El Bandito Unmasked

How Richard Stewart created his own field of dreams

by: Eddie Rivera (News Editor)

Local painting contractor Richard “Bandito” Stewart had too much time on his hands. On his days off he would spend time looking around his neighborhood for weeds to pull or to maybe paint over some graffiti.

“I couldn’t sit at home,” Stewart said in a recent interview with The Foothill Record. “I have to keep busy.” So, one afternoon in the fall of 2009, while following a path of weeds south from his home on Haines Canyon Avenue down to Tujunga Canyon Boulevard in Tujunga, he found a gently sloping, open field, overrun with weeds and junk.

“It was all just weeds, trash, an old couch, a car, you name it. It was a mess,” he remembered. “The owners had just let it go, so I just started picking up all the trash and pulling the weeds, and that’s when I noticed the rocks. I thought, ‘We ought to show these off, they’re beautiful.’”

So Stewart began to stack them: a row here, a row there—tiny towers of perfectly balanced rocks in random spots scattered across the now-clear field. He knew these formations from his own Scottish heritage. The creations are called cairns, and they mark trails or anniversaries or other momentous occasions. Stewart took the same idea and began to celebrate the once-neglected field.

El Bandito protecting his park

El Bandito protecting his park

 

About a dozen of the stacked sculptures now run north to south across the field. Some have names—“The Three Sentinels” or “Grumpy Old Men Sitting on a Bench”—and others just sit, marking the moment. The commuters who drive by the field every day often celebrate the sculptures through social media.

After all that clearing and stacking, Stewart began to think of himself as a “bandit” of sorts, stealing the trash and weeds. After all, it wasn’t his property. It belonged to Snowball Development Company, which was in the middle of an ongoing, years-long battle to convert the nearby Verdugo Hills Golf Course, as well as Stewart’s adopted field and the accompanying hillsides, into a large housing development.

That battle is still going on, but meanwhile, Stewart was creating a quiet place of joy and solace for the neighbors and the local community. The “bandit” became “Bandito,” and the name stuck.

In 2010, when Stewart wanted to marry his then-girlfriend, Susan Boughton, he marched down to the manager’s office at the golf course to ask permission to hold a wedding on the lot, and to “invite the community.” The perplexed manager gave his okay, and in May of that year, more than 200 neighbors gathered there to share Stewart and Boughton’s special day. (Since then, Snowball has given “official permission” for Richard to maintain the area and build his art there.)

It is this kind of community involvement that the field has inspired with its whimsy, its charm, and its built-in sense of simple beauty. In fact, near the middle of the field, a small pine tree sits, surrounded by a circle of stones. A brother and sister had driven their ailing mother by the field every afternoon in her last days.

“She told them, ‘Take me to the rocks,’” Stewart recalled. When she finally passed away, the family asked him for permission to plant a small tree in her memory. No plaque, no decoration, just a simple remembrance.

“Now, when I stand near it,” he said, “I feel an energy, like she is there, hugging me.”

It must be the same embrace that Stewart himself has extended to this former eyesore, now a place of tranquil and meaningful art.

 

In His Own Words

Perhaps as a standing answer as to why he does what he does, Richard Stewart composed his own poetic explanation:

 

Bandito’s Defense

 

What to do this lonesome day?

No work for me, but bills to pay

Behind in rent, the payment’s due

Guess I’ll pull a weed or two

 

Here’s a spot that needs a friend,

Full of trash around the bend.

I’ll get my truck, haul it away.

Good for me, productive day.

 

Wow. There’s more. How could it be?

Is that a couch under the tree?

Such a crime, this orphaned lot,

Left to die and wood to rot.

 

Looks like there’s just one option;

This land is up for my adoption.

 

The weeds and trash are not mine.

Is stealing them a big crime?

I’ll leave some beauty in my wake

Stack the rocks for what I take.


'El Bandito Unmasked' have 2 comments

  1. March 13, 2015 @ 1:57 am Yvonne Conybeare

    Thank you, Mr. Stewart, for your stewardship of this property. And thank you, Foothill Record and Mr. Rivera, for the story and lovely pics.

    Reply

  2. March 14, 2015 @ 10:14 pm Alex Nnicolson

    I have really enjoyed Stewart’s artistic rock piles and banners these past years and it always a treat to see them as I drive by. Very creative!

    Reply


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