How Quirky is Berkeley? Danielle Steel’s ‘Joyful Women’

2403 San Pablo Avenue. Photo: John Storey
The “Joyful Women” sculptures that belonged to Danielle Steel. Now at Ohmega Salvage, 2403 San Pablo Ave. Photo: John Storey

The three seven-foot ceramic women stretching their arms to the sky and joyfully greeting drivers on San Pablo Avenue have a story to tell. They were made by Leslie Safarik, an Oakland sculptor. They were purchased by bestselling author Danielle Steel and prominently placed at her “House on Hope Street” at Stinson Beach.

Steel sold the house in 2014, and the statues went to auction. They found their way to Ohmega and so they stand, still happy, still bright, although a little beat up and worse for the wear. San Pablo Avenue is a world away from Stinson Beach, but their joy is undiminished.

2403 San Pablo Avenue. Photo: John Storey
2403 San Pablo Avenue. Photo: John Storey
House on Hope Street, Stinson Beach. Photo: McGuire Real Estate
House on Hope Street, Stinson Beach. Photo: McGuire Real Estate
House on Hope Street, Stinson Beach. Photo: McGuire Real Estate
House on Hope Street, Stinson Beach. Photo: McGuire Real Estate

Safarik learned ceramics under the tutelage of ceramics matriarch Viola Frey at the College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland. She spent a few decades in Los Angeles, but we won her back. Her work is found in several galleries, but none in the Bay Area. Most of her work comes from word of mouth (or, should we say, “word of eyes”), and by commission.

If we count a Berkeley zip code as Berkeley, there are two other pieces in Berkeley.

Berkeley Zip Code, Oakland taxes. Photo: John Storey
Berkeley Zip Code, Oakland taxes. Photo: John Storey

They sit in the courtyard of the home of Arlene Mayerson and Allan Tinker. Mayerson is the directing attorney at the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund.  She is a fierce and longtime advocate for disability rights. Tinker is a poet. They are an only-in-Berkeley combination of civil-rights struggle and art and a quirky sensibility.

Their home is filled with a stunning collection of Mayerson’s sculpture and Mexican folk art. The two Safarik pieces are joined in the courtyard by a Mark Olivier beach-trash sculpture and an Izzy Sher rusting rocking chair. Mayerson decorates the women with accessories on an almost daily basis, a wonderfully quirky inspiration.

Leslie Safarik studio, Oakland. Photo: John Storey
Leslie Safarik’s studio in Oakland. Photo: John Storey

Safarik works in a studio behind her house in the Fruitvale District, Oakland. Cats and dogs join a cluster of tall women.

Leslie Safarik in her studio, Oakland, California. Photo: John Storey
Leslie Safarik in her studio in Oakland. Photo: John Storey

The larger pieces take months to make . She doesn’t sketch — she just imagines and visualizes and gets to work. She doesn’t use a clay extruder, but instead the pinch and coil method, a few inches added to a piece a day. And then come the glazes and the firing. Leslie Safarik is all about her glazes. She fires each piece eight to ten times, different temperatures for different colors.

Safarik’s women give joy. One can only hope that people driving by Ohmega will see, be curious, check out Safarik’s website, and that before long more will find homes in Berkeley.

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 8,000 photographs of quirky objects around town as well as posts where the 30-year resident muses on what it all means.

For a fuller version of this post, see Quirky Berkeley.

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