Ashby Avenue above College is not exactly where one would expect a major manifestation of quirky material culture. The houses are large, stately, well-heeled, and well-landscaped. But, after all, we are Berkeley, and quirk can and is anywhere and everywhere.
Michael and Becky O’Malley have lived at 2910 Ashby Ave. since 1973. Their names are well known in Berkeley. In 2003, they began publishing the then-shut-down Berkeley Daily Planet. Michael was listed as publisher, and Becky as executive editor. Under their guidance, the paper won a number of awards from the California Newspaper Publishers’ Association and other organizations, including first prizes for its opinion page, which publishes lengthy reader-written commentaries, and the editorial cartoons of Justin DeFreitas. Becky is known for her years of political activism, and Michael for a career in software, specializing in text-to-speech conversion technology.
In the fall of 2013, they decided to build a fence to keep their dog in the yard and off Ashby. Their instinct was to avoid using fresh lumber, to use recycled material. A visit to Urban Ore led them to Max Bechtel, and together they designed a fence made from reclaimed doors.
But that’s not all. When Max visited the property, he saw ceramic sculpture lying in the yard. Michael works in ceramics. They are bold, at times frightening, and definitely not in the “pots for Mommy” school of ceramics craft. Bechtel suggested that they use the fence of doors to showcase the sculpture. And so there you have it — a very quirky fence.
The lying woman was originally a standing woman. Gravity and rain brought her down, and O’Malley left her down; she looks happy down.
These legs were originally the bottom half of a two-piece full figure. O’Malley liked the bottom half and so there it is, legs up to the waist.
The middle shelf is Lilith and Eve (Knowledge and Innocence). We all know Eve, but Lilith? In Jewish mythology, Lilith appears as a female demon who enticed Eve into enticing Adam with the apple. On the lower shelf we see Europa and the bull. Zeus disguised himself as a bull and carried Europa from Asia Minor to Crete, where she founded the Minoan civilization.
Tom Dalzell, a labor lawyer, created a website, Quirky Berkeley, to share all the whimsical objects he has captured with his iPhone. The site now has more than 8,600 photographs of quirky objects around town as well as posts where the 30-year resident muses on what it all means.
A longer version of this post may be found at Quirky Berkeley.
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