Friday, June 21, 1996 Section: Peninsula Living Page: 3

Mercury News Staff Writer

Broken Wishbone

Step through ''Broken Wishbone'' - the 9-foot tall bronze sculpture by Lori Kay - and, suddenly, you're innocent again, filled with secret wishes and a sense of wonder. On display at the Mountain View Civic Center Plaza through Sept. 3, the exhibit is not just another piece of public art to admire from afar. Run your hands along its varied texture. See its bold stance against the bright blue sky. And dare to reach into the break. For all of us who have ever pinned our hopes upon the slippery grasp of a dinnertime wishbone, this sculpture is a chance to recapture that childhood magic. For Kay, 34, who lives in Burlingame, the wishbone is a gateway into ''part of our American cultural heritage.'' In the cool shade of the civic center building, the award-winning artist spoke recently about her work, her life and the sculpture she spent a year making.''The wishbone is nostalgic of my childhood. I have fond memories of breaking wishbones in my family. It's a symbol of Americana to me. It's also about the duality of life: Sometimes our wishes come true. Sometimes they don't.''To become an artist and to be able to make a living as an artist is a wish that has come true for Kay, through her own perseverance and talent.''My parents, who were warm and loving people, taught me to march to the beat of my own drummer,'' says Kay, who grew up in the Bay Area and painted as a child. This spirit of independence is a family trait. Her father, Macario Mendoza, was a Filipino-American. Her mother, Virginia Moore, was a Southern belle. A state law in Virginia, where they were living, prohibited interracial marriages in the early '60s. So Kay's parents held their wedding in Washington, D.C. and then lived apart for sev eral months before moving to California, where such marriages were lawful. Kay's mother died last year. ''My mother was my No. 1 fan,'' Kay says. ''She went to all my openings. Through my father, I've been exposed to a lot of great Filipino art. My family is important to me. I feel lucky I have a huge extended Filipino family.'' Kay earned a bachelor of arts degree at the University of California, Santa Cruz, in 1986. But it was in Europe, where she saw the great works of art by such sculptors as Rodin and Michelangelo, that she found herself drawn to sculpture. Art, she says, ''is the way I fulfill my need to create, to work with my hands, to communicate with others.'' Her works of art express a range of ideas. In her bronzed egg series, Kay used the egg as ''a symbol of life. It is the place from whence we all came. The perfect example of fragility and strength. Of life and death . . . ''Once broken, the shelter is lost and the raw self is exposed. Without the break, the being contained within can never develop. Only through the break can we develop into a unique being.'' Race and racism In another project called ''Half-breed,'' Kay explored the concepts of racial identity and racism. ''What if you reject the idea of 'race'? It's a sociopolitical construct, invented to divide people. Race for me does not exist. So I interviewed people of mixed race and put their quotes on footsteps.'' Kay, who is skilled at casting her own sculptures, is proud of the fact that ''Broken Wishbone'' was cast by a crew of female artists at a San Jose foundry. ''It was a major casting. I did all the welding. And all the networking to have it shown.'' Kay is as successful in managing her career as she is in creating her art. ''You have to be,'' she says. ''I look at it as surviving in the arts.'' She has lectured at the University of San Francisco, San Francisco State University, Mission College in Santa Clara and at UC-Santa Cruz. Her work has been displayed in various Bay Area cities in galleries and public art exhibitions. She also sees herself as a teacher of art, to both children and adults. Expressing oneself ''Through art, we learn to understand the greater world because it transcends language. It's a way to help children express themselves and to problem-solve. ''When we talk about the glory of ancient civilizations, we don't admire their acts of war. We talk about their architecture and their art.'' In the fall, ''Broken Wishbone,'' which was previously displayed in Oakland and Half Moon Bay, will travel to Western Carolina University, where Kay will be lecturing. From there, Kay will go on to Sydney, Australia, to conduct a lecture and a workshop. ''I have always loved art,'' she says. ''And I will always do art.'' PICTURE: Photos (4) (box) Familia Center, 711 E. Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz. Call (408)-423-5747. 9 a.m.-noon, 1-5 p.m. Monday-Friday. (box) Grey Bears, 2710 Chanticleer Ave., Santa Cruz. (408) 479-1055. 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday. (box) Valley Churches United Missions, 9340 Highway 9, Ben Lomond; (408) 336-5651. 9 a.m.-noon Tuesday-Friday, and 10 a.m.-noon Saturday; also.