightforward rendering of Johnson and Steinberg, though her take on Thompson has some clear similarities to another longhaired protestor—a rabble-rousing icon descended from the Galilee. “There weren’t many photos of Sean Thompson to study,” she noted. “But I thought he looked kind of Christlike.”

The Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office failed in its attempt to convict Thompson of felony assault in May, after a hung jury forced a mistrial. Prosecutors have announced they’ll retry Thompson on a lesser misdemeanor.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Harling said of the news that Thompson will go before a jury again. “It’s just ridiculous.”

Harling’s been molding political sculptures for 40 years. She has gone from being an art student at Sacramento State University to a janitor inside the state Capitol, where the daily experience of passing movers and shakers fueled her creative energy. Over the decades, her sculptures have depicted Willie Brown, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dianne Feinstein. She’s made three statues of Jerry Brown, one of which Harper’s Magazine published a photo of in 1986. Harling’s entire collection can be viewed at www.lauraharling.com.

“I was really annoyed by the push to build the arena, because I didn’t feel it helped the people of Sacramento, or at least the people who needed help the most,” Harling said. “So, when I heard K.J. got pied, I thought, ‘Well, he kind of deserved that.’”