BPD Police Chief Mike Albanese Celebrates Guardians Tribute by Local Artist

(Photo by © Ross A Benson)

Burbank Chief of Police Mike Albanese is recognizing artist John Sumner, who has used his creative skills to recreate the Guardians statue through a miniature sculpture of the iconic artwork. 

(Photo by © Ross A Benson)

Sumner has spent the past decade working as an art director for film, television, and online content, with a focus in stop motion animation. When the pandemic hit, he began venturing into sculpting, which he approached with the goal of building up a sculpture portfolio and traveling to Florence, Italy, to gain more experience in this artistic field. 

As a longtime fan of the statue, Sumner decided to sculpt the Guardians as a step towards his master study of sculpting. Before beginning physically sculpting the statue, Sumner started drawing the Guardians in late August. He has dedicated three months to crafting the miniature sculpture and predicts the process will be complete by the first week of December. After this, he will move on to molding and casting his finished work.

While Sumner spent two to three days a week during these months drawing and sculpting next to the original statue, which is located outside of Burbank Police and Fire Headquarters, Albanese took notice of his work. He then approached Sumner and learned more about his project, and was fascinated by the intricate sketches of the Guardians being carried out by Sumner. 

“It became mesmerizing,” Albanese said of Sumner’s work. “When I saw [the sketches] I said, ‘What are you going to do with this? It has to be memorialized because it’s just too cool.’” 

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As he takes part in woodworking in his spare time, Albanese proposed a tradeoff to Sumner; if he would allow him to keep some of the Guardians sketches, then, in exchange, Albanese would offer a handmade charcuterie board to Sumner. Sumner agreed to the deal, and four of his eye-catching sketches of the statue are now framed on the walls of Albanese’s office space, which he just moved into recently. 

(Photo by© Ross A Benson)

The Guardians tribute is significant for both Sumner and Albanese, as service work runs deep in their backgrounds. Sumner has a brother-in-law who served on the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office S.W.A.T. team, an uncle who was previously Chief of Police in South Lyon, Michigan, and cousins in law enforcement and fire service. In addition to Albanese’s 50-plus year career in law enforcement, his grandfather and great uncle both served the Los Angeles Police Department, and his daughter, Elisabeth Albanese, is the first female captain of the Beverly Hills Police Department. 

“Our family has been in the service business for a long time, so this stuff is pretty meaningful, it really is,” Albanese said. “When we walk by [the Guardians] statue, it’s very solemn. It’ll be memorialized long after we’re gone, and that’s one of the reasons I would like to think that when I’m gone, the next guy or girl that’s in here displays [the sketches].”

The original Guardians statue was created by local artist Shiela Cavalluzzi in 1998, and Sumner cited her work as an inspiration since he moved to Southern California to attend the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. Cavalluzzi dedicated six months to completing the statue, which depicts detailed sculptures of a police officer and a firefighter standing back to back. While he was recreating the statue, Sumner reached out to Cavalluzzi, and the two have formed a friendship as he has continued on with the project. 

“I was just super honored,” Cavalluzzi said of seeing Sumner’s tribute to her statue.
“Johnny’s so nice and personable, just warm and welcoming. So that made it really great.” 

Albanese, Sumner, and Cavalluzzi were recently able to meet together in person for the first time at Albanese’s office to view the display of Sumner’s sketches. They conversed about art, law enforcement, and the history of the Guardians statue, and Albanese also presented Cavalluzzi with a couple of his detailed wood working pieces. 

(Photo by © Ross A Benson)

Although Sumner initially started the project with personal goals in mind, as he has progressed with this piece of art, “the project evolved into something greater than itself,” he says. Each day that he would set up and work on his art outside of Police and Fire Headquarters, dozens of passersby would stop to admire his craftsmanship. The gratitude of first responders who have caught glimpses of his Guardians statue sculpture has made for many memorable and rewarding moments for the gifted artist.

“I’ve met a ton of people, a lot of them police officers and firefighters, stopping by to chat about what I’m doing, and it’s been truly humbling to see their eyes light up as they look at the sculpture, and say ‘Thank you,’” Sumner said. “That’s the response that always gets me.”

Although he is not yet certain as to where the finished sculpture may end up, Sumner is optimistic that it can be displayed in the lobby or museum at Police and Fire Headquarters. He additionally plans to produce numerous casts of the sculpture, one of which will remain in his personal art studio. 

The greatest hope Sumner has for the Guardians replica is that the artwork will remind others of the importance of honoring our first responders for the invaluable work they perform every day for the community. 

“[I hope] it continues to bring an awareness of our first responder heroes to the Burbank community, [and] that there are these guardians out there, ready to help when they are called,” Sumner said of his art. “Especially with the current state of affairs, I think it’s more important than ever to remember that. And [I hope] it reminds our police officers and firefighters that there are people in the community who value them and everything they do for us. They should feel proud and appreciated.”

To learn more about Sumner, visit his site here.

To learn more about Cavalluzzi, visit her site here.