From 1974 until 1977, the mural shown above was on the long wall (25′ by 90′) at the southeast corner of Milvia and University, then a Dutch Boy Paint store, now Au Coquelet. The design and execution were by Stefen. Jeff Dayton painted some of the solid-color areas. Gary Graham painted the Dutch Boy figure, a portrait of Stefen.
It was, as far as I can determine, the first street mural in Berkeley. It would not be the last, and it would not be the last mural painted by the artist who, in 1974 took the name Stefen.
It was up for three years when the property changed hands and restaurateur Jean-Marie Lagourgue, Au Coquelet’s original owner, began taking actions that suggested that the mural was in peril. On Jan. 4, 1977, Stefen attended a city council meeting in an attempt to get the mural declared a landmark and preserved. That night, Lagourgue whited out the mural, due to “other ideas for his restaurant, and due to the city’s seismic-retrofitting requirement.”
Stefen grew up in the high desert of Nevada, studied art in Oregon, lived and worked in Paris, and then came to Berkeley. The mega-mural on the Dutch Boy store launched Berkeley’s embrace of public murals and is remembered fondly by those who were in Berkeley at the time.
In the 40 years since, Stefen has been a prolific muralist. Examples of his still-existing Berkeley work include:
The image above is from Cha-Am, the Thai restaurant that for years operated near the corner of Cedar and Shattuck. I don’t know if the mural will survive the change in ownership.
The mural above is at Allston Way below Sacramento. If you peek through the big gate you can see it, facing west on a garage door. Stefen painted it in 1992.
This one is tough to see, but you can. It is over Codornices Creek on Kains Avenue, north of Gilman, between Harrison and Darmouth.
This is the home of Louise Berman. Stefen rented a room here and, while living here, painted a stunning mural on the wall of the house facing the garden. It stars Berman’s dog at the time, Buster.
If you wander into 2530 San Pablo Avenue and find the offices of the Audubon Society, you will find this Stefen door mural:
His latest mural is at a new fro-yo place Buona Vita Yogurt in downtown Berkeley.
There are many more Stefen murals around, and many that have been painted over or demolished or walled over. His website catalogs much of his work over the years.
Stefen’s murals don’t fit the Berkeley Mural Mold – no hint of Diego Rivera. No hint of heroic proletariat or ethnic pride, our usual fare. I like the mold, but I also like Stefen’s work. I am not saying that there is not a message – there is a message. It is a message of peace and beauty, flower and fauna.
Fit the mold or not, he was the first to paint a public mural in Berkeley, and he remains an important part of Berkeley’s mural scene. His murals have been in our lives for 40+ years now. And he is still planning and painting and giving joy and peace.
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 with photographs of Stefen murals in El Cerrito, Oakland, and Alameda, see Quirky Berkeley. For a treatment of murals in Berkeley before Stefen’s first public mural, see this Quirky Berkeley post.
To find out what is going on in Berkeley and nearby, be sure to check out Berkeleyside’s Events Calendar. And submit your own events: it’s self-serve and free.