Inside Seven
Current Issue: September 2014
Employee Spotlight
Yolanda Villalpando at her desk while visions of Rose Parade floats dance in her head.

by  Judy Gish
Issue Date: 12/2006

For Caltrans employee Yolanda Villalpando, life in District 7 is a parade

Whenever art called, Yolanda Villalpando answered, and their conversation has directed the entire course of her life.

The Project Management Transportation Engineering Technician, who has been with Caltrans for nearly 25 years, was working in Headquarters when, in 1998, she began to feel like her art demanded a new landscape, somewhere that offered more artistic opportunities.  

What came of her move to District 7 was big – 55-ft. by 18-ft, to be exact.  Villalpando ended up designing the City of South Pasadena’s float for the 2006 Rose Parade. The City of South Pasadena is one of only a few cities to design and build its own floats. One of the factors impressing the City’s judges, in addition to her creative vision, was the fact that Villalpando, after her entry was selected, also volunteered painting a perspective rendering of her entry, and submitted an architectural scale drawing featuring plan and elevation views.   “They had never had that before,” she said, “and they were pretty excited.”

She learned that skill while working in the Caltrans Sacramento office of Aesthetics and Models, “so I just applied that,” she said.

The City’s theme last year was “Magic.” Villalpando’s design, “Magical Mischief,” featured an old witch who falls asleep, leaving her magic exposed to a bunch of curious raccoons. The raccoons, of course, create havoc, as well as numerous occasions for objects on the float to wave, spin, crawl, climb, and fly.

Unfortunately, because of the nearly-unprecedented rain last New Year’s Day, the mechanics on the float failed to work. This was depressing, Villalpando said, particularly at 2 a.m. that morning when she found out about it. Nevertheless, she added, the float was a “show stopper.”

Last year, Villalpando was involved in the building process, helping to scale the furniture (again, her Caltrans experience helped—no one else working there knew how to read architectural plans). She worked on the float after hours and weekends; it consumed her life.

Small wonder, considering all the work that goes into creating and assembling a float. First, there’s the wire and rebar installation, then the welding, then adding the mechanics for animation and wet foam to fill in around the skirt. Once the foam is dry and the wood parts are finished, seeds (which cover many of the float’s surfaces) are applied. Finally, the flowers are attached. Villalpando had an opportunity to work in another medium, sculpture, with a new material--insulation foam blocks, out of which were sculpted the witch's head, hands, feet and all of the raccoons heads.

This year, she doesn’t plan to be as engaged in constructing the float. Her winning 2007 design is based on the theme “Our Good Nature.” The City’s float features a school of fish inside a classroom in honor of teachers.

 Villalpando, who designed her first float in high school, will continue to submit designs to the City of South Pasadena and next year plans to approach the City of Burbank as well. She also has another iron in the fire: Hallmark has expressed an interest in looking at her creations for possible new product line developments, which could include gift and card lines. “I’m really excited because it actually could happen,” she said.

In the meantime, she will continue to keep herself busy doing what she has been all her life: taking art classes, teaching art, and working in every artistic medium from watercolor to ceramics to pastels to oil paint to sculpture—even commercial art. “It’s finally clear to me that my moving down here was a good idea,” she said. 



The 2006 winning float design for the City of South Pasadena, Magical Mischief. The actual 2006 float, on the parade route. Must be the season of the witch: Villalpando sculpted these hands out of insulation foam block. A Sneak Preview of the 2007 City of South Pasadena Rose Parade float.